Making Trade Missions Work For You
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Making Trade Missions Work For You

All development people dream about that perfect prospect. Someone who is interested in their concept, pre-qualified and brought to them by a highly respected third party, an introduction that carries with it a direct or implied endorsement.

International trade missions are an excellent means of being introduced to that perfect prospect by the U.S. Embassy in the host country. The International Franchise Association and other providers make trade missions possible by working with the Department of Commerce and the Commercial staff at U.S. Embassies around the world to introduce U.S. based franchisors to potential international franchisees. They line up the countries and secure the Embassy commitment to support the program, plan the itinerary, provide hotel recommendations and make arrangements for in-country logistical support and go along to make sure any issues that arise on the mission are handled promptly.

The Commercial staffs at the Embassies meanwhile use their contacts and resources to promote the trade mission and secure qualified appointments for franchisors participating in the mission.

Looks and sounds easy, everything is done for you right? Not quite. To have a successful trade mission requires some homework and active involvement on your part. To get the most benefit out of a trade mission there are five steps to follow:

  1. Before you sign up for the mission, do your homework on the country. Is this a viable market for your product or service? Perhaps the best means of assessing a market is to determine the drivers of your business at home and then evaluate the potential market to determine how many of those drivers are present in the targeted country. Look also for competitors operating in the market. It's generally easier to enter a market by introducing a brand rather than by introducing a whole new concept. Assess their strengths, weaknesses, and their results. This may give you some indication of modifications to your own concept and operating system that will be required for greater market acceptance.

If the market looks viable, the next step is to determine how you will develop the country: the franchise vehicle you will employ (master franchise, area developer, area representative, etc.) total potential of a mature market (number of units and/or sales volume), how long you anticipate it will take to reach critical mass and market saturation, and projected costs and revenues for yourself and your franchisee. With this information you can create a development plan and an economic model for the country including your fee structure.

    1. Once you have made the decision to participate in the trade mission, the single most important thing you can do to ensure a successful mission is to determine the profile of your ideal candidate. Start by looking at yourself. Determine what it will take to operate in the market, what you bring to the table and what you will require from your franchisee. Look beyond the amount of capital required to specific business experience, educational experience, etc. be as specific as possible.


  1. Educate the staff at the Commercial Staff at the Embassy. Believe it or not, they may not have heard of you or your concept. And, since they will be the first contact with your potential franchisee, the more they know about you and your business the more enthusiastic and knowledgeable they will sound when trying to interest someone in meeting with you.

You will be asked to send a supply of your brochures and to complete a questionnaire about your business and your target prospect. Make sure you comply on a timely basis with the request. Complete the questionnaire in as much detail as possible and present the information clearly, completely and in a readable form. The Commercial staff will work hard to set appointments that meet your criteria. The broader the criteria you provide, the broader your base of appointments. If you want people with a specific background or skill set say so. They will then narrow their search to meet your needs.

Follow up with a phone call to introduce yourself and answer any questions. Make sure the staff has your contact information and is free to call if any questions arise as they are setting appointments. The relationship you establish with the staff during the trade mission pays benefits long into the future.

  1. If you haven't been to the market before, plan to go a couple of days early to become familiar with the market and visit local competitors and other franchised locations in the market. You may even be able to stretch the value by mission by using your own networking and advertising to set your own appointments for these days. Do not set appointments for the days of the trade mission without the knowledge of the Commercial staff.
  2. Ask for a list of appointments in advance. Take the time to learn as much about the people or companies that you will be talking to as possible. Be prepared for your meeting. Structure your presentation to the culture of the country. Allow time to get to know your prospect and leave plenty of time for questions and often, debate. Don't expect instant results. International deals take months to negotiate before contracts are signed. Plan on at least additional trip to the market and have the prospect visit you in the U.S.

Trade missions are not a slam-dunk but, if you do your part, I challenge you to find a more cost-effective means of meeting qualified prospective franchisees.


Published: August 22nd, 2008

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