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In April, Gov. Gary Herbert led a week-long trade mission of Utah companies to Israel. Besides meeting with a number of Israeli businesses and interests, the group was also able to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
World Trade Center Utah organizes a number of foreign trade missions each year. Herbert led a foreign trade mission to China in 2011, and in 2012, WTC Utah hosted foreign trade missions to Vietnam, Russia and Indonesia.
Given that each company pays its own expenses to participate, what value is there in being a part of a trade mission? How can businesses make the most out of these trips?
For David Bradford, executive chairman of HireVue, the decision to participate in April’s trade mission to Israel was easy. It was an opportunity to make contact with potential partners and open new markets for his company, which offers a digital employment interview platform. Israel has a very strong economy as well as highly developed technology and capital markets. For all of these reasons, Bradford says the trip was well worth the expense.
“Going to Israel was an opportunity to build relationships with potential customers, potential technology partners and potential funding sources,” he says. “We are actually very well-funded at this point, but it never hurts to develop those relationships. One never knows what the future holds and what will be needed. Israel also has good technology developers, which we may use in the future. More immediately, we were looking to expand the market for our product. Israel is a great market for us to be in.”
Bradford has some advice for companies considering foreign trade missions, to help them get the most out of the experience:
Evaluate the mission to see if it speaks to your company’s objectives. The first thing that should be determined, before a company decides whether or not a trade mission will be worth the time, effort and expense, are what kinds of contacts and markets the trade mission will be visiting. Will they be of value to the company? Not all trade missions are the same, both in terms of contacts that will be arranged and markets emphasized.
Herbert is slated to lead a trade mission to the UK in early July, for example. The UK is Utah’s largest foreign export market. This trade mission would be valuable for companies looking for contacts in the aerospace, medical equipment and environmental industries, among others. Later in the year, in September, WTC Utah is heading a trade mission to Brazil, which is an emerging export market for Utah. Brazil is among the top 10 economies in the world, but it ranks at No. 20 among Utah’s trading partners.
Prepare ahead of time. Don’t simply rely on the arrangements made by the agency putting the trade mission together—reach out ahead of time to other contacts that you know will be helpful to your business.
Bradford spent a great deal of time lining up additional meetings with people in Israel that he knew would be useful to visit with, in addition to the official meetings that had been setup. One way he did this was by utilizing the State Department’s Gold Key Matching Service to set up introductions. The Gold Key Matching Service can arrange business meetings with pre-screened contacts, including government officials, distributors, professional associations or joint venture partners.
Get a feel for the country and its culture. Part of the trip often will involve some touring and learning the culture. Do this with the purpose of gaining a better understanding of the people you will be meeting with. Make a connection with those you meet by demonstrating some understanding of their culture. Find out what their needs are and learn how you can help them. It is about reciprocity—you are there to learn how both parties can benefit from each other.
Don’t overlook other members of the trade mission. Some of the best contacts you will make may very well be members of your party who are also on the trade mission. Bradford says that during the trip to Israel, members of the delegation from Utah were able to build relationships with each other. For example, Scott Anderson, president of Zions Bank, was a part of the trade mission. Although Anderson and Bradford already knew each other, they were able to build upon their relationship. In addition, Bradford was introduced to another senior officer of bank whom he hadn’t known prior to going on the trade mission.
Follow up. Once the trade mission is over, make sure to follow up with the people you met. Take the business cards you collected and put the information, along with notes, into a database. Reach out to the people you met with sooner, rather than later, to strengthen the relationships you started while on the trip. Thank them for their time and make sure to follow through on whatever commitments you made.