Closing an international trade deal can take months and sometimes even years before an agreement might be reached. The reason is there are a lot of dynamics involved in the process from first contact till the final delivery, but while many activities are involved, some crucial questions are always asked by the buyer to the seller, and the type of answers given by the exporter may determine if the importer buys from them or not.
With a highly competitive local and international marketplace, one wrong answer could cost you a prospect especially if the prospect is making an inquiry on the supply of a commodity that hundreds or possibly thousands of exporters can also supply.
To be better prepared to address the concerns of most international buyers, here are 20+ likely questions international buyers ask exporters and how to answer them:
1). What Is The Product Specification?
This is simply the buyer asking to know what specifications the product you claim to be selling has. Depending on how the product is produced, the specifications may vary, and so, you should always have an idea of the product specifications of your product per sourcing point.
Beyond just asking for product specifications, many buyers have the specifications they need and will very likely make a request for theirs.
2). Can You Send Us Samples?
When international buyers make an inquiry for a product, they sometimes request to have samples, usually 500 grams to 2kg, to be sent to their office address for an assessment of what your product quality looks like. When this is requested, you should be able to provide and send samples.
It’s however important to note that the courier cost of sending samples should always be at the buyer’s expense and not the seller’s. The seller can cover the cost of getting the little sample, but not the cost of couriering it because any buyer serious about doing business with your firm would be ready to pay for samples to be delivered
If as a seller you go on a sample sending spree at your own expense, it could cost you an average of $100-200 to send samples per location and if you send samples to 100 places in a year, you’d have spent $10,000-20,000 which would be devastating if none of the prospects converts.
3). What Is The Price?
As an exporter, you need to be able to estimate the FOB cost of your products. This can be determined by estimating a wide range of expenses we’ve listed in the article here.
When you know the FOB cost of your products, it’s easy to estimate the CNF or CIF cost because you’d only have to estimate the freight and/or insurance cost to the destination port and then factor the cost to your overall selling price inclusive of the profit margins you’re targeting.
4). Where Is The Loading Port?
The loading port is the port of origin in the exporter’s country where the container will first be loaded onto a vessel from before it sails to the delivery port.
In Nigeria for instance, the loading port for containers could be Apapa port or Onne port. In other countries it could be any port available in your country like Surabaya in Indonesia, Mundra in Inida, Jebel Ali in UAE, and so on.
When you determine the loading port you’d like be shipping from due to the proximity of your warehouse to it or for any other reasons, you can always easily give the right answer when asked.
5). Are You The Seller Or A Broker?
If you’re the exporter, you’re the seller. If you’re a middle man, you’re a broker.
It’s important that you come clean if you’re not the direct exporter because if you claim you’re the exporter for too long and the buyer finds out eventually that you’re not, then there’s no reason to trust you at all going forward.
6). What Certifications Do You Have?
Most countries in many parts of the world require that you get certain kinds of certifications before you can ship any products to their port, else, they’d confiscate and destroy the goods. while there are several country-specific certifications that you must get from the delivery country first, there are some general certifications that you can get from the country of origin which are mostly acceptable in many countries around the world.
Some of them are:
- Fumigation Certificate
- Phytosanitary Certificate
- Health Certificate
- Certificate of Analysis
- Certificate of Origin
And so on.
You need to let the buyer know what certificates you can provide and if they’re acceptable, you can move forward with the transaction.
7). What Shipping Documents will You Give:
Just like in letting the buyer know about the certificates you can issue, buyers will also want to know what shipping documents you can provide to see if they’re acceptable in their country.
Some shipping documents that are a standard when shipping containerized goods, especially agricultural products are:
- Bill of Lading
- Commercial Invoice
- Packing List
- Fumigation Certificate
- Phytosanitary Certificate
- Health Certificate
- Certificate of Analysis
- Certificate of Origin
And much more.
8). How Many Years Have You Been In This Business?
The number of years you’ve been in business will give the buyer a degree of confidence on your ability to not just deliver the goods but also to handle complex situations that may arise. It also ensures that you’ve dealt with a lot of people and are very conversant about the international trade business.
If you’ve been in business for a while, let the buyer know how long. And if possible, mention the years you’ve also been in business but not as a seller but as a broker or employee in an international trading firm.
Buyers usually like traders who have at least 3 years of experience and that’s a good number to target.
9). Do You Have A Website Or Corporate Profile?
Many international buyers would want to learn everything they can about your business and one place to start is by visiting your website or reading your corporate profile.
It’s important that you have either or both because your website is your window to the world and the corporate profile is a document that gives them even deeper insight.
You should also request the same from the buyer so that you can understand their business too.
10). Can We See A Copy Of Your Original Company Documents?
Some buyers like to see original company documents of the seller because it proves the seller is a legally registered business in the country they claim to be operating in.
Before you go into international trade, you need to be a registered Limited Liability Company and also secure an Export Licence so that you can prove you’re an entity legally allowed to trade commodities.
You should also request the same of the buyer if they’re not a well known reputable firm to avoid entering a scam situation.
11). Do You Have Any Track Records?
Most buyers prefer to deal with exporters who have track records. But if you don’t, you should let them know you don’t but can deliver to them on highly secure Letter of Credit deals that will guarantee they don’t lose a penny.
Most exporters who don’t have any track records claim they have a non-disclosure agreement with their clients, and as such, can’t disclose the track records. While this works sometimes with helping them close their first deals, telling the truth is always be best as it builds credibility.
12). Have You Shipped To My Country Before?
Asides from just a track record, most buyers are more comfortable with exporters who ship regularly to their country as this means the exporter has experience with the quality standards and likely issues their country may pose during a trade.
If you’ve shipped to their country before, telling them you have would be great for you. If you haven’t you can let them know and show them the track record of the same product to another country. but assure them of your experience and secure transaction process.
13). Can You Give Us Any Referrals To Talk To?
Most buyers would want to talk to companies that you have shipped to in the past to know their experience dealing with you. If you have clients who would be excited to recommend you, then you have gold because buyers would almost always go with an exporter that was recommended by another excited buyer in their own country.
14). What Are Your Payment Terms?
This is a very important question because it determines the level of security and safety both you and the buyer has on the transaction.
Most buyers prefer to be on a safe end and might even require that you ship the goods to their country before they pay. While you should never ever do that, always propose a 100% LC as a more expensive payment term or a partial payment as a cheaper alternative.
This way, they know that if they issue an LC, they won’t be paying until they receive the original shipping document, but would pay an overall higher cost as opposed to if they make a partial payment. And also, an LC will secure and guarantee you get paid as long as you meet the terms of the LC.
15). What Quantity Can You Supply Us Per Shipment?
The answer to this question depends on your financial buoyancy, availability of goods, and supply chain challenges.
If you’re well-funded, you can offer to ship very large volumes to them but need to be certain the goods are available at the sourcing point and that you can safely and surely transport them to the port in the said period.
16). What Is The Delivery Timeline?
Depending on where you are in the world, I always suggest exporters state 30-45 days even if it could be as little as 2 weeks. But in Nigeria, it could be as much as 60+ days even.
Explain to the buyer that sourcing would take 2 weeks, delivery to port, 1-2 weeks and that once the goods are at the port, the cargo’s sailing period is beyond your control. Once you can justify this, some buyers would understand.
If you choose a period shorter than realistic, the contract could get cancelled before you even know it.
17). How Can We Guarantee The Quality?
To buyers, the quality of what they’re buying from you is of utmost importance because they need to ensure they won’t lose their investments.
You can explain to them your sourcing and quality process and also guarantee them the quality by ensuring a quality inspection firm like SGS and Bureau Veritas handles the inspection and issues a certificate to guarantee the quality.
18). Do You Have The Product Photos And Videos?
You should always have photos and videos of the products you’re marketing. This is important to the buyer as that’s the first step they’d use to see what the goods you’re selling look like.
If you don’t, go to a commodity market and take a lot of photos and videos of the product so that you can send them to the client whenever they request.
19). Can You Give Us Another Landlocked Country’s Legitimate Shipping Documents Too?
Landlocked countries like Niger Republic usually depend on another country’s port to ship their commodities. They also usually have tax-waiver agreements with other countries when the importers in those countries buy from them.
Sometimes importers will reach out to you to supply them goods from your country but with documents from the other country. For this, you’d need to talk to your shipping agent to see how it works so that you ensure you’re not breaking the law but are providing legitimate documents from the other country since the goods would be coming from the other country but a community at a border to your country.
20). How Long Do You Plan To Be In Business?
Most international buyers want clients they can be in business with for life. They don’t want one-off suppliers, and so, look for partners that plan to build a multi-million or billion dollar business over the next few decades.
When asked, always mention that you want to be in business for as many years as possible. Let them understand your dreams and goals and if they’re also big dreamers, they too might want to be a part of the ride by starting a buying relationship with you.
21). What Other Commodities Do You Export?
Asids just the product requested, international buyers usually buy a host of other commodities and would like know if they may be able to buy some other commodities they currently buy from other vendors from you also, in the event that the trial order goes great.
If you sell other products, now is the time to market them. If you don’t but have access to great sourcing points for many other products, market them also like they currently sell them. This way you’d grow your sales faster.
What are your thoughts on these 20+ likely questions international buyers ask exporters before doing business with them? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
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