Tools and export: people at the core

Eight toolmakers out of ten would like to sell their tools abroad. Some already do it quite successfully, few with excellent results; most of them tried with scarce results and gave up

Lucilla Rizzini

Selling one’s own tools abroad, even if of excellent quality, is not easy. Actually, it is neither too difficult, if you know on what you should leverage in the medium-long term. Let us see first what is indispensable to do in the short term.

To start a successful internationalization process, it is indispensable to comply with 5 key issues. What are the 5 “must-have” for a successful export?
Knowing the language. English can be sufficient in certain cases but speaking the language of the destination Country allows establishing confident, and then more reliable, relationships with partners, so avoiding misunderstandings;
Relying on a coherent reliable profile. Yes to catalogues, brochures and internet site perfectly translated and geo-localized. The pure literal translation, although well executed, is no longer enough.
Processing a specific international marketing strategy suiting market requirements;
Knowing how your competitors operate, analysing their errors and turning them into your strong points;
Taking care of after-sales, letting your customers always feel your proximity and not only when you need they send the orders.

Motivation is indispensable 

Even if you conform to these 5 steps, the success is not guaranteed, yet, because much, indeed, very much depends on the skills and the motivation of the people involved in the project.

Entrepreneurs and managers who intend to increase the export shares of their business know they must turn to experts.
Nowadays, it is well-known the employee who speaks English correctly is not sufficient. The art of making shift is very dangerous.

Export experts are necessary and they must be motivated. In many tool manufacturing companies, and not only, entrepreneurs persist in calling their collaborators “subordinates”, without understanding the word “subordinate” in itself excludes their possibility of being autonomous and, who knows, perhaps also of performing at their best. This situation is an evergreen inside organizations even when dealing with internationalization projects, where individuals’ specific competences are even more of vital importance for the project’s good outcome.

The entrepreneur or the manager who “speaks threateningly” even, actually, without speaking in a loud voice, is the best antidote for his collaborators’ motivational balance, which is strictly connected with the sense of self-efficacy.

Concerning this, Bandura’s theory defines the sense of self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s skills, in the ability of succeeding in organizing and performing some actions to manage situations and to reach prefixed results. However, if the boss continuously “speaks threateningly” and tends to diminish his collaborators’ skills, the sense of self-efficacy increasingly drops, to the extent of resulting in collaborators’ demotivation.
The more our collaborators will feel up to international situations they must face the higher will be their ambition and aspiration level, their motivation and their possibilities of being successful.
Intercultural situations, by their nature, involve as many opportunities as adversities.

Granting autonomy in the assessment of situations and in the proposal of solutions is the best way to motivate one’s own team and to make them go on generating performance.
On the contrary, asking them to be proactive and then rejecting all ideas or projects as unsuitable creates frustration that can rapidly lead to deadlock situations first and to escape afterwards.

What should we do then?

How can we obtain golden eggs from our geese?
In export development courses, I apply a very simple and as efficacious method.
It consists of 5 steps.
The first two phases alternate coaching and consulting activities.
Step nr. 1: we carry out a mapping of hard skills and of soft skills for each project collaborator.
Step nr. 2: we define the roles and the responsibilities for each resource allocated to the project.

The intervention in the company very often occurs in an advanced project stage, when the deployed resources give no results and they take measures.

Then they meditate strategic changes, they navigate on sight zigzagging among missing competences and opportunities to be seized immediately.

Precisely in this stage it is indispensable to focus on human resources because, before intervening with drastic strategy changes, it is indispensable to make the already available resources operate at best. If it not present, yet, we implement a mapping + redefinition. If, instead, the situation is already very clear, then we concentrate on successive steps.

Step nr. 3: check-up of in-house resources, splitting them in two groups, those who are strongly oriented to action or are determined to pursue the prefixed targets, and those who have a propensity for inaction, depend on others and tend to have a fatalist approach towards their own life and the environment. There is a completely different typology of motivational training for each group.

Step nr. 4: sharing of results in the work team to identify the synergistic actions to be undertaken to recover the motivation for each of the two groups or of single collaborators. In doing that, we exploit a bottom up technique that, starting from the bottom, devises some strategic interventions that must be shared and then are self-motivating. Because the 4th motivation rule reminds “THE ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IS MOTIVATING”

Step nr. 5: feedback activation according to SKS (stop doing, keep doing & start doing) scheme between entrepreneur /manager and collaborators starting from the three following simple questions.

  1. What should we stop doing (in-house as demotivating factor and outside as strategic error) to reach our export target?
  2.  What should we keep on doing (in-house as potential factor and outside as strategic operational factor in the short-medium term)?
  3. What should we start doing (in-house as motivating factor and outside as strategic factor in the medium-long term)?

Last but not least: remember your collaborators most probably have some motivational boosts that differ from yours and what motivates you might de-motivate them.

The very first step is exploring and recognizing them. Moreover, worth highlighting that all can have a fine catalogue, a performing website and an appealing exhibition stand but … Quality means doing it right when no one is looking. (Henry Ford)
And in quality people matter more than everything else.

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