It’s like a foreign country over there

"Hello, this is Ireland. We'd like to sell you some stuff. What, you're not interested? Oh my..."

I just had one of those phone calls.

You know the kind- the ones that leave you banging your head off the table in frustration, as tears and blood destroy your keyboard?

The ones where you’re finally disturbed by a wailing noise like a trapped animal, only to realise that it’s you doing the angry howling?

The reason? St Patrick’s Day is coming, and we still haven’t learned our lesson.

A friend called me to ask me if I knew that a trade delegation was on its way to Sweden to make a high-powered pitch for business.

That’s great you say, as you throw me my green jersey.

And it is. But it turns out that they’re meeting entirely the wrong people with a product that doesn’t suit them and a pitch that won’t appeal to them.

Worst of all, a single phone call to my friend – a businessman well-known in the community – before planning the delegation would have sorted it out in a jiffy.

This is not an attack on our public service – indeed my last post was how we should be giving them more, not less resources to help market Ireland abroad.

Rather, it is an attack on our business mentality – our inability to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, to identify their wants and needs (not what we want them to want) and act accordingly.

The clock is ticking. St Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us, but it’s not too late.

If you’re taking part in one of these delegations, the following three phone calls will go a long way to making sure that at best, you don’t make a fool of yourself and at worst, you don’t destroy a market for the rest of us.

1. Call the local Irish trade office in the region you are visiting, whether it be Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, IDA or whoever and ask them for every scrap of information they have.

When you get it – and this is the important part – read it carefully but do not look for what makes it similar to the Irish market.

To sell abroad, you will have to prepare to do so on the differences in their market, not the similarities with ours.

2. Pick up the phone to some of the people you’re meeting. Market reports are great, but no-one can fill you in on customer expectations from a pitch like a customer themselves. Just call ’em up and tell them that you’re looking forward to meeting them.

Tell them you’re delighted that they’re taking the time to meet you, and you don’t want to waste their time so you’d like a little background info on their business and the market there. Most, if not all will oblige – none of us likes our time being wasted.

Lastly, make sure that whoever they’re sending to the meeting is capable of either making the decision, or having a very strong influence on it.

3. With the last shred of your Skype credit, do something revolutionary and call an Irish firm or person in the market and ask for the inside track.

They will often know the firms and individuals involved, as well as the trends and competitors – for instance, if you’re selling IT or software to one of Sweden’s biggest banks, you’d do well to mention the great hunting and fishing in Ireland (the CTO has no interest in IT but loves the great outdoors).

Many of us out in the big wide world are patriotic and will do almost anything to help the creation of jobs back home, even if it hurts us in the short term, but if they are in the same field as you, suggest partnership, not competition.

It’s up to you- make those three phone calls and even if you don’t make the sale, you’ll know an awful lot more about the market than you did before you started.

Don’t, and your wasting resources that a better-prepared firm could have had to bring revenue and jobs to Ireland.

It’s your call.

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