Import-Export: The invisible network

Carlos Ortega Import-Export: The invisible network  by Carlos Ortega.

Import-export international business is an interesting life experience. Different cultures, languages, product specifications, currencies, working times, travel, process, etc, … All mixed  together, running at the same time and the most amazing thing, the coordination between suppliers and customers represented by salesmen and purchase managers, must be perfect to do it «just in time» with a minimum of risks.

Fortunately, new technologies help us to do it easily. They give us support to describe the products, send documents, even have a face to face conversation with thousands of kilometers of separation. In this way, we can improve delivery times, quality controls, reduce mistakes and the more important, avoid claims.

Sound is nice, but if you are involved in this business, you know certainly that you could pay a high price: stress.

Numbers are numbers, pictures are pictures, words in talks are lost in the universe, and specifications are documents created to define, control, minimize risks and, eventually declare responsabilities when troubles appear over your desk. So, why it appears and who is the problem’s responsible when you have powerful control tools? The invisible network.

After many years working in different export-import companies with different products like furniture, cosmetics, technologies, fresh and dry food, I was shocked to discover the same problems repeated in all of the fields, not only in Spain, but also in other countries. I had been thinking about it a long time and eventually, I found my personal explanation.

The invisible network is a long chain of people involved in the process that you will never control totally. It starts from frontline workers to middle management, who participate in the process following orders. But quite often they have a lake of knowledge, training or sense of responsability. Therefore, they unknow that a small mistake, acceptable for them, is amplificated hundred times in the export process, and probably they will never know that it resulted in a disaster because of them. Indeed, this disaster comes from different small mistakes. But the fault is not always in the supply side, the same situation might happen from the customer side.

Other members in this invisible network are the satellite companies and institutions involved in the proccess, like chamber of commerce, customs offices, transport companies, banks, insurance companies, etc.

Many times, you never know them, they are only a voice on the other side of phone calls, even in your own organization with international strutures, you do not have personal relationships with your colleagues.

So, how can we do it?

The solutions of big problems are usually very simple. I recommend four rules:

– Training and information.

Every minute investing in training will revert to decreasing mistake rates. Try to minimize to zero the answer «Sorry, I did not know that» .Remember if you are the team manager, you are the only responsible of this.
All people in the invisible network must to know the information necessary to develop their functions, not more and less.

– Method

Method should be a law in the international import-export business because you are a part of a very long chain of communication. Everybody is expecting a kind of answer from your side, so if you modify it, the results can be unexpected.

– Short, focused and clear communication.

Make it simple. Focus on the main goal every time!!!
When you are dealing with specification definitions, do not refer to logistics matters, or when you speak about shipment details, do not mix with payment terms. All items are engaged but you must control the deal in a very clear way to avoid misunderstanding. I remember many unsuccessful cases because of bad communication.

– Honesty.

At the end, the import-export business is based in people, like you. Someone needs something overseas and someone else can supply from there. Everybody is interested in making a profitable agreement for both. Never forget these words «profitable for both».

But, it will take a longtime business relationship so it is your duty as buyer and as supplier to be honest.
Price is always important but I prefer to say honestly NOT to purchase an order than to ship low quality because buying price is not in accord with category 1. And I hate post-sale headaches.
Good communication, professionalism and honesty are the keys of success within the import-export invisible network.

See you soon in the market.

Best regards.


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