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MindShare: Navigating International Partnerships

By Bill Kramer, U.S. Commercial Service Pittsburgh

When companies determine that they are ready to grow their international sales and take advantage of the 95% of consumers outside of the U.S., a successful strategy requires finding the right international partner to maximize their global growth potential. In this article, we will explore how to navigate international partnerships by finding, vetting and maintaining relationships.

Sales Channels

When planning a go-global strategy, companies must first think about the sales channels that they will use to sell their goods or services. On one hand, a U.S. producer can use a direct sales channel to deal directly with a potential buyer. However, this channel requires significant time, attention and commitment to manage the entire export sales process. On the other hand, a company can use indirect sales channels by going through an agent, representative, or distributor to find buyers and sell products in the foreign market. Indirect sales leverage your partner’s expertise, contacts and experience in each market, in turn providing your partner with significant influence on your business growth. Therefore, finding the right international partner is vital.

Finding a Foreign Partner

When seeking an international partner to increase overseas sales, it is smart to have a checklist to assess compatibility. When searching for an international partner, important considerations include the potential partner’s sales force size, sales record, territory coverage, product mix, facilities and equipment, marketing policies, customer profile, principals represented, and promotional thrust to make sure the partner is aligned with your company’s goals, needs and values.

U.S. Commercial Service’s Matchmaking Services

With offices located in more than 80 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service is uniquely positioned to assist U.S. companies to expand into new markets and grow in existing ones. In addition to its complimentary export counseling, the U.S. Commercial Service offers services to match U.S. companies with the right international partner. An International Partner Search provides U.S. exporters with a list of up to five agents, distributors, and/or partners that have expressed an interest in your product or service. The U.S. Commercial Service also offers a Gold Key Service, which provides U.S. firms traveling to a foreign market with up to five pre-screened appointments to establish relationships with potential overseas agents, distributors, sales representatives, business partners and/or other local entities in-country. 

Vetting a Foreign Partner

It is important for U.S. exporters to vet potential partners to protect their reputation. The U.S. Commercial Service can perform an International Company Profile to provide U.S. companies with in-depth background check information on a specific foreign company to help determine its suitability as a potential business partner. The service includes a site visit to the target foreign company and interviews with principals and references.

Strategies for Successful International Partnerships

Finding the right partner is an important step, but it is equally important to maintain strong relationships with key international partners.  Providing excellent customer service and investing in long-term relationships will pay dividends for international growth. Keep in mind cultural differences, be flexible during currency fluctuations, maintain good communication, visit frequently and invite partners to visit in the United States to build personal trust, and keep foreign contacts lists updated.

Finding the right international partner makes all the difference, and U.S. exporters should put the appropriate effort and resources into the search. If you are interested in finding or vetting an international partner, contact the U.S. Commercial Service to learn more about their suite of matchmaking and due diligence offerings.

Bill Kramer is an International Trade Specialist with the U.S. Commercial Service Pittsburgh Office and can be reached at or (412) 644-2815.