Marketing > Using export agents
What is the role of the export agent?
Let us begin by defining an export
agent. An export agent is a firm (or individual) that
undertakes most of the exporting activities on behalf
of an exporter usually for a commission. A key feature
of the traditional export agent is that they never really
take ownership of the goods, which always remain under
the control of the exporter. The agent thus will do
most of the marketing of the principle (i.e. the export
firm) and the firm’s products.
What exactly does the export agent do?
The agent may travel abroad, do research,
prepare an export plan, advise the exporter on how to
adapt their marketing mix, make contact with potential
buyers, negotiate deals with the buyers, take care of
all promotional activities, handle the logistics and
documentation, and much more. All of these tasks, the
export will do on the exporter’s
behalf. The exporter normally pays the agent for the expenses
they have incurred marketing the firm’s products
and handling the export administration, and will generally
earn a commission on any sales generated. In essence the
export agent becomes the exporter’s export department.
In some cases, the principle will want to keep tight control
over the agent’s activities, while in other instances,
the agent is given free reign. Some companies may employ
an agent for very specific tasks such as undertaking marketing
research or handling the export administration and logistics
Using an agent is a relatively easy
and painless way for a local company to enter the export
market, as they generally have to do very little – the agent does
all (or at least some) of the export marketing on the
Things you need to look out for
When seeking an export agent to assist you, you need
to bear the following in mind:
- Does the export agent have the skills and experience
to do the job?
- Does the export agent have the technical knowledge
to market your product(s), especially if you are selling
a very technical product?
- Does the export agent have a good network of contacts
that he/she can turn to for help?
- Does the export agent have a working knowledge of
the foreign marketplace (for example, do they understand
the culture and speak the language)?
- How many other companies does the export agent represent?
- Does the agent represent any competing or similar
- Does the agent represent any complementary products?
- Does the export agent have a suitable personality
to successful market/sell your products abroad?
- Do you think that you can get on with the export agent
on a personal level?
- Can the export agent provide you with any references
from other companies they have helped, and if so, go
ahead, check these references?
- Do you agree with how the export agent proposes to
market your products?
- Is the export agent affordable (is he/she proposing
reasonable expenses and commissions)?
- Is the export agent prepared to enter into a formal
contract with you?
- Does the contract or agreement with the export agent
impose any restrictions on you (a) in terms of exclusivity,
(b) with respect to the period of the agreement, and
(c) as far as non-performance or conflict issues are
concerned (i.e. can you get out of the contract if you
The contract that you sign with your export agent may
have dramatic implications for the success of your firm.
If you plan to sign such a contract, we recommend that
you consider certain issues. Click here to learn more
about possible clauses in the agency contract.