‘Being there’ is still important

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‘Being there’ is still important


The importance of getting your ‘boots on the ground’ has been a top tip from business leaders for decades, but for some that option is out the window right now.

Sam Watson – Group CEO at Southern Spars shared his thoughts and perspectives on this in a recent conversation.   Sam has worked with Southern Spars for 10 years and moved to the States in 2013 where he currently resides in lockdown.

Sam has always been an advocate for travel.  The guys that started the Southern Spars business did the  hard yards by getting around all the boat yards in Europe and Sam attributes much of the success of the business to the personal relationships they established doing this over a long period of time.  In the last 4-5 years, Sam has taken that on board and has spent about 1/3 of his time at home and the rest abroad, living in 4 different countries. Below we explore Sam’s take on travel and other key tips for NZ exporters:


  1. The more local you are, the better you are to that market.  

    Every time we purchased a business in another country, the depth of connection with the customers in that country went through the roof and everything got so much easier.  The trick is to find somebody good to represent you. When you get the right person in the market you will accelerate so quickly you can afford to have a couple of false starts, particularly in the USA where every State is its own country. You can have a crack and get away with a few false starts and learn some things along the way.  Book recommendation  - 'Who' by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. Not specific to exporters but highly recommend it.

  2. You need to manage your experience for your customers

    The big hassle in dealing with New Zealand is the time difference. Sam’s advice about being based in USA is to think about the culture and how accessible you are.  It is really hard as an exporter servicing customer’s overseas to have a window of availability of 2-hours in the morning with USA/Europe when they can get the option any time of the week to talk with someone down the road. It’s important to adapt your working hours to the way your team works to be more customer centric.  And, as much as possible, avoid email. You really have to make calls, even if it is at a really inconvenient time for you with the time difference and use emails as a follow up.

  3. Be humble about what it means to be a NZ business

    We have a great reputation when it comes to doing business, but unless you’re in some specific niche spaces nobody cares.   Everyone has a preference to do business with their countrymen – the Dutch want to work with the Dutch, Spanish guys want to work with the Spanish guys, the USA guys want to work with the local guys.  Stereotypically, there are a lot of great traits that come out of NZ.  Go to market thinking export out of NZ is a weakness and you will have to work twice as hard as anyone else to overcome it.

  4. Be aware that the experience NZ has had with COVID is really different to the rest of the world

    We have seen this manifest itself in lots of different ways. People in different parts of the world are working with some pretty hardcore restrictions and they are quite jaded and exhausted.  This is just a point of difference to be really conscious of.  It’s also played out in terms of optimism all the way through - we’ve noticed our NZ sales team is more optimistic about sales opportunities than the team based in other parts of the world, which is good because it balances things out. The guys in the States and Europe really struggling.  In the States, it feels serious and there are a bucket load of people unemployed, a lot of people who live on the same street as Sam have been Furloughed, and government support packages offered in the States are really different to what has been offered in NZ.  So just bear that in mind when you are interacting with them.  Try and be empathetic.

  5. It has taken one of the major disadvantages off the table

The expectation that you are going to be there in person is gone. We have looked at how to maximise the impacts of speaking over video conferencing.  My recommendation is Mark Bowden – public speaking coach – his whole thing is on how to build trust via public speaking.  He has a webinar series ‘how to present digitally’ and offers some good tips for upping your sales peoples’ game when interacting with customers.

In a COVD world what being there and being present actually means is showing up digitally and being on form.  So if it means you have to be there at 2am NZ time to move a deal forward, or to be there to on-board a new team member, we need to realise that we have to be there and show up to be ‘on form’…no excuses, no ‘I’m feeling groggy’ – it forces a whole new self-accountability.

Exporting is not going away we just need to find new ways of doing it and I come back to learning from others with scars, we haven’t necessarily got that many people with scars, but some of things we have learnt are still super-relevant and I think the biggest thing to remember before COVID and after COVID is that none of us are unique and none of us are alone.

See you at our virtual conference 7th August


Catherine Lye

Regional Manager, ExportNZ