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The business of business delegations

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AK TAREEN on how individual businesses can maximize their returns from trips abroad

Business delegations offer a platform for groups of individual businesses to collectively explore new markets primarily to assess their business prospects.
For the uninitiated, they get to explore a new market relatively quickly and from within the comfort and in the company of compatriots.
business delegation.Indian Link
Large companies with plentiful resources generally do not see the necessity to joina delegation unless there is a specific opportunity such as accompanying a Minister or lobbying to gain market access.
Governments and trade bodies that lead delegations leverage on their local knowledge, networks and influence to raise the collective profile of their industry and the country in markets of interest.
Having organised and facilitated Trade, Investment and Ministerial delegations across India,  Australia and the Middle East over the past 28 years, I have observed that the delegations have transformed significantly in nature.
They have also grown in size and scope and now serve the objectives of multiple stake holders. The business of business delegations has gone on to become an industry in itself supporting a whole host of service providers.

This year, Australia organised its largest ever business delegations to India, 450 strong, led by its federal minister for trade in January.

South Australia, a relatively small state in Australia, brought about 65 people, their largest ever to India. Other states and countries too have brought several large delegations to engage with the growing Indian market.
business delegation.Indian Link
As delegations get bigger, size seems to be the flavour of the season and the defining criteria for success, even more than the outcomes.
The companies are often wooed with grants, incentives and offers of subsidised travel, accommodation, free business matching, gala networking events and even exotic fashion shows in five star hotels!
Of course, the ample opportunity one gets to rub shoulders with ministers and key aides on foreign tours is not overstated.
While on size, it matters no more if the companies are from several unrelated sectors and a significant number of the delegates are actually officials travelling with businesses.
While there’s much publicity generated prior to and during the delegation, one hears very little about the actual outcomes or even follow up activities once the spot light shifts.
business delegation.Indian Link
In the industry of delegations several stake holders stand to benefit and earn their revenues. Trade offices, industry associations, consultants, hotels, travel agents, event managers, logistic companies, media & publicity agencies and others.
But what about the businesses –  the intended main beneficiaries around whom the whole play is orchestrated?
The objective of this article is not to discuss who benefits the most from the ‘business of business delegations’; rather, it’s how individual businesses can maximize their returns from delegations.
Based on my own experience, I would like to share some insights that might help organisations derive better returns and ensure their individual interests are not compromised in the overall hype and hoopla of a delegation.
business delegation.Indian Link
I hope it would also help companies make an informed decision on joining a delegation in the first instance.
At the outset, it is important to recognise that a delegation is a means, not the end, to expand business into new markets. You will, therefore, need to think beyond the current delegation and develop a market entry strategy allocating budgets and resources for follow up visits and activities. The learnings from the visit will be critical to develop a good strategy
Check the credentials of the organiser, the leader and their track record before committing to a delegation.
Evaluate if the objective of the mission serves your own objectives particularly when it is a large group of diverse sectors. Obtain a detailed proposal outlining the program, itinerary, costs, etc. and beware of any hidden costs or risks.
Once you join the delegation, don’t be a mere passenger; actively engage with the organisers to provide inputs at the planning stage.
This will ensure your objectives are incorporated into the overall program and not compromised.
Your program will only be as effective as the individual preparing it.
Therefore, rather than merely relying on the organisation’s reputation, identify this person and ascertain if he /she has the requisite skills, experience and qualifications. It is not uncommon for organisations to outsource work or hire temporary staff to help with delegation work. Connect with this person early on to provide detailed information, brochures, samples, etc. in time.
Prior to visiting a new market, undertake some quick research to get an understanding of the market, culture, size, key players, competitors, opportunities, pricing, import barriers, tax structure, etc. This will allow you to engage with the new market more effectively.
Know your unique selling proposition and articulate it well to your buyers.
Devise a smart communication strategy in consultation with experts and remember, your USP could vary from market to market. For example, if price is your value proposition in the Australian market it may not hold equally good in India or China.
business delegation.Indian Link
Seek your visit program well in advance with details of the people and the companies identified for you and connect with them over e mail, phone, or skype prior to the visit. Enabling your contacts know about your company, product, visit objectives, etc. in advance will not only help you hit the ground running but also identify and filter out irrelevant meetings. Of course, it also demonstrates your seriousness.
Amidst the hectic program, it is not always possible to spend sufficient time with all the people you meet. Therefore, it is important to have an elevator pitch and leave a lasting impression for easier follow up.Bring in a personal touch by remembering their personal landmarks, achievements or any common areas of interests.
It is easy to be overwhelmed with the number of people you meet and the amount of information you collect during a long delegation. Record details of each meeting and discussion along with commitments to follow up. When possible, take pictures and add them to the notes so its easy to recall subsequently. Also, don’t forget to validate information, particularly critical to your business, through different sources.
A good follow up strategy is critical and the mantra to success. Formulate a strategy based on your findings as well as advice from market experts. Prioritise your contacts, follow up on your commitments and plan to return to the market within three months.
Delegations are an attractive proposition in exploring new markets as the planning, preparation and execution of meetings and events are usually handled by the organisers.
However, it is important for the individual delegates to be aware and actively involved and remember the tips shared in this article to make the most out of the business of business delegations.
AK Tareen is the Founder and Chairman of AKT Strategic Consulting, providing strategic advice, assistance and representation services to foreign governments, brands and businesses in India, Australia and the Middle East.
Tareen served with the Australian Federal and State Governments for nearly two decades before seeking retirement as the Senior Trade Commissioner to India & South Asia in 2013. 

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