Finding import and export business partners

To do business internationally, you need the right partners. Importers are looking for a suitable supplier. And exporters need foreign customers or business partners. You can discover new business opportunities and grow your company together with partners. They are part of your network. You can find suitable partners at trade shows, for example, and foreign online marketplaces.

Finding a supplier, partner, or customer often takes a lot of time. That is if you take it seriously and do not just join forces with the first candidate to come along. You naturally want to find the most suitable supplier or customer. The better a partner suits you, the greater your chances of success. This article explores how to connect with a reliable international partner.

Establish contact

You want your partners to be reliable. Supplying the right products, meeting their agreements, and paying on time. Only negotiate with the person who is authorised to make decisions in the company. Take time to build up a relationship. Here are 13 ways to find suppliers, customers, and business partners abroad: 

  1. Find foreign business partners via search engines such as Google. Search for names of countries or products. 
  2. Visit trade shows in your field of expertise, and meet new contacts there. And maintain your existing ones. You can also participate with your own booth. 
  3. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO may be able to find you suitable business partners with their Market Exploration  service.
  4. Go to regional entrepreneurs' meetings. Exchange experiences with other business owners present over drinks. 
  5. Find products, customers, or suppliers on Alibaba, Europages, or Kompass for example. You can buy the company addresses you have looked up via their websites. These online marketplaces and company guides connect buyers and sellers from all over the world. 
  6. Meet foreign trade partners during an incoming or outgoing trade mission (in Dutch). Whether your company is big or small, during a trade mission you will quickly meet potential business partners.  
  7. Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) can put you in touch with the right partner through their digital database or matchmaking meetings at trade fairs.  
  8. The international network of the Dutch government also helps businesses realise their ambitions - from startups to experienced international entrepreneurs.
  9. Make the most of the international network of Netwerk Internationaal Ondernemen (NIO, in Dutch)
  10. As an EU importer, you can ask the CBI (Centrum tot Bevordering van de Import uit ontwikkelingslanden) whether they can put your business in touch with exporters from certain developing countries. 
  11. Advertise on your website that you are looking for business partners. You can invite potential business partners to fill out a questionnaire online, for example. 
  12. Place an ad in important trade magazines in the countries you have identified as interesting for your business. 
  13. Check for national sector or industry organisations in countries you are interested in. There may be interesting companies on their member lists.

Do you want to discuss your plans with an adviser? Call the KVK Advice Team: 088 585 22 22. 

Check reliability

Always vet your foreign business partners before doing business with a company you do not know. That way, you can be sure your business partner is honest, authorised, and financially viable. And reduce the risks. Almost all countries have a commercial register of registered companies. Check these foreign registers to see whether your partner’s company is officially registered and make sure that their company actually exists. There are no guarantees that your supplier is and will remain 100% reliable. 

Find out what type of partner suits you

Importers are looking for suitable foreign suppliers. Usually a manufacturer or a trader. Exporters are looking for foreign customers or business partners such as a distributor or commercial agent. 

Foreign suppliers

If you are looking for a unique product that is only sold by one supplier, the choice is easy. If that is not the case, look for the suppliers with the best price, conditions, and delivery guarantee. Pick at least 2, so you are less dependent on one party. 

Make a list of requirements that you want your ideal supplier to meet. Always listen to your gut feeling. Having a good rapport with your supplier is also important. 

List of requirements

A list of requirements is a great way to assess the suitability of potential partners. Things to consider include:

  • Distance
    Decide if you want a supplier close to home or if distance is not a problem. Geographical distance is an important factor for delivery time. Check out the Country Information database (in Dutch) to make the decision-making process easier.
  • Language
    Are there people in your company who speak your supplier’s language? English will get you far, but if you decide to do business with a German supplier, for example, they will appreciate it if you speak German.
  • Culture
    country’s culture plays an important part in how that country does business. When negotiating with foreign business partners, you will need a good personal relationship and a good understanding of their culture.
  • Profile
    Does the supplier's profile meet your requirements?  Production capacity, for example, stock inventory, and delivery terms. How much support can they provide when it comes to customer service and warranties?
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
    How does your supplier help achieve your sustainability goals? How can you together have a positive impact on people, the environment, and society? Ask, for example, how your supplier ensures good working conditions or less environmental pollution. If your supplier scores well on CSR, it will contribute to your business' sustainable supply chain.

Ask for quotes from different suppliers. Compare the quotes and then choose 1 or more suppliers that best match your requirements. 

Foreign customers

There are several ways to go about finding foreign customers. With a direct approach, you actively search for customers in foreign markets. You establish a relationship and sell your products yourself, either from the Netherlands or through a business you have established abroad.

Distributor or agent

You can also partner up with companies that sell your products abroad. A distributor or commercial agent, for example. These companies find customers for you on the local market, sell your product, and maintain the relationship. 

Distributors buy your products: they become the owners. Commercial agents do not own the goods but negotiate the sale. They receive a fee for this. Decide which type of partner best suits your company, a distributor or an agent