The opportunity and interest in international expansion by companies leads to the need to organize business missions to selected markets in order to provide support for internationalization. However, if just over 1 year ago it was usual for these face-to-face trips to take place in order to promote networking moments between companies, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new reality and extra challenges. The reality of remote work has taken hold, but the needs of companies have not disappeared in a closed economy and it is urgent to find alternatives for face-to-face meetings with potential partners. Therefore, in order to be able to get around this and counteract the stagnation of the national economy, it is necessary to create new opportunities for the export of goods and services. Through a new work context in which people have become used to online communication, virtual business missions allow fluency in contacts with international companies, helping national SMEs to diversify markets.
Virtual business missions have exactly the same goal as face-to-face business missions, which had to be replaced because international travel is conditioned, with a focus on creating export opportunities for small and medium-sized companies in Portugal. The idea of these missions is for entrepreneurs to meet potential buyers or other agents, participate in site visits and network events. Potential buyers, agents, distributors and partners are contacted before each mission, through prior and careful preparation, providing stakeholders with the best opportunity to build business relationships.
The truth is that establishing quality contacts in the foreign market is the best way to provide companies with business opportunities in several areas, countering the stagnation of the national economy. Thus, these companies can meet with importers and distributors (B2B meetings) in order to find potential customers, gather information about the sector and expand their business channel. These help in terms of advice, to bridge information gaps between new markets and customers, to improve export performance. Part of what happens in traditional trade missions can be replicated through online platforms.
When setting up a virtual mission, it is always important to take into account who the target audience will be. There are some practical issues that must be considered, namely:
- Choose the platform to be used, as what can be commonly used in one market may not be used in another. Among the most used platforms are Zoom, Microsoft teams, Google Meet and Skype;
- Test the platform with a colleague, namely audio, video and screen sharing issues;
- Use a support presentation;
- Go beyond the commercial presentation;
- Think of creative ways to promote interaction;
- Pay attention to the color, font and design of the presentation;
- Include relevant information and do not overload the presentation;
- Adjust your communication to the target audience
- Speak calmly and pay attention to your voice’s tone;
- Try not to promote a very long presentation;
- Pay attention to the background image and choose a quiet place to make the presentation;
- Do not show insecurity and react naturally if unforeseen events occur.
As advantages of these virtual missions are the saving of resources (in terms of money and time), being more profitable and accessible for small companies that do not have so many resources for long stays in other markets. In addition to the greater possibility of participation, another advantage is the flexibility of the agenda that online allows. Even in the post-mission context, the possibility of recording audio/video, sharing documents and building networks with more participants are also advantages. A notable disadvantage is the loss of moments “between” meetings (loss of proximity and contact), casual conversations at the reception or a coffee break. These activities also add value and allow essential synergies, by bringing people together and creating a more interconnected experience. The eventual delay in scheduling, due to the inherent difficulties of the platforms and the possibility of the participation of a high number of players that can affect the quality of the interactions are also disadvantages.
Business missions open doors for fast-track companies to engage with the right companies and, equally important, with the right individuals in one trip. It is important to note that investing now in virtual business missions can pay off in the future to prepare the ground for post-Covid-19 trade missions. In the end, these missions have as the main goal to promote trade and, as institutions and companies adapt to this new reality, they can better understand them with experience: as temporary substitutions, as cheap and accessible alternatives, as smaller components in a wider range of trade promotion strategies. International cooperation is necessary for trade to flow, by increasing confidence in global markets, not defining trade barriers, always thinking in the long term.
Rita Piloto and Liliana Silva,
Knowledge & Training Unit, Market Access