A business matchmaking event is a meeting where suppliers, investors and representatives of international institutions have the opportunity to promote and sell their services or products to foreign buyers. Through one-on-one meetings, attendees can close business deals to export to new markets or make important networking to expand their operations to their target countries.
Online business matchmaking events are becoming increasingly popular and nowadays much needed due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the virtual modality of business matchmaking events allows for better networking and outreach potential as well as being more inclusive and accessible – that benefits small businesses as well, which often lack resources to invest in more costly, in-person, trade fairs and events.
This article provides a list of best practices to follow before, during and after a business matchmaking event, be it on-site, virtual or in a hybrid format.
Below you can read some important considerations to take into account when preparing for a business matchmaking event.
BEFORE THE EVENT
Different types of events and where to find them.
What type of event suits you better? What is that business matchmaking event that fits your needs? The options in the virtual world are wide, but it would be a mistake to register for all of them, considering that most Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) CEOs in Latin American and the Caribbean usually combine multiple business responsibilities besides attending matchmaking events.
Expert tip: Define your potential buyer's profile. Ask yourself: “what type of buyer do I want to reach according to my production volume?” For example: if you produce handcrafts, you should avoid international chains with massive convenience stores, because your production capability will not comply with that large buyer's demand. If you identify that your production volume is low, as with the processes for making handcrafts, then my buyer profile should be for instance airport boutiques, stores or high purchasing power outlets with small volume demand.
Where do I find these events?
There are plenty of options – among them: ConnectAmericas – a free business platform created by the Inter-american Development Bank to help companies access international markets and ConnectAmericas for Women where you can find trade fairs and event listings specifically targeting women-led businesses. There are also other events promoted by Bi-National Chambers of Commerce, as well as those promoted by commercial agencies, such as SEBRAE (Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service), Apex-Brasil (Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency), Promperu (Peru), Procolombia (Colombia), Pro Ecuador (Ecuador), Proesa (El Salvador), Invest BA (Argentina), just to mention a few in Latin America.
What should I consider when assessing the events options?
Asking yourself these questions can help you choose the appropriate event according to your needs:
- What is my entrepreneur profile? Beginner (willing to export); intermediate (entrepreneurs who already export but want to expand to new markets) or advanced (entrepreneurs who want to internationalize their companies).
- What region am I interested in exporting to?
- If the market is aligned with my company's strategy, do we already have a product in the country? Or else, do I already have distribution channels there at least?
- Is my product competitive in the target market of the event I wish to attend?
- What documentation or certifications do I need for each profile and country or region of interest?
Event listings normally provide the profiles of buyers attending the event, but you should invest some time in gathering additional commercial intelligence information, such as visiting their websites, research their current market and culture and adapt your price list in their currency. Likewise, investigate the national port system and logistics of potential buyers to make sure you are sufficiently informed before meeting them.
You must make sure that your business card is already complete on your website: look for updated contact forms, confirm that your products are in sight and that during the events it will be as functional as possible. In addition to that, you should make your website as user-friendly and inclusive as possible – this can be done through offline resources which can be easily downloaded (for instance the company/product presentation), a website version in English and your native language, and ensuring a gender-neutral/inclusive vocabulary.
Preparing my pitch
Before showing up to the event, you should have already worked out your product or service pitch. Presenting a pitch demands important skills and, during a virtual event, communicating effectively what you’re trying to present to potential customers is key to close business. Yet, at least 24% of the people who lead a Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) aren’t fully prepared with the complete tools to prepare the right pitch.
There are many factors to take into account when you are presenting your pitch, but some of the most important are the core idea you are willing to share and the body language you use. According to the article "When you pitch an idea, gestures matter more than words", published by Nicole Torres in the Harvard Business Review, “entrepreneurs that used more their hands while explaining a product they were selling, were able to ensure more investing than those that just told analogies, stories or metaphors”.
To ensure your pitch is complete and effective make sure it covers the following information:
- What does your company do?
- What are your company's achievements?
- What makes your service or product the best? Do the products have any certifications and/or quality standards?
- What does your product or service offer? How does it make life easier for those who are going to buy that?
- How is it different from others?
- And most importantly, what is the story behind your product?
International Business Manager, Ph.D. Angélica Herrera Muñoz of COEX Corporation, reminds us that "we all fall in love with the story". Similarly, José Cabrera, consultant at ConnectAmericas, explains that buyers no longer want products that look as if they were mass produced. So, if your product is attached to environmental and ethical values, that's your story and people will love to hear why you decided to take this path.
Practice your pitch several times, test it with people, ask for their opinion and adjust your pitch based on feedback. The duration of your pitch is also important, make sure it is short and effective: In a 25-minute meeting, for example, it should last less than 15 minutes, assuming you can cover all of the aspects mentioned above.
For one-on-one meetings or negotiations, the National Coordinator of Women's Entrepreneurship at the SEBRAE, Renata Malheiros, reminds us that we must "remove our cultural glasses" whenever we want to do business with another person from a different country. This means remembering you’re not talking to someone who understands entirely your context, jokes, even work culture.
In some Latin American countries, women face other types of barriers due to different social norms in their cultures. For example, women internalise a number of negative stereotypes they have faced since childhood and translate later in adulthood into a 'confidence gap' which leads women to underestimate their abilities compared to men. Therefore entrepreneurs should work both on their hard skills (planning, finance, marketing and technical issues) as well as in their soft skills (communication, leadership, networking and negotiation).
Then there’s the matter of self-confidence in your product or service: it means being confident in your selling and communication skills so that others will believe as well. When in doubt about how to develop the conversations with potential buyers, always focus on the technical aspects of the conversation. During negotiations, you can talk about informal topics to “break the ice”, but it is recommended to keep the conversation as technical as possible.
Expert tip: Try practicing your pitch at home. Ask someone that's not business related to listen to your pitch. Receive feedback and adjust your pitch accordingly until it feels authentic enough.
DURING THE EVENT
During a business matchmaking event always be ready to position your product more aggressively, especially if you are selling a physical product, such as food and clothing, for example. As mentioned before, the story you tell about your product or company is an important factor as this has the potential to captivate more people. "Virtuality presents itself as a test for us to be more aggressive in presenting our brand, because nowadays everyone is working from home and the seller that stands out on showcasing their services and products has more opportunities to be the first to sell it," advises José Cabrera.
Angélica Herrera shares an important checklist to highlight the main steps to follow during this phase of the event:
- Set the goal to be achieved in the event
- Check sales prices in the currency of each target country
- Set the production volume
- Define buyer's profile to be targeted
- Verify logistics costs and procedures
- Prepare export paperwork
- Organize all the business marketing materials
- Separate samples and demos of the products
- Check possible payment methods
- Understand different business culture
- Study each company you’re going to have meetings with
If you still have any outstanding item in your checklist, you can seek help at ConnectAmericas Academy, or on the websites of Sebrae and Apex-Brasil, which bring a series of training content on the topics mentioned above.
When the time comes, take your chances. "It's very important for businesswomen to make the most of these opportunities, which includes scheduling as many meetings as you can and also talking to everyone. It is fundamental to collect as many business cards as possible”, says Angélica Herrera.
Which means you ought to be open to meeting different sorts of entrepreneurs, such as potential partners, investors, strategic allies, that may also help you with your business goals during the event or in the long-term.
In the words of José Cabrera, "do not be modest when promoting your business or product, use all the sales tools you have in hand", because sometimes we do not know if we are talking to a potential investor, partner or buyer. However, don't promise what you can't keep. If a company undertakes to supply the product under the conditions provided for in the negotiation or contract, it must fully comply with the obligations assumed, under penalty of losing not only one, but several customers, as your reputation in the target market can be damaged, says Apex-Brasil.
In short: “break the ice”, start the conversation, be confident, don't hesitate, have all the relevant information at your reach, avoid controversial issues, stick to technical information and respect your counterpart’s values and culture.
Expert tip: A frequent mistake that Apex-Brasil reports during the matchmaking events is when an entrepreneur talks too much and does not care to listen to the prospect. In the eagerness to present the product, it may happen that the seller does not listen to what the client seeks and expects, which can result in a presentation that does not serve the interests of the counterpart.
Networking is key
According to a study by Kelley, Bosma, Amorós and GERA consulted by INTAL, female entrepreneurs have smaller and less diverse networks than men and tend to rely more on personal contacts. However, these networks can be expanded through women-only events, meetings dedicated to women and brief moments within the events.
“Networking within a business event is the basis for building relationships that can become excellent opportunities for commercial partnership or the exchange of relevant information, like perceptions of products and services and even the image and reputation of companies in certain markets”, commented Apex-Brasil on this subject.
Besides, building business networks with other female businesswomen is another way to gain self-confidence. In these business events female entrepreneurs get to share previous experiences, offer support to each other, exchange business contacts, find mentoring support, just to mention a few benefits. There are several networking groups in Brazil for female entrepreneurs, like Rede Mulher Empreendedora, Negras Plurais, an initiative that promotes networking between afro-brazilian women entrepreneurs, Grupo Mulheres do Brasil with more than 41,000 participants in Brazil and abroad and the Black Money Movement for the afro-brazilian entrepreneurs.
For the rest of the region, there’s Women ConnectAmericas, The Inter-American Development Bank's platform promoting the export capacity of women entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean; the Entrepreneur Women of Latin America and the Caribbean platform, the Women's Development Network and the platform She Trades, for women-owned businesses, organisations and companies.
"There are cultural issues and social norms that explain why women have additional barriers, nevertheless it's not the women’s fault. Women should focus on doing courses on negotiations, effective communication, networking and more," says Malheiros.
There are different types of networks, from the most traditional one, in which you do not necessarily seek professional goals, but you could get involved in it to grow personally; and there are support networks, whose confidence is so profound that you would even let them take care of your children for example, explains Renata Malheiros.
“Culturally, women are unacquainted or encouraged to participate in networks, sometimes due to lack of time. However, when you participate in these networking events, you are actually saving time and increasing your business efficiency because of the exchange of knowledge and advice you get”, explained Renata.
AFTER THE EVENT
Follow up after an event
Be aware that the contacts you gather at a fair or in a business matchmaking event can yield profits in up to three years, therefore, it is necessary to always maintain a professional attitude towards the partners, suggests Apex-Brasil.
To follow up effectively after a business matchmaking event, you can do as follows:
- At the end of the event, make an analysis if the type of event you attended could generate benefits for your company. This can help you prioritize your participation in future events.
- Send a thank you email after the meeting and all the information requested clearly and briefly
- Keep in contact with the interlocutor wisely, without being annoying, but showing yourself always available.
- Be careful when sending emails. The first should be a thank you and a reminder of your contact details, so don't expect to close deals right after that first message. Wait a few days to follow up on this communication if there is no response.
- Once the client has engaged in the conversation, consider whether the potential buyer would appreciate receiving a sample of your product: remember that it is a cost that you must be prepared to pay for.
In brief, remember that practice makes perfect, so be sure to go through the three main phases of participating in a business round: (1) before the event, when preparation is fundamental, (2) during the event, when listening to your interlocutor is essential, and (3) after the event, time to keep the conversation active and transform it into effective business. With these points, you will be ready to participate in an international business matchmaking event.