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The Townsend way of international marketing


If they tell you to take your product back to America and paint it blue instead of yellow, because over there they don’t really care for the color yellow – well, then, it’s time to buy some blue paint.

Jack Kish knows this, and many other truths about international sales, because he has spent nearly 30 years at Townsend Engineering Co. finding buyers for meat-processing equipment. When he spoke to a luncheon meeting of the International Traders of Iowa the other day, he made the ideal global marketer sound like Indiana Jones with a briefcase instead of a bullwhip: always on the move, ready to adapt and not trusting people’s good intentions any further than you can throw a hog-skinning machine.

Let’s say you go to New Zealand, and they insist that absolutely everything is different there – including the hogs. You might as well go along with the locals. Don’t tell them they’re crazy and try to sell them the same skinning machine that appears to work just fine everywhere else in the world. Tell them, yes, your hogs really are different, tweak the machine slightly and start making sales.

Or maybe you suspect that all of the brochures you’ve sent to the Philippines are sitting in a stack somewhere, unseen by a single prospect. Switch temporarily from sales to education. “We decided to have an Asian meat processing seminar, and 157 people showed up from all over Southeast Asia,” Kish said. “We got to people we never would have found otherwise, and guess what: We sold things.”

So then Townsend Engineering did the same thing in China.

Kish would advise you to be infinitely patient. Just the other day, he signed some papers for a patent in Mexico, part of a process that has been going on for 2 ½ years, and the company’s lawyers spent four years in Japanese courts battling a knock-off competitor.

He would suggest that you learn enough of the native language to talk about industry basics and keep your translators under control. And if you can dish out a few Arabic proverbs to your driver, as Kish was able to do in Egypt thanks to his Georgetown University education, you’ll have a new friend.

Don’t rely on the guy who buys your machinery to spread the word to his competitors. He might not be inclined to do that. You need a manufacturer’s representative who gets a piece of the action from every sale.

Also, make sure to work closely with American bankers, lawyers – the kind who keep you out of trouble – and freight-forwarding companies.

But, nicest of all to hear, Kish told the traders that face-to-face contact with your customers is vital, and so is a depth of knowledge about your product.

Kish told the story of being in a customer’s plant in Christchurch, New Zealand, and managing to not only pinpoint the problem in a Townsend machine but also find the part to fix it. “The guy said, ‘This is unbelievable,’” Kish said.

“But why would Townsend send me halfway around the world if I don’t know how the machine works?”

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