Contrary to what some people might try to make you believe, the pandemic didn’t kill business travel. However before going on a business trip you need to plan carefully so taking a few best practices for business travel planning into account will help you make the most of your time.
Obviously I can’t deal with the specifics of particular countries in this post and companies have individual travel policies anyway, but this should give you an overview of things to consider. I will be focusing more on getting the most from your trip, rather than how to get the best travel deals.
Table of Contents
Planning International Business Trips means thinking long term
If you are an International Business Development Manager with regular overseas trips then you need to ensure that you plan (& budget) up to a year ahead. Of course that doesn’t mean that you need to say where you’ll be on the 17th November next year, but that you should ask yourself questions such as:
- how many times ideally do I need to visit this partner next year?
- are there some fixed dates that I need to work around? eg. trade fairs in the market, internal company events
- how many nights in total do I need to be in country? (= no. of visits * length of each trip)
- can I combine with other visits within the region to save on flight costs and time away?
Then, taking into account your company policy on flights, hotel costs etc you can calculate the basic costs of your trip. Don’t forget to also include a budget for costs such as:
- domestic flights or flights within the region if you will be visiting more than one partner at a time
- taxi costs
- airport parking
- train travel to the airport or around the region if relevant
- per diem allowances if relevant in your jurisdiction
- small gifts
- a buffer for unexpected emergencies
Get those plans approved by your manager so that you at least know in advance that you have enough budget for eg. visiting Egypt once per quarter and Istanbul monthly.
If you don’t already have them in place, it’s worth discussing whether the company is prepared to pay for annual travel insurance, provide a company credit card and offset the carbon of your airmiles…
Make sure that you know how much time you need to allow for any necessary visa applications, especially if it’s a multi-country trip and you need to send your passport off to get each one (& therefore can’t travel in the meantime).
Take your company policy into account before going on a business trip
Chances are, your company has a policy in place which regulates both the nuts and bolts of any business trips as well as how that trip has to be booked.
- how do you have to travel (eg trips under 3 hours preferably by train)
- which class do you fly?
- do you have to compare multiple offers?
- are there circumstances when you can fly business class ? eg intercontinental flights or flights over 5 hours
- what happens with airmiles? (In Germany and Austria they count as a taxable perk if you are allowed to use them privately)
- what level of hotel can be booked eg 4* preferably Marriott Group unless travelling with the owner
- Do all bookings go through a single individual who manages a corporate account with an airline group?
- Or are bookings outsourced to a travel agency?
- do you need to get the signature of your boss on the flight offer before going on a business trip?
- Are there limits on phone and data roaming?
- are per diem allowances specified by law in your country?
Make sure you also find out before going on an international business trip which costs will be reimbursed by the company and what won’t. Also (very importantly) make sure you understand your company’s policy on how to manage your travel expenses. eg an app, electronic form, …paper form? ???? Especially for longer trips across multiple markets it’s worth taking the time each day to write on the back of any receipts where it was, what it was for and the currency – believe me, your later self will thank you, and it’s one of the best ways to keep the accounts department happy. This really is one of the best practices for business travel!
If it’s the first time you will be visiting a market, do your homework and find out about the business and general culture there. For many countries you can find this kind of information online (your government’s foreign trade website may have a reasonable amount of detail).
It’s not just about being polite (although that’s important too) but about avoiding misunderstandings that can lead to you losing a deal or ruining a relationship.
Gifts are an integral part of many business cultures around the world
Most companies have compliance policies in place though so it can get really complicated trying to find something suitable. This is a topic you should discuss openly in your sales team and with whoever is responsible in your company. You don’t want to get into trouble, but also can’t be seen to be rude. Brainstorm ideas of what can make suitable gifts and be sure to keep a list of who you’ve given what to…believe me it’s embarrassing if a business partner is presented with a gift of the exact same coffee table book you gave them a year ago. ????
Concretely planning your business trip
Step one of concretely planning international business trips is obviously to fix the date. Of course if you are going to a trade fair then things are more or less out of your hands except for a day or two before and after perhaps, but in general you need to coordinate with your distribution partner.
Sounds easy and obvious – your distribution partner also works with other brands, has distribution tasks to do in the market and a private life as well so be prepared to be a bit flexible. This is especially important if you are meeting say 5 different partners on one trip and want to avoid criss-crossing south America, Africa or Asia doubling back on yourself every couple of days.
This can be a real headache to organise to everyone’s satisfaction. I knew in the past which places in Asia I could reasonably expect the business partner to work a weekend if I was there & where that wasn’t an option. I tried to rotate who got the weekend shift though, or arranged to be in transit on one of those days.
It’s much easier to confirm if you are going to Oslo for 2 days from Denmark.
Avoid if possible the weeks of any huge international trade fairs as hotel prices will double or treble at those times (it’s obviously a different matter if it’s a fair you will be attending). I’ve been caught out in Guangzhou in the past by being there in Canton Fair week and paying through the nose for a hotel, but the same applies for Frankfurt or any other major city with a large expo centre.
Travel Tips for Business Trips – some best practices for business travel
Unless there’s some kind of crisis in the market that you are visiting, then try to book your travel (at least the flights) as far in advance as is practical. How far ahead that is will depend on your business but also on your business partners.
It’s probably worth paying a small premium for flexibility
Asians for example tend not to plan too far ahead so even if they have agreed dates with you about a trip 6 months ahead of time, chances are they won’t see any problem with moving it around by a week or so. Or not telling you about a regional visit that they want to make where it would make more sense for you to hub into a different international airport.
That can cause you to lose a lot of time in transit even in the UK or Germany, never mind in the US, China or Brazil and probably also means additional costs.
Generally best practices for business travel would be that you book your flights as early as is practical in order to get better prices, or to get a flexible flight for the same price as a non-refundable one last minute. Having that flexibility can be worth paying a bit extra for though as it’s certainly cheaper than ditching a ticket because you need to change the dates you fly but can’t alter the ticket.
Try to be loyal to a limited number of vendors to maximise your benefits
It’s worth getting the loyalty card of the airlines and hotels that you use regularly. Even if you can’t use eg. airmiles for private flights it’s worth the status benefits of being able to use a lounge if you fly enough, or getting upgrades with status in a hotel.
I know there are many “travel hacks” out there, mostly revolving around using points from your credit card however this is something that is mostly limited to the US so I won’t go into any of that here.
Consider asking your partner to organise a convenient hotel
With hotels it’s worth discussing with your local partner before going on a business trip where they would recommend you stay. Firstly you don’t want to be the completely opposite side of a mega city to where their office is… those 2 hours each way (or more) in Istanbul are time you’ll never get back. And secondly if they have a number of international suppliers you might find that they have a special deal negotiated with a local hotel.
Think about having critical information also available as print outs
I’m not a luddite when it comes to technology by any means, but I like to have all the data about my flights, hotels, visas (if relevant), airport parking, train tickets both saved to my phone and also in hard copy. When you’re tired and potentially jet lagged you don’t want to be trying to find the time you need to be at the railway station or to fill out the immigration form from a hotel reservations that’s “somewhere on your phone” – remember you might not have WiFi at an airport, your battery could die, or if you want to fill the forms out on the plane, not be able to access all your data.
Business travel best practices are important but not the main part of preparing for business trips
The travel tips for business trips are all well and good, and an essential foundation for a successful business trip, but they are a facilitator, not an end in themselves.
The main part of preparation before going on an international business trip (although it applies equally to domestic trips too) is to ensure that the content of the meetings you will have is prepared. I see too many international sales managers heading off across the world without adequate preparation of the discussions they will have or literally no idea about the culture of the country they will be visiting.
That for me is gross negligence and totally failing to do the job properly that you are being paid to do – it’s essentially defrauding the company as travel, especially internationally, is expensive and therefore should be used wisely.
Be clear about the outcome you are looking to achieve
Just because you’ve planned a quarterly or bi-annual visit to a market, doesn’t mean you should rock up for the sake of it. Think carefully for each of your business partners which discussions are critical to be conducted in a face to face meeting rather than online.
A presentation about new products and why they have been selected for the range, what the USPs are etc can be sent ahead of time to be studied. The discussion about whether those SKUs are suitable for your target market & how to launch them is probably one that is more easily conducted face to face.
Post covid, chances are that your visits to any given market will have a more relational focus than the purely practical checklist you might have had in the past. That doesn’t mean that you won’t have practical points to discuss but be cognisant that a business trip costs your company a small fortune and you need to invest the time wisely on activities that you can’t do from behind your laptop screen.
The goal of your visit can be to do a quarterly review of the market with your distributor, but it’s important that you have a clear aim & know WHY the visit is taking place.
Review “the story so far” since your last visit
Whilst you’re hopefully in regular contact with your partner, you need to thoroughly review the details of what was discussed and agreed during your last meeting and what has happened in between before you turn up on their doorstep again.
Chase up any open to dos from your colleagues – I trust you’ll have done the things YOU said you’d do…? Analyse the latest sales and market data and if you need to prepare a presentation to go through what you’re seeing, think of having a templated structure that you use each time. That helps to keep any comparisons consistent as well as saving time both in the preparation and also in explaining to your client. eg if turnover figures are ALWAYS in US$, GBP or Euros…
The agenda for your meeting is a key part of the international business travel checklist
Which topics do you need to discuss during your trip?
What do you want to see in terms of stores, subdealers or perhaps official offices such as a Ministry, commercial attache or technical organisation?
Don’t leave the course of the meeting to chance. If you want to see your products on shelves before you talk about the sales results, tell your distribution partner up front, as well as any other requests that affect the timing of your programme.
Don’t Spring Surprises on your Distributor
Unless you’re doing a “mystery shopper” kind of visit because you suspect problems on the market, do your distributor the courtesy of filling them in on your plans, even if part of your trip will be private. You don’t have to go into details, just say something like “I’ll be here until Saturday because I plan to have lunch with a friend”. Especially if they are organising your hotel and perhaps airport pick up you need to let them arrange their time.
Send your discussion points a week in advance and give them the chance to add anything that you might need to prepare. I personally make a standard list of discussion points and then tailor it for each meeting, so I don’t start from zero each time. I also have a standard visit report format that is structured in exactly the same way as the list of discussion points
Topics such as an analysis of the sales development, usage of the agreed marketing budgets or the plans for new product launches or retail listings are always going to be part of your discussions so based on your business prepare a list to help you avoid reinventing the wheel each time.
This gives your distribution partner time to consider their answers (great if they struggle with your communication language) and to prepare. Ideally they should prepare a lot of the answers in a presentation format as this helps you to transport the information back into the office in detail, as well as writing your meeting report.
Cheesy but true: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Checklists really are your friend.
Doesn’t matter if it’s the steps needed for you to get from home around 10 countries in Africa, including visas, internal flights, hotel bookings etc or the actual content of your meeting, checklists will help ensure you don’t miss something important. (Also goes for packing your case & work bag if you’re not that good at that).
Before going on any business trip you have a lot on your mind, so make sure your routine is documented in order to make things as simple as possible for yourself. You don’t want to wake up at 4am on the morning after you arrived in South America for 3 weeks with the realisation you forgot to give a key to your sister so she could feed the cat and water your plants…Just saying…
Business trips have a lot of moving pieces in order to be successful so routine (& checklists) really will help to keep you on track, unexciting as they may be! Doing the boring stuff reliably up front though (maybe you can delegate part of it?) will allow you to focus on the task in hand and enjoy your business travel once you’re away.
Thinking that working with a consultant would accelerate your international expansion?
If you’d like to learn more about working with me for support on your internationalisation projects or personal export knowledge, you can book a 30 minute international clarity call here.
If you haven’t already signed up for my free e-book about how to select which international market to enter next, you can do so here, or using the form below.
If you enjoyed this content please share it on social media or recommend it to your network.
Pin this post for later!
If you are interested in working with distribution partners in your export markets, you might find these posts also interesting:
- Define Your Ideal Distributor Company Profile to Succeed Internationally
- Carrying out an Annual Distributor Performance Review
- Are you a great supplier?
- Factors to Consider when Deciding on Payment Terms
- Advantages of Working with a Distributor in Export Markets
- Making the Best First Impression in International Business Meetings
- Finding the Perfect Partner: Distributor Dating in a Hybrid World
- Store Checks in International Sales: a Retail Audit Example
- How to Make an Export Plan Part 1
- How to Make an Export Plan Part 2
- Starting to Think About Your International Distribution Agreement
- An International Distribution Agreement Checklist Part 1
- A Distributor Contracts Checklist Part 2
- The Legal Requirements in an International Contract 3
- Types of International Distribution Channels
- International After Sales Service
- 55+ Questions to Ask When You’re Looking for International Distributors
- International Customer Service in Korea: Dealing with Media Crises
- Why an Integrated Business Planning Framework could Improve your Exports
- Export Pricing Strategy in International Trade as a Key Factor of Product Market Fit
- Why and How should you Enhance Distributor Loyalty in Export Markets?