Estelon: The support of a high-level representative of the state is important in Asia
Help from a high-level representative of the state can prove essential in fostering business contacts in Asia, because the recommendation of a minister or an invitation from an embassy can open doors that would otherwise stay shut for years. Estelon CEO Alissa Vassilkova knows this first-hand.
Estelon produces the world’s best loudspeakers. This is evidenced by the dozens of awards and the recognition of clients and experts it has received. And yet all of this may not be enough to succeed on a foreign market if you haven’t developed reliable and personal relationships.
Vassilkova represented Estelon in 2016 as part of the business delegation that accompanied former prime minister Taavi Rõivas to Japan. In order to get the most out of the visit, thorough preparations were undertaken to research the background of possible distribution partners. To maximise the first impression they made, the company took expensive loudspeakers with them on the visit so that the potential partners could hear the difference for themselves.
“Japan is a huge audio market, meaning it’s a strategically important target country for us,” Vassilkova explains. “We found four of the biggest distributors, some of whom we’d talked to beforehand but hadn’t gotten any closer to than that. Being part of the prime minister’s delegation allowed us to launch more serious negotiations, which evolved into functional cooperation six months later.”
After their initial meeting in Japan, they met again some time later at a trade fair and soon after that at Estelon’s production facility in Tallinn. Following a testing period of six months, they struck a deal.
“Visiting and meeting with people face to face is important in many Asian cultures, and not doing it can be seen as insulting,” Vassilkova says. “You have to show real interest and a real desire to work with them. The support of the Estonian embassy in the country is important as well, because when you call from Estonia, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get the right person on the phone or even anyone who speaks English well enough. But if the embassy calls and speaks to them in Japanese or sends an official letter, you can make that first contact.”
Authority and trustworthiness are also boosted if meetings take place at the embassy and companies are name-checked by a minister or the ambassador.
Estelon has also been on business delegation visits to China, India and Dubai. Even it has yet to strike serious business deals in the last two countries, the company has gained a useful overview of the markets there thanks to connections made with entrepreneurs, allowing them to plan out their next moves. Even knowledge that your initially planned strategy might not work is important, including an understanding that these things take more time.
In China, however, the distributor organised the launch event for the new product in the embassy itself, to which clients and journalists were invited. The new distributor wants to do the same.
Vassilkova recommends that companies planning to participate in business delegation visits assess whether the country is strategically important. In the case of Europe and the USA, you might be able to succeed at developing connections without it, but a lot depends on the market. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the attention you receive in a large country has an effect in others, as was the case with Estelon, whose breakthrough in Japan carried over into China and Taiwan as well.
“Preparation is the most important thing,” Vassilkova adds, “so that when you’re there you can arrange meetings that are important to you in addition to participating in the prime minister’s programme, for example. After such meetings, there’s a high probability that your follow-up letters will get a response and won’t just be ignored.”
Vassilkova also stresses the importance of the role of the delegation’s leader, whose influence can be crucial in terms of selling and promoting a state and its companies.
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