For a Small or Medium sized Enterprise (SMEs), recruiting a Commercial Director can be a stressful job. Doing this properly will consume a lot of time and energy from the general manager/owner of the SME. Only after a couple of months, it will become clear whether the actual choice was right, or wrong …

In the next paragraphs, we look at some of the characteristics required from a Commercial Export Director in an SME.

Main points to consider when recruiting a Commercial Director for exportation

Product Knowledge

The recruited Commercial Director will need to be, or become, familiar with the products of your SME. Depending on the technicality of your products this can be a challenge. Training on your specific products will anyway be required.

Knowledge on how to set-up distribution networks

The Commercial Director must know how to set-up appropriate distribution networks in a wide range of countries. He or she has to establish local partnerships and, if sufficient turn-over is realized in a certain country, may create a local subsidiary.

Language Skills

No doubt, English is the international business language. Still, other languages are essential if you want to do business in most countries. You can expect fluency in maximum 3 or 4 languages from a single person. Many times, you will have to be satisfied with only 2 languages.

Travelling Capacity

Let’s face it, travelling is very time consuming! It leads to less availability and efficiency for other activities: communication with other customers, preparation of offers, interfacing with you product/technical department etc. One person cannot be in two locations at the same time. Jet lags and the hours spent in planes can seriously influence the energy levels. The Commercial Director can only perform optimally with the support of a solid back-office.

Cross-Cultural Negotiation Skills

International business requires you to adapt to the culture of your counterpart. High-context cultures require a different negotiation approach (long-term relations, importance of protocol/hierarchy/history, etc.) than low-context cultures (typically anglo-saxon, task-oriented negotiation based on cognitive trust). When recruiting a Commercial Director, it is important to identify the person’s natural style and his/her ability to bridge the gap towards other cultures and styles.

Cost of your export department

The recruitment process of a suitable Commercial Director is already not cheap.

Remember that a back office is vital to accompany the front office. The yearly cost to operate an export department represents, without any doubt, a substantial cost for any SME. Furthermore, in view of the export turnover realized during the first years, this cannot immediately be supported by the corresponding sales. Prepare your budget carefully !

An alternative to consider – outsourcing

This may come as a surprise. Outsourcing the commercial export department can mitigate most of the risks evoked above:

  • right-sizing to your budget
  • avoiding dependency on a single person
  • benefiting from synergies and accumulated knowledge of export possibilities and distribution channels
  • covering a larger geographical area
  • being in several places at the same time
  • speaking a wide range of languages

Some presumed drawbacks can be overcome as follows:

  • Communication in the name of your SME: modern communication facilities like dedicated telephone lines & email perfectly allow an outsourced Commercial Director to act in the name of the specific SME.
  • Confidentiality: strong legal agreements will guarantee confidentiality.
  • Identification with the SME: long term contracts (minimum three years) create a true bond & a partnership attitude.


Recruiting a Commercial Director for an SME is an extremely important activity because your turnover – and maybe even your long-term survival – will depend on it. As explained above, the general manager/owner should carefully look to the characteristics and skills of the Commercial Director: negotiation skills, ability to interact with your internal teams, capacity to be present on as much markets as possible, language skills, rigor, efficacy, …

You will have to create both a front-office and a back-office. If this is too much for you, you could consider outsourcing as an alternative.

About AfiTaC is the blog on commercial and contractual subjects for the Project Businesses (Construction, Infrastructure, Oil & Gas, Power & Renewable, Water Supply & Sanitation, etc). Its objective is to stimulate reflection, learning, convergence to balanced contracts and positive dispute resolution. You can subscribe to our newsletter by writing to “”. You can also connect to our LinkedIn page. Engagement with the readers is what keeps us going. So, don’t hesitate to exchange with us by commenting here below, liking our publication on LinkedIn and writing to us “”. 

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