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Import-Export Trade Compliance: Becoming the Department of Yes!

On: March 12, 2018    |    By: John Goodrich John Goodrich    |    5 min. read

Import-Export Trade Compliance: Becoming the Department of Yes! | Shipping SolutionsIs your trade compliance office known as the office of NO? Perhaps your company considers you to be the Sales Prohibition Department?"

When you walk through the aisles at work do colleagues avoid you by turning the other way? Perhaps when you pass by they pretend to be on the phone?

I am sorry to inform you but these are all symptoms that you are losing the battle for trade compliance within your company.

Somehow your colleagues have developed the perception that your trade compliance program is a barrier to the success of the company; a necessary yet burdensome evil. While you may not be the cause for that perception, I would venture you haven't done everything you could do to counter it.

Let's base our conversation on the premise that trade compliance is a good thing for an international company. Like any other service and control function in a business such as accounting, human resources, legal, security, and quality control, your department does a heck of a lot more than keep the business from being fined by regulators.

Your coworkers don't see that and likely don't even know what you do. What they mostly hear from you and your department is NO followed by tedious explanation about why the company can't do something.

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How can you change that perception? I wish I could wave my trade compliance wand and fix it for you. (By the way, I really have one of these. It is pink with feathers and sparkles and makes an ever-so-magical sound when you wave it around.)

Here are 10 steps you can follow to move from "No, you can't do that," to "Yes, I can help you determine whether or not you can do that, and here's the best way to get it done!"

1. Stop Being Defensive or Apologetic

Nobody questions accounting for refusing to release a payment if an invoice wasn't properly approved. Don't apologize for stopping a shipment if a customer appears on one of the restricted parties lists. You are doing the job that your management team asked you to do. Identifying an issue can be embarrassing for your colleague and put them on the offensive. Don't take the bait.

2. Stop Being Fortress Compliance

If you have set up a system where nothing happens unless it has been submitted, reviewed, approved or otherwise blessed by your department, you may have become nothing but a fortress with little transparency into your process. Open the windows and let the rest of the company see what it is you do and, more importantly, why you do it.

Don't simply say NO; instead explain how and why. (Without being defensive of course.) In some cases you might be able to delegate control activities to other departments while maintaining an oversight function.

3. Co-Opt Other Business Processes

Don't command; rather ask for the assistance of others. If your department generates additional and burdensome control procedures, your colleagues will resent the additional work. Whenever possible, co-opt their existing departmental procedures to support your compliance program.

Does logistics have a vendor routing guide? Insert language regarding import documentary and security requirements. Does customer service collect credit information? Use that information to perform your compliance screening.

4. Advertise Your Successes

Modesty is not always the best policy. How much duty have you saved for the company? What big sale were you able to facilitate? What regulatory intervention were you able to prevent? Shout it from the mountain tops and remind your colleagues how lucky they are to have you as a coworker. Buying cookies for them every once in awhile doesn't hurt either.

5. Be a Resource

Anticipate the needs of your internal customers and provide information before it is requested. If you know a colleague is traveling to a new region, provide them country or regional profiles. If you don't have an immediate answer for a colleague's question, develop a network of resources who can point you in the right direction.

Cultivate external resources like a U.S. Export Assistance Center or the sales representative from your freight forwarder. Network through venues such as the International Compliance Professionals Association (ICPA) or LinkedIn.

6. Think Like a Business Person

Companies commonly speak in terms of sales goals, customer satisfaction, and return on investment. Trade compliance commonly speaks the language of NO. Try to translate your departmental objectives into language that contributes to the company's goals.

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If someone asks you about shipping to China, don't explain how to build the vessel. While the subject might be interesting, it may not move your business forward. Speak the business language of your company. Share the pertinent details your colleagues will need to successfully ship to China including the information you will need to keep the company compliant.

7. Provide Options

Bring a can-do spirit to your interactions. Instead of saying, "We can't ship that product to that country," offer an alternative: "The Commerce Department won't let us sell that good to that country BUT we have another product that is not controlled and should meet the customer's needs." I realize that sounds a little Pollyannaish, but you get my point.

8. Blame It on the Government

While passing the buck may seem to be bad form, it is perfectly acceptable in trade compliance. You and your department did not create the regulations; they were imposed and are enforced by the government. This places you and your colleagues on the same side of an issue against a common adversary. Your colleagues will be more likely to cooperate if they understand you are working with them to navigate the regulations.

9. Work on Your Attitude

You heard me! Stop being the office curmudgeon who likes to say no. Your coworkers are not the adversary. Of course they don't understand or appreciate the elegance of trade compliance they way you do, and they never will. Why do you hold that against them? There's an old saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. So turn that frown upside down, or buy even more cookies if that works.

10. Be Positive!

Say YES! I know it is difficult but with a little practice, you will be able to become the department of YES. Repeat after me:

  • YES, I will help you navigate the regulations so that we can close the deal successfully.
  • YES, I will release that shipment when you get the information from the client required by U.S. export control laws.
  • YES, I will let you know the countries where you can more effectively focus your sales efforts and avoid excessive duties and regulations.
  • YES, I will research the destination regulatory environment so that you can get the necessary details from the client.
  • YES, I will throw you out the window if you do not do what I have asked of you.

Well four out of five isn't bad. Sometimes learning a new habit can be a challenge. Keep practicing!

This post was originally published in March 2012 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.

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John Goodrich

About the Author: John Goodrich

John Goodrich is an International Trade Consultant and Licensed Customhouse Broker with more than 25 years of experience in international trade. He is currently the principal in the consulting firm of JD Goodrich & Associates where his varied industry experience results in practical, actionable advice for his clients.

An active member in the Twin Cities round table of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), he takes a strategic view of the roles of international compliance and logistics in the greater supply chain.

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