Not Knowing = Not Selling! How to Sell to Different Cultures
In today’s global business marketplace, the ability to sell to and communicate effectively with different cultures cannot be underestimated. I found this out very quickly when I lived and worked in Switzerland. I didn’t expect that there would be specific things about me that would have a negative impact when promoting my company’s Cross-Cultural Training Seminars. However, I found out very quickly that I had 3 very specific strikes against me. First I was American, and their attitude was “what could an American teach them about culture?” Second I was female, and there are still considerably fewer business women at high levels in Swiss business. Third I was blonde, and yes — the dumb blonde jokes are global! I decided that I needed to adapt my image and my communication approach to better fit their expectations. That consisted of classic, professional suits; hair in a French twist, and high heels since I’m short. For a group of senior bankers in Zurich, I even wore fake eyeglasses! I also changed my communication style to be more factual, direct, and to the point, something which the Swiss appreciate. I smiled less, minimized my tonal modulations, and was less demonstrative in my body language, gestures, and facial expressions. And – it worked!
Now, you don’t have to travel outside the United States to experience this. The U.S. is a melting pot of people from all over the world. And even though the standard rule ‘When in Rome – do as the Romans’ may apply, we sometimes don’t position ourselves in the best light, and subtly rub someone the wrong way with our actions, gestures, communication style, or even perhaps how we look.
Common Cross-Cultural Mistakes That Are Made When Developing Transcultural Relationships
- Not being proactive and not adapting to different cultural business expectations. It’s all too easy to get off on the wrong foot and become reactive – especially in the sales process.
- Not knowing how formality, hierarchy, and timing can affect business interactions, the sales process, and decision making with different cultures. These things can have a tremendous impact on negotiations. Not knowing = not selling.
- Having your enthusiasm perceived as aggressive, impatient, or even arrogant! Developing a sales relationship often takes longer with different cultures, especially in other countries, so plan accordingly.
- Coming across as egocentric or too ‘I’ oriented. Many cultures are more team focused or ‘we’ oriented than the typical salesperson in the U.S. This can also greatly impact your choice of marketing style and material.
- Unintentionally offending someone with your choice of body language or gestures. This is one of the biggest cultural taboos, and can be very difficult to recover from. A basic guideline is to use open- handed gestures. Don’t point with your index finger, don’t use the OK sign, and don’t use the thumbs up or thumbs down gestures. They are likely to subtly offend someone somewhere – even in the U.S.
How can you proactively prepare for multicultural sales?
Awareness is the 1st step! Observe how people communicate with you in person, on the phone, and by email. Notice if they are more formal and expressive, or more direct and to the point. They are telling you how they like to be communicated with so model their style.
If doing business in another country — know your facts. Be aware of the relevant historical data, economic issues, major industries, and geography to name a few. There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing your facts or geography!
To develop cultural rapport, learn what is important to other cultures. For example, it made international headlines a few years ago when Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah visited President Bush at his Crawford ranch. They were photographed strolling hand in hand through the bluebonnet garden. This was an important sign of their friendship and trust. Sometimes you may even need to go a bit beyond your comfort zone to establish rapport!
Know a few words in the language of the country. 5 simples phrases: “My name is”, “Nice to meet you”, “Please”, “Thank you”, and “Sorry, I only speak a little of your language”. Another phrase that will always be useful is the toast of the land, “Cheers!”
Keep in mind that we are blending and homogenizing into a global culture, so even with all the knowledge we acquire, we can’t ever take cultural tendencies for granted. As soon as you do — you’ll be surprised by something completely unexpected! That’s why observation and awareness is so important.
5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication
- Create Proactive Communication: Stay out of the reactive cycle. Focus on positioning yourself, your product, and your company so that it facilitates partnerships and trust. This is an important first step before jumping into the business at hand.
- Rapport Secrets: Adapt your marketing material, sales style, and business approach to the cultural preferences of the customer.
- Organize Productive Interactions: Work towards collaboration and a ‘win-win’ outcome for all parties. This helps to avoid conflict and cultural sensitivities. It establishes trust, and influences decision-makers.
- Strategies for Relationships: Create strategies based on cultural expectations, and incorporate the appropriate level of formality. Understand the business hierarchy, the decision making protocol, and the timing necessary for sales cycles.
- Success Leaves Clues: Learn the Dos and Taboos of the country and cultures you sell to and partner with. Notice what works and what doesn’t. Change your approach based on the results, and enjoy the process!
Bon Voyage… Cheers to successful multicultural sales in 2015!
To learn more about the Dos and Taboos for different cultures, and the communication styles of Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order Gayle Cotton’s bestselling book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’ available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book
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Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book, ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and a distinguished Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need conference speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, or professional keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural communication training and cross-cultural training programs. She is a leader in the industry of professional motivational speakers and professional public speakers. Known for her cross-cultural communication books and intercultural training, she is among the best of female keynote speakers, women motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. She is a cross-cultural speaker and expert on social business etiquette. Gayle travels worldwide, entertaining, educating, and inspiring audiences with her fresh and unique style, and is sure to please any audience with her charm, wit, and humor!
Circles Of Excellence provides Corporate Training, Executive Coaching, and Professional Keynote Speakers for companies of all sizes and in all industries, including over 50 Fortune 500 companies. Contact us about our customized programs for Communication Skills, Cross-Cultural Communications, Customer Service, Diversity, Leadership & Management, Presentation Skills, Sales & Negotiations, Stress Management, Team Building, and Time Management.
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