Today, almost all business is global business, meaning almost all sales are made across cultures. This also means that you’ll need a few key cross-cultural skills in order to be successful. For example, you must have the ability to recognize culturally-based behaviors and then adjust your selling style appropriately.
We call that Selling with a Global Mindset.
Of course, all the basic selling skills still need to be put to work, but to excel across cultures, you need to have an attitude of respect for other ways of approaching the sales process. Here are some tips that can be helpful as you make your way around the world:
- Develop cultural self-awareness. Learning about your own cultural preferences might seem counterintuitive when doing global business, but it’s actually one of the best cross-cultural skills to have. Self-awareness will help you understand what you might need to do to adapt your work style and expectations of others.
- Learn about other countries. Learn as much as you can about the country you’re negotiating with. Cultural context and a global mindset will help you enormously while doing business internationally.
- Understand the relationship dimension. Learn as much as you can about how relationships are built and trust is established. For many cultures, relationship building is a key element of developing a positive experience that lays the groundwork to successfully sell across cultures.
- Establish credentials and credibility early. You may do this through a trusted referral or a mutual contact, or you may want to send your credentials ahead of time to the prospective customer. It’s always best to have local references—and even a local coach.
- Maintain formality. Every culture has a different view of formality, so it’s best to err on the side of more formal. Present yourself formally and address everyone formally unless you are invited to do otherwise.
- Be open and transparent. Be as open and transparent as you can genuinely be, but make it fit the culture. If you’re working with a more transactional culture compared to an interpersonal culture, try to refrain from talking about your personal life too much.
- Be prompt and predictable. While all cultures place a different value on timeliness, it’s important to always be prompt and predictable when doing business internationally—even if others aren’t.
- Observe and emulate local behaviors. Picking up on customary local behaviors can help show that you’re adaptable and serious about doing business, but don’t overdo it. It’s crucial to stay genuine.
- Understand the decision-making process. Learn how decisions get made and who makes them. Is it a group decision or an individual who decides? If it’s one person, is it the one who has the highest seniority or the one who is affected the most by the decision?
- Learn about the communication dimension. Understand how your customer communicates so as to not misinterpret either direct or indirect language.
- Pick up on body language. Learn how to read local body language and non-verbal cues. This is crucial, especially during the question phase.
- Understand the role of meetings. In some cultures, meetings may not serve the same purpose as you expect. Be aware that meetings may not be places where decisions are made.
- Take your time. Considering the many cultural factor at play, decisions will probably take longer to make than you might anticipate.
- Offer translated materials to leave behind. Have thorough, well-done translations of your leave-behind material, and be sure that all questions are answered.
- Be thorough. Always present thorough details and support all your claims with data.
In addition to the cross-cultural tips above, it’s important to maintain a global mindset even when using “standard” sales skills, like storytelling. Everyone who’s ever sold for a living has great stories to tell, but it’s important to remember that jokes often don’t translate well, and not all customers or prospects will have the ability to relate to your day-to-day experiences. When selling across cultures, a global mindset is the best skill to have because it will help you stay genuine while respectfully adapting your style to the culture you’re in.