Microsoft, Walmart and Disney have lost billions of dollars due to under estimating cultural differences. If they can get it wrong, so can you. But, with a little bit of homework it need not be like this.
Here are FIVE KEY questions, which will help you make a good first impression when you start doing business overseas.
1. Do I need to have my glossy brochures translated into different languages?
Glossy brochures look great and may well be a door-opener, but you need to CONVINCE your potential buyers that your firm is really up to the job. Only then can you ask them to view you seriously. Will a glossy brochure in their language show you are serious?
The main mistake is not investing in translations good enough to make sales and bring in international business. Will your marketing material need more than a translator; will it need a local marketing expert to adapt the content to the new market?
You will definitely increase your sales opportunities with foreign language content written specifically for each culture you are targeting. Meet their expectations and understand what you need to communicate to get the results you want. After all, each culture has its own ‘hot buttons’ and it is those you need to push.
2. Should my business cards be translated?
Dual language, double-sided business cards say a lot about you. Will having your business card translated into your potential client’s native language demonstrate how serious you are about your business intentions in their country, while also conveying understanding and respect for their culture? Will this small gesture goes a long way in establishing trust. In the eyes of many, your card represents your social status. If you do not have one, this implies you are of no consequence.
In Asia, and especially Japan, the exchange of cards is symbolic and there is etiquette for it: meishi koukan – the art of business card giving. Ensure you have a vast amount of cards with you, especially on an extended trip.
3. Why does it take so long to do business and get a decision when abroad?
The art of salesmanship differs across the world. “Time” for us is more critical than in most other countries. To many, we may seem to be hurried, abrupt with little courtesy. In much of North America and Europe, business is contractual in nature. In South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, BUSINESS IS PERSONAL. Partnerships will only be made with those they know, trust and feel comfortable with. Invest time in building relationships. This is the KEY to maintaining consistent business and strong sales.
4. How do I need to adapt my negotiation style?
Will negotiation differ across cultures?
US and Northern European business culture places emphasis on clearly presented and rationally argued business proposals using statistics and facts.
In Germany, decisions take longer due to the need to analyse information and statistics in great depth, the French likewise.
The Brits assume there will be plenty of time to ask and answer questions; pressure tactics and imposing deadlines are ways of closing deals. In Greece this would backfire.
In the Middle East rather than approaching topics sequentially negotiators often discuss issues simultaneously.
South Americans and Latin cultures can become quite vocal and animated.
The Japanese will negotiate in teams and decisions will be based upon consensual agreement.
In Asia, decisions are usually made by the most senior figure or head of a family. In China, negotiators are highly trained in the art of gaining concessions. Each culture has its own way.
5. Will the deal be safe once our contract is signed?
A contract is a contract – right? Wrong! In many countries, signing the contract only signals the start of real negotiations. The contract is no more than a statement of intent – now the business of striking a deal can really be done! Sometimes, a handshake matters more than a written contract; asking for a written agreement implies a lack of trust.
In yet other countries, the contract is between you and the individual employee who signs the document, not with the company. So if that individual leaves, you may have to re-negotiate. Always find out how contracts are regarded in the country you are dealing with.
Summary: Cross-cultural competency allows you to have the right set of expectations and can save you thousands of dollars. Greater understanding of cultural differences means a greater chance of hitting home with the message we want to give, on the level that overseas clients understand. When we get it right, we can build lasting relationships and strong sales.