When you meet your next client abroad, will you shake her hand? Or do you give a kiss on the cheek? When you get to the negotiating table, where do you sit?
International sales is full of pitfalls and potholes. Even when you do everything ‘right’, business outside your country is still a wild ride.
So how do you make the right impression, and come home a hero?
Listen more than you speak
A sales meeting in a new country can feel like a complicated dance. The steps are strange and there is no instructor. You might only have one chance to get it right.
That’s why listening in international sales situations is much more important than speaking.
Along with conveying your company’s message, your underlying task in all sales meetings is to cultivate a good relationship with your clients. You need to build a connection that can withstand the distance between your homebase and their office.
Your job is to follow the local’s lead in the meeting. They will tell you with their body language and intonation when you are misstepping, and when you’re in rhythm. Experts like Jill Konrath and Colleen Stanley agree, success in international sales requires high emotional intelligence.
By mirroring their gestures and respecting their customs you will make far more headway than an appealing proposal.
A quick horror-story…
An Israeli friend of mine was new to international sales when he made his first business trip to France.
He had a lunch meeting with an ‘old-school’ French client. Decorum and politeness to the French are everything, but my friend didn’t know that. During the meal he was spending a little too much time checking his phone. Meanwhile, his French counterpart didn’t even take his phone out of his pocket. I should note that Israelis tend to be very comfortable using smartphones in social situations, including business meetings.
When the check arrived, my friend offered to pay but the French client refused. He asked my friend, “Did you enjoy your meal?”
“Yes,” my friend said, “it was delicious.”
“Good,” said the Frenchman, “because it’s the last meal we will ever share again. I don’t do business with such rude people.”
Bottom line: take cues from your clients–they set the rules.
Do you speak a foreign language? If yes, you already have a huge leg up in international sales.
It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of speaking and writing in your client’s native language.
Even though most of your high-profile clients will be proficient English speakers, I still highly recommend recruiting international Superhunter salespeople that can speak the language of your target market.
*A quick sales secret:
When a deal with an international client is stuck, but we’re not sure why, I bring on a member from our team that speaks the client’s language. More often than not, they can get to the heart of the problem faster than the rest of us.
But if you don’t have anyone on your team that can accommodate a foreign client, it’s still a good idea to learn the language pleasantries; “hello,” “how are you,” “thank you,” “goodbye” (and I might add “tasty” and “cheers”). Just a little practice on the plane ride over can go a long way.
It’s important to be very specific in your learning–don’t try to overwhelm yourself with fancy phrases. Just stick to what you absolutely need. Benny Lewis has an excellent guide on how to accomplish your quick acquisition goals, whether it’s a few phrases or basic conversation.
Showing you’re willing to put yourself out there and try to speak on your client’s terms will win you big points. Confidence is extremely important here–particularly the confidence to make mistakes.
Studying the standard business customs and rituals of your target region is an absolute must. These small courtesies can take on large importance depending on who you are meeting with. Not only will performing the formalities put your international counterparts at ease, it will also subtly demonstrate your level of experience in the country.
These small gestures can take on large importance.
In Japan, for example, the treatment and exchange of business cards is held in high regard.
You must handle your client’s business card with the utmost respect. Your cards need to be in pristine condition. Don’t even think about putting the cards in your back pocket.
Just a small slip-up in the card exchange can do serious damage to your company’s reputation.
Can these cultural rules feel awkward? Strange? Confining? Of course. But you’re a professional. If you want to be the best you have to adapt–it’s all part of the dance.
When you do finally have face-to-face meetings, you really want to make a strong impression.
Business meetings in foreign places can be complicated. That’s why I make sure my team plans for scenarios that they least expect.
Before your next international sales meeting, have an experienced member of your team work with you to prepare for your trip. Role-playing is an excellent way to get in the proper mindset. Even if you know the answers to difficult questions, rehearsing in real-time helps you formulate your answers more clearly. You don’t know the obstacles in your presentations until you encounter them head-on.
The rehearsal is also important because it gets your team on the same page about sharing the responsibilities of the meeting. Who will be the ‘go-to’ about pricing? Who is the ‘expert’ for questions about QA? In Europe in particular, cutting in or contradicting someone from your own team is considered to be very rude. It can really hurt the mood and momentum of the meeting.
What do you hope to get out of your next sales trip?
Not every flight leads to a deal (sorry, CFO), but that’s just the reality of the business. Building trust takes time.
Whether this is the first or the fifth time seeing your clients, make a series of goals that will guide your meeting. Maybe the first ‘prize’ is to get a PO, but your second is a proof of concept, and your third is to just arrange another meeting.
Dream big, but set realistic goals. You won’t always hit a homerun, but lots of base-hits can still lead to high scores.
What are your tips for international sales success?