But what we often forget is how to really connect with these clients and partners: how to build lasting relationships that go beyond the transactional processes that we need to get the job done.
The importance of relationship building varies depending on the local culture. While in the UK, and even more so in the USA, we can meet someone and get down to business fairly quickly, the process of building a relationship and truly getting to know the people you’re working with is extremely important in many Asian countries and in the Middle East.
Knowing these differences enables us to really tap into the local markets and build a business relationship that is going to be both fruitful and lasting. This is key to any real business growth.
I’d suggest focusing in on 3 key areas to get us started:
2. Your sales plan
3. The delivery of your services
While we might be able to communicate with our clients or partners in English, if this isn’t their first language we need to be aware of how we can make our language clearer and more accessible. This is applicable both when sending written communications but also in spoken conversations and meetings.
Understanding the words we use and how we communicate our ideas, both in terms of the style we use and the words themselves, is key to making any part of the sales process easier.
If there’s one thing I’d recommend doing now to make your language clearer, it’s avoiding the word ‘get’! Get has so many different uses and combinations in English that it’s real meaning is often difficult to discern, and can cause a whole host of problems for those how speak English as a second or additional language. Consider the differences between the meanings we’re using in these examples alone, and think how you could replace them with other options:
• Did you manage to get there on time?
• I’m hoping you’ll get the documents before the meeting but let me know if this isn’t the case.
• My team is working to get ready for the event as agreed.
Your sales plan
When developing a sales plan (or any other plan that is designed to further your relationship with the client), consider how personal that relationship needs to be, and who you need to be building close links with.
Do you need to invest time in really getting to know each other before moving on to discuss business, or will you need to show you respect their time and get to the point fairly quickly?
Getting it wrong can put you on the back foot and can be a huge issue when wanting to gain respect and trust, a key step in any negotiations. This is of course important when understanding who the gatekeepers are, those who can give you access to the diaries and people that you need. Will you need to really get to know them before they’ll schedule in the meeting that you’re asking for?
Another point here to remember is to work out who you will be able to really do business with and who will be able to make decisions. While some countries will work in such a way that you’ll be able to speak to the key decision makers early on and decision making will be a swift process, you’ll find that in others the opposite is true. You’ll first engage with ‘lower-level’ staff until you build up trust with them before being given access to those who hold the power to negotiate with you and get down to business.
The delivery of your services
There’s a whole host of areas that we need to cover here, including the use of colours, numbers, images, the order you present your information, and the use of cultural references or language (phew! And that’s just to start).This of course will be useful for your emails as first port of call – what do you have in your email signature? What documents are you attaching or what information are you sharing?
Global cultures can mostly be split into two groups, those who prefer to know the how, and those who prefer the why.
The how: practical steps to implement the idea. How do we get this done?
The why: the theory behind the ideas, where it comes from and how we can support it. Why is this information or thing important or useful to me? We need to engage the market with this information before attempting to ask them for a response or an action.
Why is this important? If you want to persuade someone of something, to engage with something, to believe something, or to buy something, you need to know how to do that, how to present that information.
Who prefers the how? On the whole, lower context cultures like the UK or the USA.
Who prefers the why? Places like France, Italy, Russia, Spain and Germany prefer to really understand the concept and the situation before looking at practical implications. Presenting information in this way is more likely to get their attention. Note: Be ready for questions! If you can prepare for this and include the information they’ll want in the emails you send out, you’re already in a better position.
This is just a starting point for the beauty that is the world of intercultural differences. There are so many factors we need to consider and learn about to help us work more effectively with clients in other countries. These often go forgotten and we don’t think about them until it’s too late or until we’ve come up against a problem. Dealing with them before we start ensures a smoother trajectory and in most cases, a quicker result.
I hope this helps – good luck with international work!
I’d love to hear your experiences or stories, so please feel free to share them with me on Linkedin.
If you’d like to be included in my monthly round-up of top tips for working with other countries, you can register for that here.
Kellie Noon is the founder of Onno, a UK-based consultancy specialising in global communications and business. Kellie strongly believes in the importance of developing lasting connections through real understanding of local differences and genuine engagement.
A linguist and trainer who has worked with organisations across the globe, Kellie works on international business development which includes cross-cultural management and ‘International English’ training.
Kellie also works as an assessor for the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and regularly supports the charity RefuAid.
Learn more about Kellie and the work she does connecting with her on Linkedin and read about Onno on the website.