Accommodating cultural differences in sales

Posted in Customer relationship management.

The rise of globalisation has given people from vastly different cultures the ability to exchange products and ideas in a way that was not possible before. The benefits of this global network can be numerous. However, it is bound to come with complicated cultural issues especially since the way companies deal with sales and business in general tend to be dependent on one’s home culture. Be this as it may, there are ways sales reps can transcend these issues and make lifelong clients out of it.

Transactional versus relationship culture

Before anything else, you need to be aware of the two major types of culture you will likely encounter. The first type is referred to as transactional culture. In this instance you and the client draw up a contract that spells out exactly what you have both agreed to and how the terms will be enforced. This may be considered to be a more straightforward and direct approach, but of course that depends on what culture you are coming from in the first place.

The second type is the relationship culture. Here any contract drawn up is more of a statement of intent. Trust and relationship building are emphasised more than formalities. Expect to spend more time interacting with the client and on finding common ground. This type of extended interaction is a way of validating who you are to the client and affirming your reputation.

When looking out for these cultural types remember to take into consideration individuals or companies who have recently moved or expanded their business to your area as they are also getting used to a different way of sales. Also, just because the person or entity have come to your area doesn’t mean they have to automatically adapt to your culture. The best way is to find a middle ground and acknowledge that there are going to be differences.

Avoid flowery talk

This means you should try to shun slang, idioms, buzzwords and jargon as much as possible when interacting with a culture dissimilar to that which you are used to dealing with. The aforementioned types of language can easily be misinterpreted, especially when the other person is communicating in a second or even third language. Aim for simplicity and direct speaking at all times. (But not so direct that you come across as rude and unprofessional.)

Slow it down

If a language barrier stands between you and that sale it can be difficult to get your point across. One way to lower that barrier is to speak slower than you normally would. When one speaks in one’s home language, you tend to speak quickly since you are used to it but the other person may not be. However, take care not to turn that into speaking louder to compensate. Raising your voice doesn’t automatically help the other person understand better and can even be seen as offensive.

Body language

It is an oft-repeated fact that 85% of communication is non-verbal and there is definitely truth to it. Become more aware of your body language when dealing with a culture other than your own. This relates to head movements, hand gestures, eye contact and so forth. For example, a head nod can either mean “yes, I agree” or “yes, I’m listening” depending on the client’s background. So nodding your head can be affirmative or make you seem way too enthusiastic about the sale. Likewise, using one finger to point instead of the whole hand can make a difference to how much respect the client feels you are giving them. If you’re not sure, try to simply avoid the action or simply ask what is appropriate. There is no harm in asking as it shows that you are trying to avoid offending anyone and at the same time showing interest in the client’s culture.

Go visual

The use of visual aids like electronic product catalogues can be useful when interacting with a different culture than your own since they are so universal. Verbally describing a product to a client can lead to confusion or misinterpretation but a picture speaks a thousand words. Showing a client a product image or illustration of how the product works is easy to understand if done in a straightforward manner.

Adapt your skillset

There are certain skills that every salesperson learns to develop as they go. These include how to negotiate and resolve conflict. However, if you’ve been taught one way works it can be difficult to acknowledge that your approach won’t work across the board. Take conflict resolution as an example. Some cultures prefer a sales rep to be more challenging since they may view an accommodating attitude to be a sign of weakness. Other cultures, however, prefer a more collaborative approach. Look at urgency as well. Rushing a sale to go through based on deadlines can seem like distrustful behaviour on your part to someone in a relationship culture, whilst others appreciate getting things done immediately.

Learn what your client wants

Adapting to your client’s needs is something that you need to do regardless of what culture you find yourself interacting with. If you know what a client’s specific needs are, you are more likely to be able to communicate to them what you can provide regardless of the context the client is approached in. Does the client prefer something new, exciting and revolutionary? Or do they come from a background that relies on tradition, stability and the maintenance of reputation? Your approach will be determined by these preferences. Also, look closely at your target market and ensure that your products do indeed appeal to them. By focusing on your target market you should be able to reduce any possible cultural differences and maintain good client relationships.