Selling to international clients – 3 critical steps

International sales

How can you capture your Chinese prospect’s interest in an email? Is your French-Canadian presentation adapted to convince your prospect in France? What should you plan for a successful business development trip to Mexico? These questions are but a sample of those you should be asking when doing business abroad. But to sell successfully in the global marketplace, the first question you should ask yourself is: Is my sales team equipped to deal with international clients? 

Online marketing has cracked international markets wide open to large corporations and small businesses alike. No need to be a multinational to sell products and services to foreign countries anymore. Although this dramatically enhances growth potential for any organization, selling abroad presents multiple challenges. Chief among them is the challenge of cultural diversity. Sales strategies may work well in one culture but lead to failures in others – primarily if it disregards cultural business and social practices such as direct, indirect, or non-verbal communications, relations to authority or economic and legal systems knowledge. In a nutshell, how do you succeed in selling abroad without cultural intelligence? Chances are, you won’t. And you can’t expect to enhance sales performance in a foreign country if you cannot foster motivation or create effective and successful habits at home. Here are 3 critical steps to jump-start your team.

Incite performance from your sales teams

Understanding what motivates the individuals on your sales team is critical to understanding what motivates your clients to move forward with your offer. Asking the right questions will uncover this motivation and allow you to associate your company goals with your team members’ individual goals.

The key to success with your sales team is helping them build an action plan. The action plan must be clear and must lead directly to helping achieve both your company objectives and your team members’ goals.

Once your team understands why they are with your company (motivation), where they are going and how they will get there, they must have an accountability partner. Then, they must commit to the plan and review regularly if they are on track to success.

These 4 ingredients, MotivationGoalsActions and Accountability, are the recipe to success with your sales.

Knowledge transfer can help you accelerate the learning process. Knowledge transfer is an art. “Humans learn by doing, not by looking,” explains Paul Lafleur, revenue growth expert and founder of Questionz. This may seem obvious. However, transferring knowledge is a complex array of training, coaching and storytelling but mostly doing.

Assess and develop cultural skills

Once you’ve updated sales skills, you need to assess and develop cultural skills. The cultural intelligence (CQ) framework addresses 4 distinct skills: Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action.

  1. The first cultural competence, Drive, resurfaces in the cultural aspect of sales. There is more than one way to motivate a sales team to work with diverse cultural customers. Interest in a specific culture may be a powerful driver, namely if the potential market is significant. The sheer vastitude of the Latin American or Indian market can equate to a considerable return in terms of commissions or recurring business, for instance.
  2. Knowledge, the second cultural skill, addresses the expansion of knowledge in various cultural aspects. Of course, business practice knowledge is a prominent one to develop. Still, a good salesperson might also want to explore values and norms, socio-linguistic preferences or even leadership practices of the targeted culture. For example, the handshake may be “traditional” for North Americans but much less so for certain Asian cultures who prefer a slight bow to keep a respectful distance. Language constitutes perhaps the most prominent aspect when doing business abroad. And even if we speak the language of our client from another culture, one can easily stumble in colloquialisms or get lost in translation.
  3. The third cultural skill involves Strategy, which explores interactions in multicultural situations before, during and after and how one prepares for them, observes and adjusts one’s ways. This is a common step in any business process, whether selling, communicating, managing, or others.
  4. Last but not least: Action — perhaps the most visible aspect of cultural intelligence. This skill addresses the level to which one should act in a different cultural environment. Should you adapt? Should you “stick to your cultural habits”? We spoke of language before, but this aspect extends further to if and how one should adjust their speech acts and verbal and non-verbal habits.

Thankfully, it is possible to assess cultural intelligence levels before diving right into dealings with foreign cultures. The other good news is that one can develop the 4 cultural skills to enhance sales performance.

Improve motivation and adaptability 

Motivation and adaptability are perhaps the most coveted skills to succeed in an international sales context. Motivation, however, is typically a challenging skill to develop or enhance. But given the significant upsides to opening to foreign markets, it may be easier to boost than one may think.

Adaptability is very much a matter of openness. It may go as far as working with a language coach to rapidly learn a new language and its intricacies for a specific culture. Or it may be as simple as bowing your head rather than shaking someone’s hand. Adaptability is also as complex as the cultures with whom we hope to develop business relationships. It may be multifaceted, but it may mean the difference between success or failure when endeavouring into a new market.

Sales and cultural skills are crucial to developing new markets on the international front. To enhance your sales team’s performance in global markets, check out our exclusive program, Leading International Sales Teams.



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