Monday, 12 November 2007

Not on your doorstep - selling into 'other regions'

I've been asked by a few people to expand on my post of last week about US companies moving into the UK and other regions. I only touched lightly on the 'other regions', the reason being that although I have worked extensively in Europe, there are many people more experienced in each country and separate region. The only country I have only ever lived in other than the UK is Spain, although I have worked extensively in Ireland, Germany, Italy, and France too. I am currently embarking on work in the Nordic region, and Ingrian has accounts in South Africa and the Middle East which I will be working on soon.

Again, much of what I've noticed about sales in these regions is common across them all, but there is still a channel setup in each country which needs to be understood on an individual basis. By far the best way to address this is to find resellers in each country who do what they do day in and day out. You will never be able to cover the ground they do, get the contacts, understand the market , and most important of all, speak the language as they do.

This brings me to the additional assumptions which US businesses typically make in trying to break foreign markets. Everything I wrote previously still stands, and stems mainly from the fact that these countries are not on your doorstep. And I'm sorry if some of this offends, but many countries are not as friendly towards the US as the UK is. Hell, many countries are not as friendly towards the UK either. The biggest barrier of all is our inherent arrogance, which we should be forgiven for once we realise it.

English is the international business language.

Wrong. English is the international language of the boardroom. The international decision making language if you will, but the language of business is the language of sociability - and that changes whichever region of whichever country you are in. If you can mix with the people you are selling to, you stand a far greater chance of getting your product accepted, simple as that. I have sold some relatively weak products to people just by being friendly, and missed out when younger just because I was scared of socialising with people who I assumed knew more than I did. (They undoubtedly did, but they rarely find out in my experience.)

If you think English is the international business language, try selling something in France. Go on, try it. Didn't work did it? Because you don't speak French. I am currently in a deal with a very large service provider in France, I have never, and will never meet the person paying for the kit, and so it shall remain. We have a reseller talking to a systems integrator, who is talking to the end user. In French. The reseller speaks French to the SI, I speak English to the reseller and sometimes we misunderstand each other. However, by the time it gets to the end user, everything is as French as can be. Just the way they like it.

Language and culture can be intimidating, but need not be. Whenever I go to a new country I always find someone who is prepared to tell me everything about their little corner of it. Most people are happy to show off their knowledge of a place, the more cosmopolitan the better. I have a host of people who can show you the back streets of Barcelona just a phone call away, likewise Paris, Munich, Stockholm and Oslo. Just be interested and they will come to you.

There are many more pitfalls that can come from this ignorance/arrogance that we find ourselves unwittingly a part of, just because we speak English - and yes, English people are just as bad as Americans, in fact often worse because we are busy gloating about how bad the Americans are in the UK to realise how bad we are abroad. I'm guilty of it myself in the first post for not covering any other region than the UK (even though that's obviously the most important :0)

I'll cover the pitfalls tomorrow, and apologies in advance for having to generalise the rest of Europe into one region, but one post per country would take a little longer than I have free.

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