Recipe for European Success: Sales Tips for Including 3 Essential Ingredients

July 31st, 2014 | by
4 min read

thumbnailAs you consider the opportunities that expansion into the European market offers you, you might also be experiencing some common concerns.  Managing cultural risk was at the top of the concerns expressed by respondents in a recent survey that we conducted on the subject. But selling in other cultures need not be overcomplicated. The sales tips below all point to the same simple truth: everyone wants to be approached with respect; gaining basic cultural understanding is a key element to that. You have heard examples of how even the world’s largest companies botch their entry into other cultures. Early in my career, I experienced one of these blunders first hand.

I took a position in Munich, Germany for one of Europe’s largest systems integrators. I was hired by the German company right at the time that they were being acquired by one of America’s most aggressive and successful corporations. The German management considered me “their American” and I was brought into meetings to be used as something of a bridge. The German management hoped that they could smooth the transition, and they understood the need for a cultural translator. The corporate Americans managing this acquisition did not share that understanding.

In this position, I had the unique experience of watching a business opportunity go very wrong because of a lack of cultural understanding or effort on the part of the American corporation. The American business was known for its own strong culture, and when combined with the strong existing German company and country culture, the clashes were inevitable. The lack of cultural understanding was so profound that it would eventually rip the organization apart.

The biggest thing I learned from this experience is that the failure was entirely avoidable. The German counterparts wanted the organization to succeed – but they were not willing to sacrifice their dignity in the process. If you want to succeed in Europe or any other foreign market, remember to take these essential ingredients:

  • Humility: arrogance does not translate well. While arrogance can provide much needed confidence in a competitive business situation, it can also keep you from gaining an understanding of the fundamental cultural issues vital for success in the target market. Important cultural details can escape you if you do not prepare, learn about your target market or learn from your prospects as your relationship develops.

An element as simple as referring to your foreign colleagues as they are accustomed may seem ridiculous from the American point of view, but getting it right will go a long way. In a traditional German office, colleagues rarely use first names. The tradition is to use titles (multiples if they have more than one) and surnames unless you are specifically asked to use first names. I experienced again and again the hackles going up across the room when the American transition managers would call over to “Hans” when every one of his colleagues called him Herr Doctor Hans Mueller. This came across as arrogance, and actions like these were a big cause of the rift between the teams that could not be overcome.

  • Flexibility: eat a little haggis. Every successful sales person understands the value of being intuitive and flexible. Doing business internationally requires an extra dose of that. Prepare in advance of an international business venture by gaining basic understanding of cultural norms; this is made easier using one of the numerous sites online like kwintessential. Understand when and where the cultural norms demand that you do business.

Come to understand the people with whom you will be doing business. Gain an understanding of issues to which they are particularly sensitive as well as elements of their culture that bring them pride. Drink a warm beer or eat a little haggis. Your reward will be the relationships you form and the doors that you open.

  • An ace: there is no substitute for good preparation. In every sales opportunity, it is to your benefit to be as prepared as possible. The need to prepare is amplified when you add the cultural aspect. Gaining a detailed understanding before engaging with a prospect will multiply your opportunities to close a sale. Learning in advance of your first call what projects the company has open, what the company needs as well as which contacts within the organization are your likely counterparts give you a powerful platform upon which to engage a prospect.

When you approach a prospect prepared in this way, ready to discuss solutions to issues they are facing and offering products that slot into projects they are currently managing, language and time zones fall away as issues. You are a problem solver and you become quickly someone with whom they want to engage.

Preparing for your engagement using a sales intelligence tool that gives you detailed departmental organizational charts, provides you with an understanding of the reporting structure and what technologies each team member manages, and the ability to track projects and executive moves within your target organizations. This insight will give you the boost you need as you enter new international markets.

The sales tips above provide you with a solid recipe for expanding operations outside your “comfort zone.” This effort requires only a couple of extra ingredients from what you are already using as a successful sales organization. A successful European expansion requires the same preparations that any competent sales organization is already undertaking, plus a dash of humility and an ounce or two of cultural understanding and the most important ingredient of all, an understanding of your prospect and their needs.

Get a demo of the DiscoverOrg European database and see how it can give you all the insight you need to approach prospects with informed solutions.

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About the author

Henry Schuck

Henry Schuck is the CEO of DiscoverOrg, a 7-time Fortune 5000 company, which he co-founded at the age of 23. He has extensive experience managing the sales and marketing activities of fast-growing information technology data companies.