Having worked for many companies that were based overseas and also sold products in many parts of the world, I have consistently encountered companies that think they know the various cultures they sell and market do and what is “best for them”.
One company I worked for wanted to “crack” the Middle East market and sell their goods there. The problem was that they were Israeli – and since most (well, all) of the nations in the Middle East are Muslim, there was no way that they were going to be able to get their products sold there.
I came up with a simple solution – in fact, it required two solutions:
1) The company had to realize that ego played no part in business and that even though they had much pride in their success as a small Israeli company, they would have to forego that part of their brand (i.e. give up their ego and identity).
2) They would need to “re-brand” and “re-package” their goods from another part of the world. We re-branded the product so the perception was that it came from Australia (we branded it with a Kangaroo – in fact, we were so successful that a Chinese company copied our logo and called their product the Kangaru- but that’s another story; and it cost very little money (compared with the millions of dollars they made from this market).
But, that is one extreme of cultural influence and how it affects the purchasing intent of customers.
Another example was internal to North America.
The law firm, based on the East Coast of the U.S., dealt with many clients in the Mid-West as well as the North-West; people who were laid-back, relaxed, and totally honest with their questions and issues. North Easterners (particularly those from New York and Boston) are used to being gruff, short, and pointed, but, in a way that is interpreted as rudeness.
Obviously these two “types” of individuals, when interacting, reacted like oil and vinegar – one laid back and relaxed and the other wanting to move on as quickly as possible.
After a one-week training course on the various aspects of the various regions of the U.S. and how to approach each region, the law firm was able to quickly lower the many complaints and issues that were brought up because of the personalities of their lawyers; thus, they were able to quickly get to the law cases that they were called in for and gain the perception that they were compassionate and understanding of the local area and not someone from the “East Coast who didn’t care about what happened on the West Coast”.
When you are approaching a new market, pay particular attention to the various culture and personalities of the people in that market – it cannot be ignored.
If you are already in a market, do an internal check and see if your staff, employee’s, sales people, etc. understand the market (a perfect example is if a sales person on the East Coast calls on an account or customer on the West Coast).
A few rules in dealing with others (what your mom taught you when at a dinner table): never speak about 1) Religion, 2) Politics, and 3) current affairs of the local region. Of course, many times this is brought up by your counterpart – answer the question(s) – neutrally – and move onto the more relevant subject at hand (the selling of your product).