From the Desk of the President

International Sales and Marketing: Things to Consider...

By Neal Goodman, PhD

In today’s international marketplace, an understanding of cultural differences in approaches to selling (and purchasing) can make or break a company of any industry.

Following are a few examples that demonstrate how sales and marketing practices are directly and strongly impacted by cultural differences:

The Relationship Between the Salesperson and the Customer
In many countries, personal relationships are more important than company regulations and products. "Cold calling," is virtually non-existent in many countries where there is great emphasis on a close and long-term relationship between a salesperson and a client based on mutual trust. This may necessitate a change in sales strategy for an American company selling products and services overseas.

International Trade Fairs
Very few American-based sales organizations have an understanding of how to take advantage international trade shows. An in American trade show, a company often will spend a lot of money to set up an open display with personable sales people with little seniority or authority. The exhibit is saying, in effect: everyone and anyone is welcome but do not ask too many questions or expect to conduct any serious business. Being that this is the norm in the US, it is fine; however, an American company taking that approach in an international trade show will not spend its resources wisely.

Unlike U.S. trade shows where there is an open display of one's goods and services, and where there is a lot of looking but not buying, European trade shows are relatively closed and only open to those who are there to conduct business. A German exhibit will be more like a fortress where savvy gatekeepers will quickly weed out all but the most important clients who, once allowed into the inner sanctum, will meet directly with senior managers. The message that this exhibit is sending out is that only very special people are welcome and that it is a privilege to be allowed to stay.

Distribution Systems
The success or failure to penetrate a market will be directly related to having the right contacts. 

In countries with large conglomerates, like Japan with the Keiretsus and Korea with the Chaebols, many companies have found it to be advantageous to join forces with these organizations in order to benefit from their well-established and substantial distribution systems. 

Grey market products (products that may be or may not be legitimate but are sold at steep discounts by unofficial distributors) are a hidden factor that must be considered in many countries.

Prioritization of the Purchase Criteria
While some cultures may generally be more focused on quality, others may place a higher priority on cost, and to other cultures there may be more of an emphasis on style.

When marketing in different countries, it is imperative to understand and consider these values when determining: color, size, and quantity of items, pricing structure, etc. Additionally, consider these criteria when determining both the packaging of products. The color white is funereal in some countries, smaller items are preferred over large items, and the number of items in a package can be critical. For example, the number four is equated with death in some Asian countries while the number three is symbolic of long life. 

Neal Goodman is the president of Global Dynamics Inc.