Sales executives often utilize similar tactics when attempting to sell their organization’s products or services to a potential customer. A common strategy has five main steps. The first step is the approach which attempts to gain a prospect’s attention and build rapport. The second step is known as needs identification. In this step the salesperson usually tries to gain an understanding of the specifics of the customer’s situation so that they can tailor their presentation to that individual’s needs. The third step is the actual presentation of the available product or service. This involves presenting the benefits of a product or service and demonstrating how those benefits will meet the needs of the potential buyer. The fourth step is overcoming buyer objections. It is important for the sales person to answer questions and eliminate any concerns a potential buyer may have. The final step is closing the sale where the sales person asks for the prospect’s business or some sort of appropriate commitment. While these five steps are considered essential to most sales strategies, it is important to modify this approach to align with the cultural norms of the targeted customer.
These modifications should be taken into account not only when doing business in foreign countries but also domestically when engaging with people who have foreign backgrounds. The United States is characterized as a low-context culture where we communicate directly with the spoken and written word. Americans should be especially keen to modify their sales strategies when doing business with individuals from high-context cultures because those cultures tend to put more of an emphasis on contextual cues. Many parts of Africa, Arab regions of the Middle East, Brazil and China are examples of countries where higher-context cultures are prevalent. It is important for Americans to exhibit patience when building relationships in those regions. The first step of the sales approach, building rapport or trust may take much longer in high-context cultures. People with high-context cultural backgrounds will often need to get to know someone by discussing personal details and attending social activities. For example, Guanxi is a central part of Chinese society. It involves maintaining relationships within one’s network and often is closely related to social status and prestige. In the US, we tend to get right down to business, but taking the time to get to know people will produce the best results in countries like China.
High-context cultures tend to be more formal in business meetings. With the needs identification step, be careful to study body language. People may not be as quick to point out certain needs that they feel are not being met. They may also act like they agree with you even though they don’t in order to maintain a harmonious relationship. Make sure to listen and observe a person from a high-context culture before asking for their business. Being humble and not too direct about asking for an order can help to improve the potential customer’s level of comfort.