Lost in translation? 5 Sales Communication tips for International Sales

Posted by:
the Attention team
December 16, 2021

The sales process starts with getting to know your customers. After all, finding common ground will require an understanding of what your audience values. To communicate respectfully and effectively with prospects, you will need a basic awareness of your prospect’s preferences. Who is your prospect, and how can you tailor your pitch to their particular needs? In an international context, things can get complicated pretty quickly. Phrases or terms used in one country can have very different meanings in others. Certain cultures might be more formal than your own or vice versa. So how do you approach sales conversations with only a limited notion of the other country’s business culture? To thrive in an international sales environment, sales reps will need to adopt a versatile sales strategy and strengthen their sales communication skills. Here are 5 tips to help you strike the right note and sell successfully across borders.

1. Do your research

Etiquette varies substantially in different countries and even within a country’s borders, so being polite will require a bit of research and plenty of common sense. Be prudent and acquaint yourself with general knowledge on the regions you will be targeting. Are there any cultural conventions relevant to business interactions you should be aware of? Do people tend to address each other by their first or last names? Do they include certain titles in greetings? If you’re in sales, chances are you are a naturally inquisitive and sociable person. Use this opportunity to learn more about other cultures and how other countries perceive your products, organization, and sales abilities. Gather feedback and share relevant insights with the rest of your team. 

Another key part of your global sales journey will be studying international markets relevant to your product or service. Unfortunately, what works for your domestic market won’t always work for foreign ones. Enhance your usual data analytics strategy by incorporating research on the other country’s market particularities and unique expectations. If your sales teams consistently works with one particular region, it might also be useful to incorporate information on the region’s market and customs into team training sessions. Attention gathers AI insights from thousands of sales conversations to pass on important sales communications lessons throughout your team. Try Attention to get your new sales reps up to speed so that they are ready to engage in productive cross-cultural sales conversations.

2. Opt for a clear and simple communication style

In general, it’s preferable to opt for straight-forward language when selling internationally. Avoid confusing the prospect with colloquial language or unnecessary business jargon. Even if you speak the same language, salient differences may exist, so try to keep things simple and avoid idioms, slang, acronyms, sarcasm, and humor. Landing humor is tricky enough in a domestic business context, so good luck trying to tastefully impress an international crowd with your sales puns. The exception for this bit of advice is if you have spent substantial time living and working in the prospect’s country of origin and would be comfortable clarifying something in their native language if needed. However, unless you have a working relationship with the client, it might be better to err on the side of caution and keep things on the formal side.

3. Listen carefully

Don’t give a lengthy, one-sided presentation. If English is not your prospect’s native language, be sure to speak at a more moderate pace. It might be useful to create an abridged version of your usual script and employ additional pauses to give the prospect a chance to adequately process the information and respond with observations of their own. Keep a cool temper and remain respectful throughout, and be gracious toward mistakes or errors in communications. Showcase good will, as sometimes phrases may become distorted by poor translations and come across as unintentionally rude. Write down any comments or figures provided by the prospect to help you follow the conversation more closely, and listen extra carefully to each of the prospect’s points to avoid misunderstandings that may impact the sales process later on.

4. Pay attention to time zones

This one may seem obvious for frequent travelers, but when we’re stressed or overworked, we may forget to incorporate knowledge of time differences into our communication practices. Adjust your outreach schedule as needed to fit into the time zone of your international prospects. Find a time that works well for both of you to converse, and don’t expect follow-up emails to arrive at your usual hours. Be quick to respond, even if messages arrive at very early or late hours for you to avoid losing momentum. Building international partnerships can be highly advantageous, but it will require a bit of flexibility and patience on both ends to make the relationship work.

5. Be careful with implied meaning

Some cultures have very explicit communication styles, while others prefer to communicate in a more diplomatic but indirect manner. Phrases such as “we’ll keep in touch” may inspire hope in some areas, but it might mean the end of the conversation elsewhere. Being aware of the implications of certain expressions can save you a lot of time and effort during the sales process by helping you determine which leads to invest more time following-up with. Finally, don’t underestimate the value of a lead just because the pace is a bit slower than what you’re used to. Some cultures place a lot of emphasis on the networking stage, and prefer to build up a relationship before committing. Be receptive to the specific practices of each country, and don’t be afraid to ask your more experienced team members for help deciphering the implied meaning of responses.

Selling in an international context will enrich your domestic sales strategy. Working across cultures will help your team learn crucial sales communications skills in gauging engagement, active listening, and adaptability. Gaining confidence can help your sales reps embrace the opportunities unique to global sales. AI training software like Attention can help your sales reps develop the quick sales reflexes they need to take on the challenge of selling in an international context. Learn more about Attention today.

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