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How to Sell to Customers from Different Cultures and Countries


Do cultural differences matter in sales?

Well, if you’re looking for the answer to this question, then chances are you already know. It's a yes!

In fact, it's a big yes.

Sales, selling, dealing, trading, purchasing and buying are all influenced by culture. If you’re unaware of these differences and operate within your own cultural bubble, then you’re not going to be as successful as a salesperson who isn’t.

Learning about and adapting to the cultural norms and preferences of your buyers can make a huge difference in sales.

In this article, we’re going to share a few examples of how selling to customers from different cultures can be a challenge.

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Examples of Cultural Differences in the Sales Cycle

Let’s explore some examples at stages of a typical sales cycle:


1. Finding Leads

Before you can sell anything, you need someone to sell to. Prospecting, finding leads and creating a pipeline are critical parts of sales that takes place before any sort of selling happens.

How are you going to find your buyers? In some cultures, approaching people ‘cold’ is perfectly acceptable. ‘Cold calls’, ‘cold emails’ and ‘cold contact’ are how salespeople may try to find their leads. However, in other cultures, such an approach would backfire as it’s completely invasive and impersonal. You need a warmer approach.


2. First Impressions

Once you have your potential buyer in front of you, then you need to think about first impressions.

If you’re in a face-to-face situation then there are all sorts of things to consider from how you look and smell, to what you’re wearing to how you shake hands. Online, initial impressions are heavily influenced by the channel we use to make contact (email, LinkedIn, ad) and the language we use. What is formal in one culture could be the opposite in another.


3. Communication

Cultures tend to differ in how they communicate, with some being more ‘direct’ and others more ‘indirect’.

Put simply, direct cultures tend to say what they think and are more focused on words. Indirect cultures tend to be much more careful about what they say and how they say it. This can cause problems when trying to sell across cultures. Direct communicators can interpret indirect communicators as being evasive or suspicious. On the other hand, indirect communicators can see direct communicators as aggressive or unkind.


4. Non-verbal communication

One area in which direct and indirect communicators differ is in how much they rely on body language and other forms of non-verbal communication.

In some cultures, body language is used to convey all sorts of unspoken signals and messages. People learn to instinctively ‘read between the lines’ and pick up on subtle non-verbal cues. However, when mixed with a culture that doesn’t understand all these unspoken rules of engagement, it can cause confusion.


5. Buyer’s Focus

Everyone in sales knows that the key to selling anything is tuning into why the person, company or organisation in front of you would want to buy what you have to sell. You need to understand their focus.

Not every culture buys things for the same reasons. Motivations differ from country to country. Some consumers want cheap, others want value for money, and others want durability. Some cultures lean towards sales messages that focus on benefits for the individual, and others on the family.


6. Pitch

In some cultures, when you pitch a sale, they want to see energy and razzmatazz. Others would see this as over the top; they might prefer a more formal, quantitative pitch.

It’s crucial to understand how to pitch in different cultures. This ensures you think outside your cultural bubble and consider ideas that might help you pitch better. Some cultures may expect a pitch to be a one-off event after which they make a decision; other cultures might expect a series of pitches with varying focus.


7. Pricing

Across the world, people approach pricing in various ways, a lot of which come down to a culture’s values.

For some cultures talking about pricing is something that is left to the end of a negotiation. For others, it’s done right at the start. You can imagine what happens when they come together! Similarly, in some cultures pricing is something that is fixed and non-negotiable. Other cultures expect to haggle.


8. Trust

Before you can close a sale, buyers need to trust you. How you demonstrate and build this trust can also be heavily influenced by culture.

Buyers in some cultures may trust you if they see you know what you are talking about; that you understand your service or product inside out and can answer any question. Others might be more concerned with what kind of person you are – do you seem like a nice person?


9. Closing a sale

How do you normally close a sale? Well, however you do it may not necessarily work for some other cultures. A decisive question asking for a signature might be good sales practice in one culture but in another, it’s pushy, aggressive and alarming.

Always think about how you can close sales in different ways. For example, a common practice for salespeople in some regions of the world is to use the limited resource technique – meaning they would say something like “We only have 2 left” or “You have to sign by 12pm or the deal’s off”. This will backfire in other cultures because people will wonder why you are wasting their time!

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