Saturday, February 25, 2012

Global Selling 101

Many Indian companies try, and some succeed, in developing markets overseas, but they face stiff competition and outdated stereotypes (sometimes not so outdated). Indian craftsmanship has made considerable improvements over the past few years. More and more companies are being certified as ISO-9000 companies. Their quality can be comparable to anything manufactured in America or Germany. However, their outdated sales style and interpersonal interaction can be intrusive and unpleasant to may foreign potential customers.

Interpersonal interaction is the greatest challenge, something I work on daily when traveling overseas with my Indian colleagues. Some are complete teetotalers, other vegetarians, which makes networking a challenge to say the least. Others, who have servants at home bristle at the idea of serving themselves and treat waitstaff as they would at home. None tip. Very few say please or thank you and most don't understand personal space.

As an American, if I can touch you and you are a stranger to me, you are too close. That's why I can always identify the Americans at international events - they're the ones with their backs to the wall. Canadians can tolerate a little less space, Europeans even less than that, but Indians are used to being up in your face. They'll wait for days in your lobby to get an appointment to meet with you face to face. They rarely use email, and prefer to call, which never gets past the executive assistant. They rarely get straight to the point, wasting the prospect's time. Most busy executives want to know what they want now, not after a series of questions devoted to developing a relationship. They're never going to go on vacation together.

As a rule, Indian companies should hire "introducers", people who know the people in their target audience and understand the cultural standards for the country who can counsel them on the best approaches, and strategies to achieve their goals. For example, as an American, my sales style would not work here, I'm aggressive, do not get to know the person's family and his background - I focus on the product and its benefits and how much money we can make together. I want to close TODAY. The system is completely different here. It's a relationship game here first, who you both know and reputation. As your "friendship" grows, so do the contracts. I focus on minimizing risk for the prospect, making sure he'll look good to his colleagues as I would back home, but saying this out loud is definitely a faux pas. I'm also extremely honest. If I think the product he wants is not the right solution, I'll tell him so.

But what I have found that works is developing your individual sales teams in each country by hiring in-country. Find staff that not only speak the language, but have a history of selling your types of products in your industry. Trust them to do their jobs and provide the right structure for each team that matches the incentives expected in their country. In the US and India, it's money and recognition. All sales people need quotas to reach to justify their salary and overhead. With individual and team incentives in place, your foreign teams will do the best they can to reach them, including supporting or pressuring underperformers.

In an Indian company I worked with, one sales person was bring in 70% of the revenue, yet he was on the same salary with no commission as the guy who never brought in any sales. He had no incentive to bring in the sales, but he had a sense of pride in knowing his value in spite of no recognition for his work. He's planning on leaving the company anyway. In another Indian company, the sales people went on a rampage when their salary was going to stay at the same level while they introduced commissions. This was a good idea, but if your sales staff have not been responsive in the first place, only wanting salary, it may be time to replace them with those who understand and value performance-based compensation as a way to make more money.

Good sales people should be paid as much as you can afford. In two companies that I worked for in the States, the highest performing sales staff made more than the CEO and were worth every penny. Supporting these sales divas can be a whole bucket of trouble, but they pay everyone's salaries and people need to appreciate that. They may not be the easiest people to work with, but they get results, and ultimately, isn't that what you pay them for? One CEO I worked for used this rule of thumb: "Never hire a sales person that you'd want to marry your daughter."

Early in my career, I once had to change the commission structure for one company because the sales staff were focused on a few companies that were easy to sell into and I knew there was going to come a point when these companies had concluded all the training we had to offer. We needed new accounts. On a Friday afternoon, I met with the sales staff and introduced the new commission strategy which provided higher commissions on new accounts and lower commissions on upsells within existing accounts. One sales guy quit immediately. Another threw his policy book at me. Everyone was pissed off. I explained the reasoning behind the scheme and told them all to take the weekend to think about it. The guy who quit was back on Monday and we had our largest spike in business during the next two quarters. My boss was so pleased, he was able to sell the company to a competitor (who unfortunately decided he knew how to manage the marketing and sales team better than me). They're not in that industry anymore. :-)

In conclusion, sales drive your company. You need people that can reach the right people wherever your business prospects are, so be cognizant that your particular sales style and process may not suit the etiquette of the country you want to sell into. Treat your performing sales staff as well as you can because without them, there are no revenues. Do whatever you have to to keep your overachievers - find what makes them happy (money, recognition, liquor, company car, whatever) and overdeliver. You won't be sorry.

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