Small businesses aren’t all “mom and pop” shops anymore. Many are now internet-driven, global phenomena with customers all over the world. In fact, 58 percent of small businesses already have international customers, and 72 percent are focusing on expanding their international customer base before the end of 2016.
But it takes more than a simple commitment to growing your company’s potential to actually profit from global expansion. While most companies recognize the importance of overcoming language barriers, for example, other important requirements often go unheeded.
If you want to profit from an international customer base, you need to turn your sales teams into lean, mean, global revenue-driving machines. Here are three steps you can take to do just that:
1. Face-to-face interaction is rare — train your team to build virtual relationships.
Eighty-five percent of executives think online meetings with prospective customers are less effective than those conducted in person, and 63 percent feel the same about virtual interactions with existing customers. But that disparity is unacceptable when you’re on a global scale.
Establishing rapport and trust with clients is essential to sales success, so your teams must intentionally structure virtual meetings to foster those relationships. Each meeting should start with a catch-up type of chat, and using first names is a must. Teaching your salespeople how to employ a more personal touch will go a long way toward building confidence in your salespeople.
On the other hand, that confidence can evaporate quickly if a salesperson doesn’t understand the technology he or she is using. Whether it’s GoToMeeting, WebEx, Skype or Zoom, every salesperson needs to be trained to use every tool your company uses. Even slight stumbles will make your entire business look amateur and inexperienced in handling global deals.
Try to extend the connections created beyond the virtual universe, too. Integrating direct mail into the process and sending books, small physical gifts or mementos can help to remind customers that the salesperson is a real person working for a real potential partner, not just some gal or guy on the internet.
For example, Lemonly, a company specializing in infographics, sends out a small packet of lemon bars to every new client it signs. And when a project is completed, the company’s designers send handwritten thank-you notes. What special, company-related treat could you send to your new clients?
2. You like po-tay-toes and I like po-tah-toes — keep cultural differences in mind.
Take note of differences, and observe the norms of clients’ cultures. For instance, starting an email with “Hey, William” might fly in the United States, but it would be considered a bit rude in the U.K. Another thing: Learning the correct pronunciation of your prospect’s hometown might seem like a little thing, but it can have a big effect on rapport.
So, remember Melbourne is Mel-burn, not Mel-born. Mispronouncing a city like that seems trivial, but it makes a difference. And be especially vigilant about this when working with Brits — cities such as Leicester, Gloucester, Edinburgh and Peterborough present potential minefields.
Overall, researching differences is essential. The Lewis Model is a great place to start when moving into a new market. You should also take advantage of the wealth of information your existing clients can provide on how to interact with people from their home countries.
And don’t just pander to cultural differences; find playful and disarming ways to acknowledge them. Exploring “soccer” versus “football,” for example, is a goldmine of fun banter.
3. Help your sales team stay balanced as they bite the bullet on unconventional hours.
International time differences are a killer. Asking clients to meet at odd times is a major error, so your global sales team must bend over backward to adapt to international needs. At my own company, for example, we often end up taking calls late in the evening to accommodate clients in Australia.
A crucial element to making those late meetings work well? A balanced day for your team. A nutritious meal can raise productivity levels by 20 percent, and an evening workout before the meeting will get the blood pumping and improve mental and physical health.
The prescribed behaviors mentioned shouldn’t be micromanaged, but you can provide guidance on how and why healthy and sustainable lifestyles are so essential to developing and maintaining a good work-life balance for global work. In my experience, whatever will keep salespeople in this country dynamic and effective as the sun comes up in Australia is the best way to go.
An effective sales team is the backbone of any global expansion. Metaphorically speaking, it should resemble the human spine: flexible and connected.
Doing your part to promote a balanced work-life dynamic will enable any sacrifices team members make to accommodate global audiences to be relatively painless. And by making your salespeople as socially conscious of their new territories as possible, you can keep things personal and kick cultural faux pas to the curb.