What we can learn from Salesmen about Diversity

People buy dreams.

And yes, that is universal, no matter where they come from. That is why storytelling is so powerful. It creates a dream in you. Selling it once it’s in your mind is easy. But when people actively seek out a salesman, then they often already have a dream which they want to be fulfilled. It is the salesperson’s job to find out what dream that is. In other words: he needs to listen to the prospective buyer.

In fact, many salespeople say that selling is more about listening than about talking. And that’s exactly what living in another country is like. You need to listen to other people to understand their behaviour. You need to observe them if you want to know how to act. In the book “Success Secrets of Sales Superstars”, Robert L. Shook and Barry Farber share a story about a salesman who is a great observer. When his prospective buyers come to his office, he notices that one of their children is missing.

The mother then replies that the child is staying in the car together with the dog, so that the dog is not so lonely. Well aware that dog lovers often trust other dog lovers more quickly, the salesman quickly says: “Oh, no worries! We all love dogs in this office. Just bring the two of them inside!”

Notice what a good job he did in building rapport by observing and adapting to the prospect’s personal culture? Well, this is what all successful salesmen do. They learn what the interests of the prospect are, assess what they will probably behave like in such an environment and then adapt to it. Golf players behave differently than hip hop artists, for instance. A good salesperson knows how to interact with both. And you need to do exactly the same thing when you are in a new environment – in this case a different country. Don’t forget: two people from the same country can be more different than two people from different countries. It all depends.


The win-win solution

When you are facing challenges in terms of cultural differences, strive for a win-win solution. Negotiators want to avoid that an us vs them mentality develops because once that happens, the communication will break down. The result is that nothing moves forward – it is a senseless debate. The same thing happens when you and your employees have different expectations about how to behave in a cultural setting.

In foreign companies based in Asia, the management-team often consists of foreigners, while the employees are mostly locals. Obviously, this leads to a cultural clash and a limited interaction between management and staff. In such a situation, neither can the management enforce its own values, nor can the staff expect the managers to adapt to the local culture fully. Instead, you need to find a solution that suits both parties.

Let’s say you have a problem because your employees do not speak up during meetings. In Asia you often can’t force them to do that. If you do, you might make them feel like they lose face if they do not know the correct answer. But you do need feedback from them because you want to get them involved in the decision-making process as it is common in your own culture. What could you do to solve that problem?

You could, for instance, install a system where employees can voice their opinions anonymously. A friend of mine had a good solution for this. Most of his meetings involved technology anyways, so whenever an employee wanted to contribute something but did not want to speak up, he or she could voice their opinions through internal software comparable with a chat room. That way employees were happy to voice their concerns and it also suited the management team well. If, on the other hand, an expat disagreed with a local employee, he or she would simply express his opinion after the meeting was over, so that the employee did not become embarrassed in front of his or her colleagues. Win-win.


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