Cultural understanding is vital to global inside sales

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globeGreetings from Australia! It’s another fascinating day in the life of inside sales training abroad.

Global inside sales organizations are growing and flourishing. They are generally structured around large geographical hubs. For example,

  • Europe: UK, Amsterdam, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland
  • Latin America: Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, Chile
  • AsiaPac: Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, India, Australia

Notice anything? That’s right. Each hub has a different mix of languages. And even Latin America involves two languages and a myriad of regional accents, dialects, and slang terms. English is the standard language spoken during most trainings even though it is not necessarily everyone’s first language. This means that when we  are explaining concepts, or we have interactive training and role-play, some participants find it difficult to understand both the trainers and their fellow participants!

Training abroad can be very gratifying. But no matter how fun it is, or how prepared I am, it’s always a challenge to sort through the specific cultural dynamics around sales skills, language barriers, gender issues, and cultural differences, beliefs and values. Inevitably, though, I will hear at least one participant say,  “In my country, we don’t do it this way.”

This can be jarring — in many ways it feels like stepping back in time from the way inside sales is handled in the US. For example, cultural differences can affect how much each team member participates in interactive training. In a group break-out session in Asia between a Korean man and a Thai woman, the woman automatically took a submissive role and let the Korean guy take on the leadership role.

But understanding each culture is vital: the more I know about them, the less resistance I will hear and the better my training will be received.

Here are a few of my favorite cultural glitches  from over the years:

About LinkedIn: “I was told not to put my photo on LinkedIn because people may think it is an online dating site and we are not allowed in our country.”

About cold calling: “We always start a conversation by asking if they have a few minutes to talk because they do not allow spontaneous calls from strangers.”

About voice mail: “None of our customers have voice mail on their phones, so we don’t leave messages.”

About email templates: “We were told to only use the template our marketing department created for us.”

About being part of an integrated sales team: “We cannot have too many people from the same company calling on our prospects because they will get confused.”

About documenting  their notes into Salesforce: “We take notes in notebooks, and at the end of the day we input everything into Salesforce.”

About supporting their field partners: “We have to wait for our field partners to accept or reject any leads we send their way.”

About working through distributors: “My distributor doesn’t want us calling the end-user directly.”



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