The increasing use of software and automatisation to facilitate the marketing and sales process has brought about many changes in international business, be it generating leads, guiding customers, or providing information and resources. However, using technology also raises the risk of damaging customer relations.
According to the Sales Trend Report 2023 of the CRM platform Hubspot, more and more companies are experiencing a “crisis of disconnection” between themselves and their customers around the globe. For the report, more than 1,000 executives worldwide were asked about their greatest challenges in 2023. Their answers show that personal communication and mutual trust play a more decisive role than ever before.
Finding New Ways Of Building Relationships In International Sales
With the ongoing trend away from face-to-face interaction towards tech-driven automatisation, salespeople have to develop new ways to communicate and build trust with prospects despite virtual barriers. In international sales, these challenges can be particularly pronounced, as cultural differences in communication styles are often more evident in online meetings or chat conversations. Misunderstandings can quickly arise, and these can be costly for both the company and the customer. For example, a sales process that ignores cultural norms and expectations of potential customers may inadvertently offend or alienate them, leading to a breakdown in communication and a lost sale.
Furthermore, in international markets, businesses face higher competition. This is because there may be more players in the foreign market, including established local companies as well as large international corporates. As a result, simply relying on the quality or features of a product or service may not be enough anymore to secure a successful business deal. When potential customers are inundated with offers, prioritising the real buyer interests will be more valued in the future than it has been in the past.
In this context, a consultative, helpful and empathetic approach to selling – so conversations focused on finding out the ‘why’ behind a sale – will be crucial. This approach involves understanding the unique needs and preferences of individual customers in specific foreign markets, and tailoring the sales process to meet those needs.
Taking a consultative approach to selling, by asking questions and listening carefully to the customer’s responses, allows salespeople to identify the customer’s specific pain points and offer tailored solutions that address those issues. Mutual trust is a prerequisite while foreign customers may be more skeptical of businesses that they are not familiar with. And even more so if they are mainly communicating with software. By building relationships in international sales, businesses can overcome this skepticism and win long-term loyal customers who bring repeat business which is often more valuable than one-time sales.
Adapting The Sales Process To The Foreign Market
How customer relationships and trust are achieved though is as much culture-specific as it is person-specific, and therefore must be geared to the respective foreign market. This affects the individual steps of the sales process as well as each (online) communication with a customer. It is crucial to act in a way that the foreign customer expects and not in the way one is used to in the home market. “Treat people like they want to be treated” – this motto needs to be strictly followed for successfully building relationships in international sales.
Also, in many foreign markets several people will be involved in the buying decision due to the importance of hierarchies and a high level of consent-orientation. With regard to a more personalised approach, a thorough research of stakeholders, their positions and interests are of the essence. The likelihood that the entire sales process needs to follow culture-specific patterns is also many times higher than when communicating with just a single buyer, with whom one can possibly proceed more flexibly and individually. Many salespeople in foreign markets make the mistake of assuming that the entire sales process will be as informal as a relaxed first conversation with a single prospect. As more individuals join, there may be a crucial need to revert back to formal conversations along the hierarchy.
All in all, a culture-specific sales process involves understanding and adapting to the unique cultural context in which the sales process is taking place. This requires sensitivity to norms, values, and beliefs, as well as knowledge of local market conditions and regulations. By tailoring the sales process to meet the specific needs of each culture as well as the individual requirements in the personal communication, salespeople can then use software and automation in a more balanced way so that they don’t compromise relationships with customers and achieve greater success in international markets.
Conclusion – Relationship Building In International Sales
The use of technology in international sales can lead to a disconnection between salespeople and customers. However, personal communication and mutual trust are more important than ever to make a deal in a highly competitive foreign markt. That is why culture-specific relationship building in international sales plays a crucial role, and salespeople will need to adjust their entire sales process including the use of tech to meet the specific needs of a culture as well as an individual customer.