Entrepreneurship, Practical examples

Expanding a company to another country: Language

April 7, 2020

In 2018 I started the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my career: expanding the company I work for to the most business mature country in the world, the United States. Two years are gone, and I want to start sharing the knowledge I have so far. Maybe I’ll shorten paths to people that will read these articles. Since my roles so far have gone primarily through sales activities, this is the sight I’ll be applying to these articles. And in this first one I’ll start talking about the most essential aspect I can ever think about this:

This article at a glance:

Poor communication skills lead to a lack of trust between your team and prospects/partners/any other important stakeholder outside your company.

Cultural differences can create big issues because of how you understand phrases in each culture.

The language

Pff Guilherme, this is obvious. Yes, it is. And yet it’s underestimated.

A simple exploratory conversation

I attend several events during the year to showcase our services and products. At those fancy places, I have the chance to talk to many people. Once I’m there I interact with people from other countries doing the same I’m doing: selling and expanding their companies. In one of the events, I saw this guy. He was from Romania. I don’t know how to say “Hi” in Romanian, but I remember his accent was something close to Russian. Since he and his possible client were close to me I heard two or three sentences of the conversation:

  • Client: “(…) and do you think your team can deliver the POC within two weeks?”
  • Romanian guy: “Oh yes, about the POC, we will develop using part of the data you sent me and also the data we have from our research, like the trends for investing in 2020

The Romanian guy gave more details of the POC (Proof of Concept) instead of answering the question straight. I could notice at that time that he didn’t understand the question. He just got the acronym “POC” and started to say the first thing that came to his mind. It was not a bad intention. He didn’t want to dodge the question. He just didn’t understand. But yet…

Lack of trust

The main error here (and this is one that I’ve already committed also) is losing the opportunity to create trust with that other person. If the salesperson can’t understand what the client is asking, it’s impossible to trust that the rest of the company will do any better. And even if the rest of the company understands better, the handover from sales to the technical team will be already gone. And a problem will be created.

From my experience: it doesn’t matter if it’s a B2B relationship: people buy from people. If you can’t talk to somebody with the same eloquence you have talking to a friend in a bar about the most random subject, you have serious problems. You won’t be able to create trust simply because there will always be a doubt if you and your client are understanding each other 100% and as a consequence, being trustworthy.

Your eloquence will be needed when questions different from those you are expecting to come, get into the subject. And they will come. Describing a product or service you’ve been providing for years will be easy even in a different language. But what happens when you have to offer help amid Coronavirus situation?

Cultural differences

One simple example: In Brazil, if you finish a conversation with somebody saying “let’s talk about it next week”, it doesn’t really mean you want to talk about the subject next week. There’s just a possibility. It might happen or not. When you are on the states and say something like that, you both are automatically setting a real appointment. And you will necessarily catch up on the week after.

Another example: oriental cultures (my experience talks about just India and China) tend to never say “no”. Even when they want to say No, they will say “yes, but let’s take a look at more alternatives”. Many years ago I had one guy from India interviewing on a colleague on my team. After the interview, I called the sponsor and asked:

  • Me: “hey, so what did you think about John (person just interviewed)? Can we go ahead and set him to start working with your project?
  • The Indian client: “Yes. And I want to know more people from your team that we can evaluate”

I took John out of his project and told him to start working with the new client ASAP. When I called the client again to ask about John’s credentials the client asked me: “but what about the other people we were to interview?”. That gave me one of the biggest headaches I’ve ever had when managing people. John had already created a big expectation about the new client, was excited and also got a raise. After a few days, we solved it and John started to work with the new client indeed. But all the headache could’ve been prevented with just one more question from my side, knowing the style of communication of the other people, still during the same call of above:

  • The question that I should have asked: “So, Mr Client, actually will John start working with you guys right away or do you want to take a look at everybody and then deciding for the full team at once?”

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