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The International Entrepreneur – What’s Missing Globally in the “Connection Economy”

International Entrepreneur Global Connection Economy

A few years ago, Seth Godin famously introduced the “Connection Economy” into our lexicon to describe how connecting people, companies and resources was a source of increasing value creation in our world.

Since you’re reading this article, that means that you are part of this global technology revolution and probably interact with it frequently. Here are just a few of my own examples of engaging this Connection Economy from this past week:

  • I collaborated via email with my client’s Malaysian country manager to reach her target leads using calls, emails and social media.
  • I took a call from a company in New York looking for a Uruguayan business culture expert. They found my website through Google. I referred them to a Uruguayan contact whom I have never met face to face, but regularly network with in social media.
  • I Skyped to mentor a Canadian rising star in the international marketing field, who is building a consulting practice.

On a personal level:

  • I sent my teenage son, Nathan on a foreign exchange with AFS Intercultural Programs. That means that he will stay with a host family in Italy for 5 weeks whom we have never met before, but were vetted locally by AFS.
  • My Brazilian exchange student, Matheus came home safely from a gathering with friends via a ride from an Uber driver.
  • I took a few daydreaming moments and surfed AirBNB for a nice house rental near the beach in San Diego for Labor Day Weekend in September.

 

When Seth Godin originally described the Connection Economy, he said that it required four pillars:

  1. Coordination. This may be coordinating between people as in the case of Uber. It could coordinate the exchange of money as is the case of crowdfunding. And often it’s the coordination and exchange of information.
  2. Trust. The parties involved need to have a reason to trust each other. Trust is normally built on a foundation of consistent words and actions by people and companies. Now we are trusting partners and vendors whom we may have never actually met before in person.
  3. Permission. In the Connection Economy we voluntarily surrender our information, but only after trust is established.
  4. Exchange of Ideas. This blog (and everyone else’s blog) are part of that exchange of ideas. So is a review site that tells me what current and past employees think about working for a company I’m considering as a partner.

 

Without these pillars, companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and countless other Connection companies including my own would not exist. But let’s get out of the American-only point of view and expand to…

 

Bringing a Global Context into the Connection Economy

This may seem confusing to some. After all, isn’t the Connection Economy by its very nature borderless, allowing for seamless access to markets and resources from anywhere in the world? Ideally – yes, but in reality – no. Here’s some context:

 

Access to Connectivity is Far from Universal

As Mark Zuckerberg will tell you, there are 4 billion people in the world with no access to the Internet. 4 billion is roughly half of all people on the planet. There are some sizable barriers to improving access to conduits of information and opportunities that include education, disposable income to buy the necessary tools and services, and even interest.

 

Language and Culture Create Information Silos

The Connection Economy had the perfect solution to bridging language gaps and reaching new markets: Google Translate and other translation widgets that could quickly convert English content effortlessly into dozens of other languages. How clever! Those who tried it soon learned that language is much more nuanced and complex than first thought. Literal translations yield some major mistakes that have cost companies dearly.

Culture is even more complicated. It underpins what determines whether a company or person is worthy of Pillar #2: Trust. Cultural rules run deep and when someone unwittingly violates these rules, the business relationship might never resume. Think of it another way… for all of the interactions you have had over the years with international contacts where you thought the other side was being unreasonable and disagreeable – 90%+ of those negative reactions were probably cultural misunderstandings. The solution is to hire a culture coach to help navigate the norms in key markets and relationships.

 

Regulations Often Protect Entrenched and Local Interests

The Connection Economy has displaced more than a few cab drivers and telephone book printers. It has upended whole industries. In many places around the globe, those who profit from keep things as they are have invested in supporting laws that protect their interests. Before doing business in a new country, be sure to consult with country specialists who can advise you of any problematic restrictions.

 

Expect the Next Great Connecting Concepts to Come from Anywhere in the World

While we tend to see many Connection companies rise out of industry clusters like Silicon Valley, London, Boston, Santiago, Mumbai and Tel Aviv, ideas can come from anywhere. As part of the exchange of ideas, we need to encourage and support new startups with great concepts with our patronage and investment capital – regardless of location.

 

As the beneficiaries of the Connection Economy, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no global standard. We need to increase overall access to the Internet worldwide, providing new opportunities to billions of people. it’s important not to mistake your home market’s perspective, language and cultural rules as the world’s norm. Be prepared for reactions to change in various corners of the world. And watch for the next great advancements in our technology revolution.

Onward & upward

Becky DeStigter
For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – Trump and other Branding Issues in International Business

 

International Entrepreneur, Branding Issues in International Business

Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, JosŽ Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and others watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I was waiting on the platform for the train from Bedford to London Heathrow. It was October 2004 and I struck up a conversation with a local businessman (staying true to my American stereotype of perpetual friendliness). After a few minutes, the gentleman asked me what was really on his mind…

“What could Americans be thinking to not only have elected President George W. Bush once, but to be poised to reelect him for a second term?” To most Brits, it seemed… well… ridiculous.

I remember standing on the platform trying to explain how our media had splintered into audience segments where an American could hear and read literally only the point of view that they already held. That the United States was politically split in half – sometimes leaving friends or family members on the other side of the opinion divide. My new British acquaintance seemed generally satisfied with that answer. But I was left to ponder about the effect that my country’s leader was having on American business in overseas markets.

Four years later I was in Beijing and was surprised by the adulation Chinese openly felt for Barack Obama. I see the same widespread enthusiasm for leaders like Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau and Pope Francis. It’s the type of branding that helps to open doors to new diplomatic relationships and in the case of the pope, new ideas.

This country “branding” issue/opportunity is not universal. Larger countries garner more regional and  international attention than their smaller neighbors. Every country has local and regional issues whether they be fishing rights or an upcoming presidential election. As Americans traveling internationally, we notice that our presidential elections receive press coverage literally all over the world. When a candidate like Donald Trump says something controversial meant to keep him as the top news story in the U.S., it is heard around the world and interpreted in many ways.

 

If all of this sounds like a distraction to most international business – it is.

 

Most of us avoid talking about politics, religion, and certainly any hot button issues when doing business abroad. We want to achieve our business goals. And alienating potential clients or partners with strongly-held contrary opinions is a recipe for disaster on any continent.

 

Here is advice on how to manage country branding in business:

  1. Most important: Do no harm. Don’t bring up controversial topics that need not be breached. No conversations about the refugee crisis with Europeans. No conversations with Brazilians about their recession. No AIDS talks with Africans. The list goes on, but this is where controversy stays in personal conversations rather than in business talks.
  2. Don’t take offense where none was intended. The temptation to react to statements about your country’s leaders or issues is understandable. It’s much more personal to a German to talk about Angela Merkel than for me to bring her up into conversation. Your German counterparts likely had a vote for or against her party’s election. When you would normally react, stop and first gauge the intention of the offender.
  3. Ask about the filters that color someone’s opinion. When an entire business dinner in Jordan stops talking and eating to hear your opinion of gun violence in the U.S., you can answer with the universal truth – it’s complicated. Then immediately start asking questions to learn what your fellow guests have heard and what they think about the issue. This will help you to carefully frame your answers to stay true to yourself and diplomatic to your fellow guests. If this sounds like too much hassle compared with a direct answer, remember that media, culture and personal experiences frame all of our perspectives. Do I know what a Jordanian thinks about this issue? Not until I ask.
  4. Always learn a country’s basic information before travel and doing business. This includes the country’s leader, their economic and social top topics and hot button issues. This takes the pressure off of your own country’s branding (if it’s negative) because you can ask questions about topics that your hosts should appreciate. It also is a signal that you have a basic respect for places where you do business (for more on showing local respect, please read my articles on Respect and also Social Corporate Responsibility).
  5. Pull the conversation back to how the subject impacts business and trade. As business professionals, this is usually a common area and one with less friction. And most leaders and topics can usually be tied back to it. For example, “Are new immigrants helping the U.S.? Immigrants represent a greater number of working adults in our economy. Most are bilingual with the capability to serve multiple markets. While there are adjustment issues, the U.S. has always absorbed immigrant populations successfully. So I would answer yes.” It’s a business answer to a question that has social, political and cultural implications. If the topic is a tricky one, then this business focused answer is a helpful bridge into another business topic that furthers building the business relationship.

 

No matter your political, cultural, social or economic views, managing key conversations helps further your international business dealings. Remember to (1) do no harm, (2) avoid taking offense, (3) ask for others’ opinions to understand their perspective, (4) know a country’s basic information and (5) pull conversations back to business topics as needed.

For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – How to Manage International Ignorance in Business

Mexico City ready for international trade

“Marie” has been traveling frequently between clients in Tucson and nearby Phoenix, Arizona, USA. She works with mid-sized expanding technology companies and has for many years around the globe. But Marie confessed to me that lately she is struck by the lack of interest in and understanding of Mexican markets that sit just minutes or hours from a company’s door on the other side of the U.S.-Mexican border. These company leaders seemed locked in a limiting assumption that Mexicans are all poor, uneducated and certainly could not afford American technologies.

For anyone wondering, Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world as ranked by the IMF, United Nations and World Bank. It’s GDP per Capita is $17,000, which is above the median country by $5,000 (IMF 2014). Every year more Mexican professionals join the workforce in fields like computer science, engineering, and business. And Arizona’s share of this lucrative export market in both B2C and B2B industries is disproportionately low especially considering it’s a state bordering Mexico.

 

Now before any of us should start judging these or any professionals about their world business knowledge, I think it is critical to start with the following truth:

 

We are all operating with an imperfect set of information formed by what we have learned and then understood within the context of our cultural framework.

 

No one can be a true Know-It-All because it is just not possible to learn all that can be learned. Nobody really likes people who act like they Know-It-All, because it’s incredibly annoying. But we can manage ignorance in those we work with and especially in ourselves to the benefit of all. Here are a few key tips:

 

How to Handle Wrong Assumptions in Others

When I last lived abroad, I heard plenty of stereotypes about Americans. We live in skyscrapers. We watch TV all day long. We all wear cowboy hats and boots. And we eat McDonald’s hamburgers every day. These all sound ridiculous and narrow to anyone who has lived in the U.S.. Luckily these stereotypes are all fairly harmless. If you heard someone say that all Dutch people live in windmills or wear wooden shoes, you would probably react with a chuckle. But a word of caution… no one likes to have their limiting assumptions exposed. We all have these assumptions and risk losing face. Here’s how to help others while staying professional:

 

 

  1. Ask Questions About the Assumption

 

      Instead, consider asking questions around the false assumption.

     “Have you visited the U.S.? Did you see more apartments than houses where you visited?”

    “Do we as a company know the size of the Mexican market for our products or industry? Could we find out?”

Open-ended questions like these allow the person to rethink their statement and its underlying assumptions. It lets them have the chance to evolve past the assumption based on some new information or additional research. This is particularly important and sensitive when the faulty assumption is coming from your boss, investor, or client.

 

  1. Provide Published Data Supporting the Myth Bust

While some assumptions are trivial, others may be significantly limiting the growth of your company. If there is a chance that you may have a Mexican-size market nearby that is currently underserved, then gathering data and opinions about this opportunity can help to build interest to internal stakeholders.

 

  1. Ask Permission to Take it Further

Once it’s been established that the assumption is false, now there is a brief window of time to reframe understanding around the clearer picture. I like to also change pronouns from “you” didn’t understand this before to “we” didn’t understand the implications. But now that we do, we can take full advantage of this new understanding to excel further as a company.

 

Confronting Our Own Limits

To become better global business professionals, we need to constantly be challenging our own limitations. I would encourage you to:

  1. Read magazines, newspapers and other media from a variety of sources that are likely to share contrary points of view. A local newspaper can be supplemented with The Economist Magazine or a translated online version of another country’s main newspaper. Even exposure once a month will quickly show the variety of points of view on a single subject.
  2. Put yourself in new situations where you will meet people from different backgrounds. Travel is a great way to do this. So are local ethnic meetup group events.
  3. When new information challenges your previous assumptions, stop to think through all of the implications. Let your understanding of the world grow just a little bigger in that moment.

 

I think most of us in the field of international trade run into this false assumptions issue much more often than we would like to admit (certainly to our clients and bosses). The goal is to help clients be more globally competitive. That starts with the clearest possible understanding of the global environments in which companies operate.

 

Wishing you success in all of your global markets!

Becky

 

The International Entrepreneur – Improving Employee Engagement in Your Global Workforce

Improving Employee Engagement in your Global Workforce

I knew from the way that Pedro in the Mexico City office the phone that something had turned for the worst. Pedro’s voice sounded low and muttled – preoccupied and low energy compared with our recent interactions. Pedro and his colleagues had recently been missing key details in our shared projects. They just seemed… well… disengaged from their tasks. I picked up the phone to call someone I knew from the company’s leadership team.

 

A Pandemic of Disengaged Zombie Workers

Pedro and his colleagues are not the exception. They are unfortunately the norm. Studies by Gallop, Deloitte, Dale Carnegie and others all point to the staggering lack of employee engagement in the United States. These studies all show 70%+ of workers surveyed consider themselves unengaged at work.

As a company breaks through from startup to growth stage, its leaders often discuss how to preserve that “entrepreneurial culture” – its key success factor. Translated:

We don’t want to lose that sense of individual employee contribution and drive to beat the odds.

We’re talking about the essence of employee engagement. According to Dale Carnegie Training, U.S. companies with engaged employees outperform non-engaging companies by 202%.

 

Globally The Disengagement Issue Compounds

Most growth-stage companies eventually start taking global markets seriously, opening overseas offices and hiring local staff. Here is where the employee engagement challenges start to compound. A disappointing 13% of international employees feel engaged in their jobs according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace.

There are factors to consider to improve global worker engagement, productivity and accountability:

  1. Motivators Vary – Money is often a strong work motivator world wide. If paid what we feel is a fair, market rate for our efforts, then we are likely motivated. But most of us want more than that. We may want opportunities to learn new skills, job stability, and career advancement. Most of us want some work-life balance and a good work environment.
    But beyond that, motivators may be quite different. For instance, in group-oriented cultures where team projects are preferred to individual efforts (Japan). Some cultures expect a relaxed atmosphere (Jamaica) while others want intense work time and a shorter workweek (Germany).
  2. Management Styles Vary – For most Americans, the most energy-draining management style is being closely supervised while also verbally reprimanded in front of peers over seemingly minor mistakes. Yet this is common in India. Indian managers overseeing non-Indian staff learn to modify their style via coaching or negative results.  Likewise, American managers are not always viewed in the same way as they would be in an American-only environment. Engaged employees normally trust their leaders. Building trust changes based on culture. Know what’s expected.
  3. Language and Communication Styles Vary – “Are you sitting in your seat?”, is a curious question at the onset of my colleague’s international team calls. While an interesting way to ask if everyone is ready, there are other linguistic challenges that cause breaches in trust and motivation. One of the bigger challenges in communications is between indirect and direct communicators. Direct (ex. Dutch, Israeli) often say what they are thinking and value sincerity. They find indirect communicators annoying. Indirect (ex. Japan, Ghana) typically avoid saying anything embarrassing to themselves or the other party. They value courtesy and respecting others. They find the direct communicators often rude and untrustworthy. Working with those you can’t trust reduces engagement.

 

Who in the Organization Should Fix This Issue?

Disengagement is often a company-wide issue, affecting operations, financials, customer engagement and other key functions. It needs to be discussed at the executive level. The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) has a key role to play in offering solutions in terms of hiring criteria, employee onboarding, cross-cultural communications training and conflict resolution. And finally, local office managers need to be coached on global management skills.

 

How to Increase Employee Engagement Worldwide

All is not lost to office zombies! Here are my ideas to re-engage:

  1. Hire the right people overseas. Even within an overseas market, there is always a wide candidate pool variance. If your company values high energy staff or a connection to your mission or customer focus, then search for that match in international hires too.
  2. Ask the right questions and then listen to the answers. When an office or staff member seems out of alignment with the rest of the company, it’s the time to ask: “What do you think about…:?” “Can you see a better way to do…?” “What would help you to feel more engaged in your job?” If it’s possible to fix the situation by conversation, then it saves the company the cost of replacing another employee.
  3. Learn the cultural basics of your global offices. Instead of assuming sameness, find out what the differences are to head off future conflict and energy drains. An easy Internet search will provide basic information on a country’s business culture.
  4. Take input from all locations for company goals and employee reward systems. Part of employee engagement is ownership in the company’s outcomes and processes. Solicit input and credit great ideas from outside of the HQ office.
  5. Explain why decisions are being made and how a decision fits into the long-term strategy. Since business rules change from country to country, it helps to explain that context in which your company leaders make their decisions. Decisions that don’t seem to make sense are a major demotivater.

 

Often executives of growing companies assume that global offices and employees are all from the same home culture. Few international employees will speak up when they feel that internal culture clash for fear of losing their jobs. Instead, disengagement sets in. Instead of accepting zombie employees as an inevitable byproduct of company growth and success, it’s time to use knowledge and communications to engage and inspire throughout your organization.

 

Onward and upward,

Becky DeStigter

 

For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – International Business Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

Like most professionals in technology fields, I’m a bit fascinated by Mark Zuckerberg. Really, who could have predicted the meteoric rise of Facebook twelve years ago when it was just started? He’s not one to build the same wisdom-drenched following like Richard Branson or Guy Kawasaki. But the day he put his newly acquired Mandarin Chinese on display at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he had my full attention.

China doesn’t even allow Facebook access for its citizens. And here was one of the titans of American technology industries not only speaking Chinese, but using all of the Chinese cultural savviness of a well-coached leader. As I watched this video for the first time, I thought of three things:

  1. I had clearly underestimated Mark Zuckerberg as a world-class business leader.
  2. Facebook would eventually enter the Chinese market, breaking down communication barriers on its way.
  3. I needed to double up my efforts to master Mandarin Chinese.

Impressive as this interview may be, China still doesn’t open its doors wide to Facebook or other social media platforms that aren’t easily censored. It’s a political issue and one that is difficult for most Westerners to understand. Why would Chinese citizens allow this censorship to continue? Why would they allow themselves to be ruled by a small group of unelected party officials? There are several reasons, but the main one is rooted in Chinese culture: harmony. But I digress away from our topic.

Speaking of difficult to understand… just this past week, Mark Zuckerberg was speaking at the Mobile World Congress and he told about Facebook’s recent ruling in India’s courts. Facebook wanted to offer free Internet to Indian citizens. But the courts saw it differently. Facebook was not allowed to charge different pricing for services, even if one of those prices was nothing. The Indians felt that there was a price – preferential access to Facebook and their partners’ sites. It became a net neutrality issue.

Mark Zuckerberg, India, International Trade,

Image Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Business Insider

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know that I give what I hope is helpful advice to small and medium-sized companies expanding into global markets. My focus is on providing tips and tools to help companies avoid the most common and costly mistakes. Facebook is by anyone’s definition a massive company with extensive financial resources beyond 99% of all companies.

Here are the International Business Lessons for the rest of us:

  1. “Every Country is Different”. That’s actually Mr. Zuckerberg’s exact quote about the Indian court ruling. That may sound incredibly obvious, but every week I talk with at least one company leader who finds this basic fact incredulous. Recently a sales VP I talked with couldn’t imagine that since various countries negotiate differently that he should raise his prices in markets where locals would expect to negotiate a larger price discount. International business is a pattern of learn, adapt and move forward.
  2. When it’s important, take the long view. Facebook will never give up trying to access the Chinese market. That said, they will also never hopefully give up their stance on freedom from censorship.
  3. Creative problem solving is a core international business skill. If at first you don’t succeed, it’s time to stop, regroup, figure out what went wrong, and then figure out another way. That’s what Facebook is doing in India and in China. That’s what successful companies of all sizes do to win new global customers and grow to their full potential in world markets.
  4. Cultural understanding matters. In the video of Mr. Zuckerberg’s interview, the reaction is clear – his Chinese audience is both surprised and delighted. I’m sure he would have had a great interview had he delivered it in English. They would have even appreciated his answers had he not been coached in Chinese cultural etiquette. But in one interview, he captured a nation’s attention for all the right reasons. This goodwill will shorten the time it takes to enter this market. Few of us have time to learn Mandarin. But we can learn a few basic phrases in any language. We can either research or hire a coach to show our cultural respect to our future customers.

I look forward to seeing what Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team do next to continue to influence culture and technology. And I look forward to the continuing evolution of international markets for the rest of us. Onward & upward.

For more Tips and Tools on International Business, you can join the International Trade Tribe.

The International Entrepreneur – How to Manage Holidays Around the World

business, international, holiday

 

The end of the year is approaching and now is an ideal time to reflect how you and your organization acknowledge important holidays celebrated by your international and domestic clients. In many parts of the world, the year’s passing is marked by its major national, cultural and religious holidays. Most of us have developed ways to reach out to our family and friends to acknowledge the passing of holidays. In business, I would encourage you to embrace the cycle of major cultural and religious holidays, using it to forge deeper connections with customers and partners. In most parts of the world, business relationships are forged between people instead of between companies. Those relationships are the glue that hold your business partnerships together.

Here are some suggestions:

Find out who celebrates which key holidays

In today’s multicultural workforce, it is sometimes difficult to know if an individual celebrates the major holidays associated with a country’s culture or religion. For instance, normally people of the Islamic faith celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of reflection and fasting. But not all celebrate this holiday. For instance, I know a Muslim woman from Lebanon who does not participate in the rituals related Ramadan, but does actually celebrate the gift-giving ritual of Christmas. The best way to find out is to ask your key contacts which major holidays they celebrate.

National holidays can sometimes be just as important as religion-based holidays. It is often a day where businesses are closed. In some countries like China, people return to ancestral homes and are out of the office for more than a week. A simple acknowledgement of national holidays is enough.

Most holidays are cyclical, falling on the same day each year. But some like Ramadan are based on the lunar calendar. Also be aware that some countries have similar holidays, but celebrate on different days or even with vastly different traditions. For instance, Canada and the U.S. both celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving, but they fall in different months.

Sometimes holidays are built into a company’s culture. To find out if a company is expecting employees to celebrate a holiday, ask if there are days that the company will be closed for celebration. If you are doing business in a part of the world that traditionally celebrates Christmas, Ramadan/Eid, Jewish high holidays, or Hindu holidays, ask about this a few weeks before the upcoming holiday. This information can easily be stored in the company customer-relationship management (CRM) system and tracked by customer-facing staff in your company.

 

the-lantern-festival-977259_1920

 

Recognize the holiday in a sincere way

A card is one of the best ways to show respect for someone’s holidays. It’s simple but takes a little effort. Cards can be ordered online, particularly if a holiday is not regularly celebrated in your part of the world. If your business relationship is not as critical, consider sending an email wishing your customer or partner well. But be careful to understand what a specific holiday celebrates. Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish holiday. This year a friend of mine wished her Israeli partners, “Happy Yom Kippur.” This was met with amusement since Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement.” My friend plans to adjust her greeting when this holiday comes around next year.

The question that often comes up is gift giving. This is a tricky issue as some cultures will expect a gift to mark a holiday. First, check both home laws and in-country laws to know the limits on what is considered a gift and what crosses the line to bribery. Rules definitely vary around the world. An alternative to gift giving is giving a donation of time or other resources to charity in the client’s name to show honor and respect.

 

Be Ready for the Impact of a Major Holiday on Sales and Shipping

If you’ve ever tried to ship your product into the Middle East during Ramadan, you know how hard it is to get anything processed and sent forward to your client. Business grinds to a glacial pace during that month. Likewise, in many countries that widely celebrate Christmas business can slow down dramatically around the end of December as many employees take vacation days to be with their families. In order to keep business cash flow from drying up at a potentially critical point, you may want to time marketing, lead generation and sales cycles to wrap up before a major holiday. There is no reason to be caught unaware when holidays can be known well in advance.

I hope this article helps you in navigating your international business relationships through the holidays. For more information about doing international business, sign up for The International Entrepreneur Mailing List.

Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 9 Ways to Improve Your International Presentations

international presentation, audience, international trade

Your big prospective international partner has agreed to let you present your company’s ideas on how to work together. Everyone goes through the formalities of introductions. Now it’s time for your presentation. But as you start to go through your standard presentation, the executives look increasingly disinterested. Some even look a bit agitated. You can feel the heat rising in the room. After the presentation, the audience seems much less engaged in the partnership idea. What has gone wrong?

Let’s go back to the preparations you made before the big presentation. An international presentation requires some key adjustments to be successful. Here are 9 ways to improve your presentations to international audiences:

Know your audience. Are you talking with a German industrial company where technical details are more important than any emotional appeals? Or is this a Brazilian services company where emotional appeal is actually more critical? Should it be fast paced for Americans or slower for an Indian audience? Should I show higher modesty levels for East Asian or Latin American listeners or should I show more confidence for the Lebanese? Cultural and industry variances are important to your content if you want to be in harmony with your audience.

Slow down and simplify language. Those of us who are English speakers need to slow our rate of delivery down for presentations. This is not because our audience is in any way less intelligent than us, but that listening in another language takes concentration away from formulating analysis about your content as well as any questions audience members may have.

No idioms, slang, humor, or other cultural references. These things just don’t translate well. Americans, that means no baseball references like “hitting it out of the ballpark” or “pinch hitting”. Humor varies enough from one country to another that it’s better to avoid the risk of the joke falling flat altogether.

Know the color and symbol references. A few examples: In China, red and yellow are generally positive colors. Green is associated with Islam in many Muslim countries. But don’t show an image of someone with their thumbs up in Turkey – it’s considered vulgar.

Use examples from the natural world. I read this suggestion a while ago and if I knew the source I would credit them. Great suggestion. The entire world understands concepts like predator and prey, animals knowing in advance of a natural disaster, etc. If there is a chance to use examples to make your point from nature, it is likely to be understood and remembered.

Know if there is a status order. In many cultures, the highest-ranking leader in the group gets deferential treatment. That means that you acknowledge their importance in the room and focus your presentation on their attention. This would be true in places like Thailand, Egypt, Argentina and Kuwait. In some countries the opposite is true – everyone gets the same treatment and respect. This includes places like Canada, Australia and Sweden.

Presentation slides should be written out in full sentences for non-English audiences. Many non-native English speakers learned to read and write more than listen and speak. This is especially true in many parts of Asia. Your audience may get much more from reading your slides than from what you say.

Leave behind full-color handouts of your presentation. If this presentation is critical to your company, then by all means have the materials also translated into the local language. This will help you to stand out from your competition!

BE PREPARED. This may sound obvious, but reviewing and practicing before the presentation will help you to stay more engaged with your audience. If possible, do a rehearsal of your presentation with an in-country contact who can give you feedback on how your presentation will be received.

Presentations can help build a key business partnership or accelerate a sales process with an important client. But done poorly, it can cause you to stumble and lose credibility. I hope this article was helpful. If you need help as your company moves into new international markets, please feel free to contact me for advice. I offer a 30-minute complimentary session to talk about your plans and challenges.

 

Onward & upward,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Interview with FITT CEO, Caroline Tompkins

Caroline Tompkins, FITT, International TradeThis week it is my honor to interview Caroline Tompkins, President & CEO of the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT). For anyone unfamiliar with FITT, this organization is growing into a world standard of international trade training and certification. In a business discipline like ours that is rapidly evolving, FITT works closely with practitioners in the field to stay current and most relevant in our changing environment. Caroline is a pioneer in the movement to develop a strong global professional standard. Here was our conversation:

The International Entrepreneur (TIE): Can you briefly describe the role FITT plays in international trade

Caroline Tompkins (CT): Since 1992 FITT has been focused on the human resource element of international trade talent. We build international trade competency primarily among those working for small-and-medium-sized enterprises that rely on global business as a growth accelerator. FITT does this by providing a hands-on, practical approach to international trade training. Our content is designed by business, for business. And from that foundation we have created the world’s first professional certification for international trade practitioners: the CITP/FIBP designation.

TIE: You certainly have an important position in the world of international trade training. I’m curious – how did you come lead FITT as its President and CEO?

CT: I was hired by FITT in 1996 on a 9-month program development project. In coming to the end of my assignment, I was asked to stay on full-time. And in August 1997 was offered the role of President.

TIE: Caroline, what changes have you seen in the market for international trade training and certification since you joined FITT almost 20 years ago?

CT: In the early 1990s, you would be hard pressed to find practical training in international business. Today, it would be very challenging for any business program in a post-secondary institution not to incorporate global business as part of the curriculum. But perhaps the most significant change is how international trade is now becoming a profession – a field of practice.

TIE: Why did FITT create the CITP/FIBP professional certification for international trade practitioners?

CT: The CITP/FIBP is more than a professional credential – it is about defining and supporting the creation of a new profession for those who practice in global business. It is in the best interest of all countries that rely on international trade to find ways to enhance the recognition and professionalism of the individuals who are making trade happen. Trade doesn’t occur between countries – or even between companies. It happens one transaction at a time by trade experts.

International business talent development is one of the most critical building blocks of a complete export solution and growth strategy. FITT wants to continue to support businesses and governments by cultivating the competencies and professional status of those practicing international business.

TIE: How do your staff and advisors ensure FITT’s training content is reflective of the needs of business?

Here at FITT, we continuously undertake research with businesses to identify what knowledge, skills, and abilities are most needed to support successful international trade programs. Our approach is to design and develop content specifically to meet the current and future needs of business. We work directly with professionals that make trade transactions happen. Everything we create is designed by business, for business.

TIE: How would you like to see FITT play a part in standardizing global business and reducing some business risks?

CT: International trade is still a challenging aspect of overall growth for many companies. To succeed globally, company owners and their staff need a broad skillset to undertake the multitude of tasks at hand. FITT’s job is to broaden their international business intelligence – their international business savvy – so that it is easier to support the company’s export growth.

Going forward, we want to expand globally developing talent to streamline trade. We want to continue doing what we are doing – evolving trade competencies as the world around us changes, and up skilling employees and training new entrants in the field. And, we want to ensure those practicing in international business are recognized in their field of expertise.

In business, knowledge is power. In international trade, knowledge is survival. And while the decision to trade or not to trade involves many complex factors, to get involved in exporting and importing businesses need competent staff. Companies need people with talent who can recognize international trade opportunities, and who know how to act on them while mitigating the company’s risk. We at FITT want to support the capacity of SMEs to go global – by making trade easier.

About Caroline Tompkins, CITP|FIBP, CAE, President & CEO, Forum for International Trade Training

Caroline’s experience in the educational sector began more than 25 years ago at Simon Fraser University’s Public Policy Programs division in the Continuing Education department. Over the years she has honed her understanding and passion of cross-cultural environments through her work and travels, including working for the United Nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1994 to 1995.

“Working with individuals from different backgrounds and regions of the world is one of the aspects I enjoy most about my role at FITT,” she says. “I’ve found that success in international trade really depends upon taking the time to learn how to communicate effectively and respectfully with those around you.”

Caroline has been with FITT for nearly two decades. She is steadfast in her commitment to its continued growth as a thriving organization for international trade professionals, and has cultivated relationships with the many industry and government partners fundamental to its success.

Caroline serves as a Director for the Trade Facilitation Office of Canada (TFO) and the National Association of International Trade Educators (NASBITE) in the United States. Caroline has been a member of TEC Canada (Vistage International) since 2013. In 2012 she was presented the Queen Elizabeth 11 Diamond Jubilee Medal for her outstanding contribution to Canada’s trade community.

The International Entrepreneur – How to Globalize Your Business Networking Style

international business networkingSam stood at the back of the room taking stock of the evening’s networking event. As a Business Development Manager from Kansas, was his first international industry trade show and he wanted to make the most of it. But the more he tried to appear friendly and helpful, the less that people seemed to want to talk with him. Sam had been to dozens of trade shows and meetings in the United States where people generally considered him charismatic and engaging. What was these people’s issue?

It is important to ask the right questions before you can find the answers that you really need. That is often true in international business. Here are a few that Sam might ask to get closer to the right answers:

  • How important is business networking internationally compared with outbound selling and marketing in the U.S.?

  • How might people be interpreting his approach?

  • Is there anything that Sam should change in his international networking approach for better outcomes?

Networking and Connections Are a Necessity

In the United States, when two parties want to do business they sign a negotiated contract legally defining their relationship and obligations to each other. That’s not how the rest of the world works. Instead, the business relationship is based on a professional relationship based on mutual interests and trust. This is why replacing your Latin American sales director can mean losing many clients. The clients follow the person they know, not your company.

The American Business Reputation

Actually, my countrymen have earned a business reputation that is wide and varied. Some places love us just because we are American, while others revile us for the same reason. Most are someone in the middle. Watch for body language to know if there’s a significant Country of Origin Effect.

Americans are considered a friendly business culture: leading with smiles, eye contact and handshakes for everyone. That doesn’t always match up with other cultures’ expectations. In Russia, the smiling person is considered to be an idiot. In Germany it can be seen as insincere, arousing suspicion. In the Middle East and India, a man should never extend a handshake to a woman. It is considered aggressive. That is not to say that we shouldn’t act within our cultural norms, but we should also be aware of any signals we give off that can be counterproductive.

American also typically make grandiose offers help to others while networking. This is in part because we want to build trusting relationships as quickly as possible. Others may grow suspicious of so much offered after just having met each other. It seems just too good to be true!

Tips for Better International Networking

Getting back to Sam from Kansas… what can he do to improve his effectiveness in this high-opportunity room?

  1. Research the Attendees. You should always know who you want to meet and have a plan to meet them. For instance, if you want to meet a major distributor in Latin America then learn about this contact as well as those who could introduce you to him. In the English-speaking world you should Linkedin for contacts’ profiles. Also, read translated pages from their company websites.
  2. Don’t Rush the Conversations. Accept the slower pace of business relationship building that is standard in most of the world. That means that you should take cues in the conversation from your counterpart. Wait for them to bring up specific business questions. Instead, they may just want to socialize. That’s progress too.
  3. For God Sake, Follow Up! After an event, the smart professional follows up with each contact to say that it was nice to meet them and that you would like to stay in touch. It’s standard best practices and yet many people don’t do this simple step. What’s worse is if you made any promises of introductions or other business favors and don’t follow through. People will remember if you are reliable to your word.
  4. Know the Basics of Cross-Cultural Communications. If you have a specific cultural audience (Germans, Chinese, Brazilians, etc.) then do deeper research. But here are a few basics that everyone should know:
  • Showing the soles of your shoes is highly offensive to Middle Easterners.
  • Don’t cross your legs and point a foot at a Malaysian.
  • Chinese will compliment you during a conversation. You need to NOT say “thank you” but instead politely reject the compliment and immediately find some way to return a sincere compliment (“I like your tie.” “Your English is very good.”, etc)
  • Don’t make sports references like from baseball or American football.
  • Generally men should wait for a woman to extend her hand to shake.
  • Some cultures like to stand close when talking. Whatever you do, DON’T take a step back.
  • Avoid sarcasm. It can often get lost in translation.
  • PLEASE don’t drink excessively, even if other people are bringing you drinks or pouring them. Stay in control at all times.

Now Sam can get back to doing the networking he needs to help him be successful. With a few minor adjustments he can find connections that could eventually become business partners.

If your staff struggles to make the right types of connections in international markets to move your company forward, consider cross-cultural training. It is normally a small investment that opens many doors to international opportunities!

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Best wishes,
Becky DeStigter
The International Entrpreneur

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