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The International Entrepreneur: Business Presentation Advice for Non-Native English Speakers from Nancy Vason (Part 1)

Nancy Vason_SpeechworksThis month I am pleased to share advice on preparing and delivering business presentations as a non-native English speaker from Nancy Vason of Speechworks. Nancy coaches business leaders on how to connect with their audiences. She also teaches at Georgia Tech University where most of her students are non-native English speakers. For those of you who struggle with presentations given in a second language, I think you will appreciate Nancy’s insights. This is the first of a two-part interview series.

The International Entrepreneur (TIE): When you must deliver a business presentation in a language other than your own, why is this especially difficult?

Nancy: The primary reason and challenge when you’re presenting in another language is that quite often you are thinking in two languages at once. Not only are you formulating the ideas you want to convey, but you are also mindful of expressing them in English, having correct grammar and choosing the right words to express your meaning. Often, your mind is racing and you can not speak in your non-native language fast enough to keep your mind and mouth aligned. Unfortunately, many non-native speakers fill those split second delays with filler words. However, instead of trying to fill the time, you should simply pause.

TIE: Are there any universal communication fundamentals that can help speakers of any language better prepare?

Nancy: The first step is to craft a clear, concise message. For non-native speakers, less is more! Decide on the core ideas you want to convey, preview them for your listeners, explain them in more detail with stories and supporting data, then summarize. Repeating your key ideas and stating them the same way each time helps your listeners understand your message even if they miss a few words in your delivery.

Second, if you use slides, keep the content brief and simple. Use visuals that are interesting, and minimize the number of words on each slide. Including all your notes on your slides is a terrible idea! Not only does it distract your listener from looking at you, it also tempts you to read your slides which will cause you to lose eye contact with your audience. Instead, use the slides to reinforce your core messages.

The last fundamental is practice, practice, practice! Rehearse your presentation out loud, multiple times. Those rehearsals create muscle memory and give you confidence.

TIE:How can international entrepreneurs best translate their passion into their communication?

Nancy: Always be yourself, but be the most animated version of yourself. Imagine that you are having an intense conversation with a friend at the dinner table. Your eyes, your face, your gestures, and your voice would all reflect your enthusiasm and passion. That’s the level of engagement and intensity that helps you connect with your audience no matter what language you are speaking.

TIE: What is the most important step non-native speakers must do to truly be prepared for a presentation?

Nancy: Rehearsing the presentation out loud is the most important step. You should not memorize your presentation because one mistake may cause you to go blank and panic. Work from an outline and rehearse enough so that you are comfortable with the information and can perform well, even with distractions. When you practice, focus first on content, then on your speaking style. Remember to speak with energy and passion!

The other key step is to plan and prepare for the Q&A. You can be a great presenter and still lose credibility if you can’t answer the questions well. Q&A is more difficult for the non-native speaker because you worry about having to “think on your feet”. But in reality, you can predict about 80% of the questions you”ll be asked. If you take time to write down those questions, think through your answers and practice them out loud in advance, you”ll be more confident and effective.

 

About Nancy Vason

Nancy Vason is an executive coach at Speechworks, an Atlanta-based communication skills coaching firm that helps business leaders connect with audiences and get results. Through global clients like The Coca-Cola Company, Novelis and Jabil, Nancy helps executives from many different cultures become confident communicators. She also teaches Business Communication in the Georgia Tech MBA program, where most of her international students are non-native speakers. For more information, please visit www.speechworks.net.

 

 

The International Entrepreneur – 5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Tech Firm’s International Marketing Strategy

What an amazing time to be an innovative entrepreneur. Technology, globalization and entrepreneurship are all evolving rapidly, allowing for advancements that no one thought possible just a few years ago. My own professional area, international marketing, is barely recognizable from 2002 and much less from 1992. But even as your company jettisons into the future, here are five mistakes in marketing strategy to avoid:

1.Copying the Competition

If you follow the competition’s marketing, you’ll only ever be a 2nd best version of their success. The best marketing strategies are built around a company’s unique competitive advantages. I met with a small company recently that had developed an email marketing program that would be the envy of companies five times their size. Any marketing strategy for this company would need to center around this well-developed marketing channel. I even have my own copycat competitor who mirrors my marketing efforts in social media a few weeks or months after I have developed a new tactic. In the end, copying others loses the leverage of your unique advantages and poorly copies the advantages of your competition.

2.Delivering Highest Quality at the Lowest Price

In high-tech markets we frequently see this issue: wanting to be all things to our customers. The truth is that your business strategy should match your core competencies. The two most popular strategies are Low-Cost Leader and Differentiation. But when you incur the expenses to differentiate, to develop and deliver a superior product, charging the lowest cost can fatally undermine your profit margin. Instead, pick the strategy that fits your competitive competencies best and build your operations and marketing programs around those strengths. Feel free to charge premium pricing if you see market demand for your high-quality product. Likewise, if your product is not the most innovative then work on lowering production costs and appealing to the cost-conscious buyer. Either way, make the choice.

3.Competing in Red Oceans

A great business book, Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Ren Mauborgne, brought to the mainstream an important issue that technology companies often face. New companies tend to join an industry and allow themselves and the market segment to be defined by the existing competitors. Technology companies are typically offering new or better solutions to problems. Instead of competing head to head for what is often a saturated market space, look for market segments in your home market or abroad. That can often mean that you define your new space and then defend that space from new entrants. If you haven’t already done so, I recommend that you read this book.

4.Not Measuring Marketing Results

I used to work for a growing healthcare software company that never measured any quantifiable metrics from their marketing programs. Needless to say, the company also never reached its financial objectives and the shortfall depreciated the company stock price quarter after quarter. They just continued to repeat the same marketing mix from month to month. When the marketing team finally agreed to allow for measuring, they discovered that the most expensive marketing programs were the least effective and that based on win rates and average sales cycles the sales pipeline was woefully lacking in enough leads to meet sales objectives. ALWAYS measure because metrics can be actionable information and even the best market programs need occasional tweeking. Nowadays there are many free and near-free tools to help even the smallest marketing team to track marketing and sales activities all over the world.

5.International Distributors Are Appropriate for Every Industry

International expansion is not the right choice for every company, let alone using distributors for foreign market entry. Technology companies may be putting their intellectual property at risk by sharing their cutting-edge technology with an untested source. Also, distributors who approach newly internationalizing companies often are looking for easy sales that require little marketing or sales effort. If the technology company truly has an innovative technology, it may be safer to sell directly to overseas customers.

I hope that you and your technology company can avoid these particularly painful strategic marketing mistakes. For more information about B2B international marketing, please read additional articles from International Marketing Consultant, Becky Park. To contact Becky directly, call +303.601.2566.

The International Entrepreneur – Building Trust with Americans

This week’s article is about building (and destroying) trust with Americans. This is an important issue for anyone choosing to enter the American market. If you don’t understand how Americans use trust, it will likely sabotage your business dealings. Here’s what you need to know:

Trust is Easily Given

In world business, Americans often have the reputation as being extremely friendly immediately upon first meeting. Americans are also typically friendly even to those they have just met. This is culturally expected in American business culture, although further observation can tell you whether the American is being sincere or not. Typically, they are interested in getting to know you and doing business with you. American business relationships are built on average more quickly than relationships and agreements in other parts of the world. The advantage is that a business relationship begins quicker and hopefully generates positive results quicker. The disadvantages are that these relationships are not typically built on a solid foundation of knowing each other well. They are instead built on mutual financial benefit on the short-term. Another disadvantage is that the trust that the relationship rests on can be undermined easily and quickly if the American’s expectations don’t match with reality.

Trust is Easily Lost

While Americans give trust easily, they also revoke it just as quickly. Americans expect openness from their business relationships. They expect people and companies to do exactly what they agree to do even if the situation has changed. And they expect their business relationships to be profitable. Sometimes other cultures see Americans as naive for trusting so quickly. It has often happened that someone working with an American for the first time sees this early trust and tries to use this to gain advantage. But the Americans have an expression: “Fool me once, shame on you. But fool me twice, shame on me.” Once the deception is discovered, the American will never trust that person again. They will also go out of their way to warn others about your negative business practices. Some cultures also use an aggressive approach to put an American on the defensive to respond to a problem in the relationship. This will also turn out badly. Recently this happened in one of my business dealings. It was clear that the other party was at fault, but they tried to reassign blame to the American side. If someone makes a mistake in American business, the responsible party is expected to acknowledge the mistake and work to fix it. To accuse someone of fault where there is none will remove all trust by the Americans. And once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain.

Regaining the Trust

Even though trust lost is challenging to recover, it can be done and in some cases is critical to build back. If the relationship is a minor one, I would advise you to let the relationship die a timely death and move on. But if this is an important relationship as a business partner or client, then here are steps you can take. First, insist on speaking about the break in trust. If possible have this conversation face to face or over Skype. Even if the Americans seem uninterested in talking, be very assertive about confronting the issue. Be ready to talk about what your side did wrong to lead to the break in trust. Once you have admitted your part, then you can also talk about other factors that contributed such as a weather delay in shipment or a change in government trade policy. Listen without interruption for the Americans to react to what you have said. Then plan together how to move forward in the relationship. Be patient with trust building back over time because this process may take weeks or months. Follow up with communication about the relationship?s progress back towards trust.

For more information about the American business culture, please read my other articles on this topic:

For help breaking into the American market, please contact Becky DeStigter.

The International Entrepreneur – How Marketing REALLY Works in America

The Energizer Bunny – One of the Most Famous American Brands

With a title like that one, you might think that I will share tightly guarded American secrets. Actually, marketing your product or service in the United States is probably more similar to marketing in your home country than it is different. But here are some marketing trends that may affect how you approach the American market:

Traditional Advertising is in Steep Decline

Quite honestly, many of us are relieved to see advertising de-emphasized in America. There is less money going into both TV and print advertising. Online advertising has increased, but like in most places the click-through rates plummeted several years ago. What has taken its place is BRANDING. Branding includes the customer’s entire experience and impression of a product or service. Branding starts with a customer’s first impression of the product/service and continues through the use of the product and sometimes long after its use. Brands in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) are carefully cultivated. Smart companies work hard to provide a consistent brand experience to customers (high quality, premium pricing, excellent customer service, value-add reselling, etc).

Technology Usage is High, But Not as High as Elsewhere

Most Americans assume that technology in the United States is the most advanced in the world. Media helps keep most Americans sheltered from the reality that plenty of other countries have passed us up in terms of mobile technologies and various areas of social media. In planning your marketing in the U.S., keep in mind that many people still don’t use social media regularly, particularly men in their 50’s and 60’s who may be part of your decision-making demographic for B2C or B2B. You may want to consult with an American marketing specialist in your industry to seek advice on how to get the most out of technology-related marketing while not confusing or missing key market segments.

Humor Isn’t Always Funny

One of the least translatable cultural communications is humor. One only has to watch Japanese game shows to understand what I mean. I am always reminded of the Mentos breathe mint ads, which ran for many years on American television. Mentos is a Dutch brand and the commercials were the same ones run on Dutch TV because they used situational comedy. Dutch commercials follow a fairly standard format, which always seemed off beat of the American culture. I’m sure our commercials would seem awkward to the Dutch TV watchers as well. Humor can be a useful tool in marketing -it can catch someone’s attention and it can also “break the ice” (American expression meaning to get passed the uncomfortable feelings of being introduced for the first time). You may always just want to run your humor idea by an American before using it in your marketing.

The Best Marketing Tools Generate Qualified Leads

I recommend judging most marketing options based on their ability to both generate qualified sales leads and also to work symbiotically with the rest of the marketing program. The American market offers many marketing options, including distributors and representatives, trade shows, direct mail, email, sponsorships of key non-profit organizations, social media, promotions, events, and yes, even advertising.

 

I hope this article was helpful.

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park

 

Read more articles on American Market Entry from The International Entrepreneur site.

 

The International Entrepreneur – How to Make American Business Contacts

For those business professionals wanting to expand into the American market, I offer the following advice for making and keeping American business contacts:

Contact Americans Directly

Unlike in many cultures were formal introductions must be made, Americans need no middle person. If there is a person you would like to meet, you can:

  • Introduce yourself in person at a trade show or other event
  • Call the person on the phone. It is best to plan out ahead of time what you plan to say who you are the reason for your call.
  • Email the person, again with an explanation of who you are and the reason for your contact.
  • Social Media – you can tweet or Linkedin message a person you wish to contact.

One note about introductions – if you do have a mutual connection with the person you want to meet, a well-placed introduction could increase your importance in the eyes of your new American acquaintance. But this depends on how highly the American regards this mutual friend.

Skip Directly to the Intended Benefits

In American business, time equals money. If you have an idea of how your relationship with this person would be mutually beneficial, you will want to state these benefits at the start of your conversation. This is especially true if there are direct financial benefits you think are possible. For instance, if you are interested in a marketing partnership where you could market the American’s products in your home market and the American could do the same for you in the American market, then talk about the market potential and expected revenue generation in both countries. Nothing gets an American business person’s attention faster than talking about financial opportunities.

Make Progress towards an Agreement

Americans feel more comfortable with a business relationship that is progressing quickly. If momentum slows down, an American will often assume that the relationship is not going to happen because one or more of the sides is losing interest. If you feel that the Americans are losing interest for any reason, I would recommend asking openly if something is wrong. If there are reasons why the American is hesitant to finish formalizing a relationship, then look at each issue to see if it is a “deal breaker” or if it can be overcome. Never feel like you need to solve all of the issues and take on a larger share of burden to satisfy your American counterpart. You can always appeal to the American sense of “fairness” in working through issues.

The Americans are serious about creating a business relationship when there is a drafted legal agreement that is specific to your relationship (not just a template agreement). Legal agreements are taken very seriously in American business. Before you ever sign an American agreement, be sure to have an American business transactions lawyer from that specific state look through your agreement and explain the implications of the legal terms. The American legal courts will follow that agreement later if there is a dispute.

I hope this helps to guide you as you make American business contacts. If you need further assistance in entering the American market, please contact me. Also, I have written additional articles for those wanting to enter the American market:

The International Entrepreneur – Cultural Tips on the United States

The International Entrepreneur: Variations in the American Business Culture

The International Entrepreneur: The American Obsession with Financial Reporting

The International Entrepreneur – How to Work with an American Employee

The International Entrepreneur: Think you know American values?

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur – What You Really Need to Know to Ship & Finance Exports

There was once a large, expensive customized motor that was being loaded onto an ocean freighter. As it was being loaded, the crane holding the motor’s crate swung back out over the rail and accidentally dropped the crate into the water. The Incoterm (shipping term) was FOB (freight on board), so who was responsible for the lost shipment?

Ocean Freighter

I think this may have been a test question in my International Trade and Finance grad school class. The answer is: the Buyer. The reason is that with FOB, the responsibility for the shipment passes from the seller to the buyer when the shipment crossed the railing of the ship. Now hopefully the buyer insured his shipment. Otherwise this would be a costly lesson in international trade. Here are some basics that will help keep you out of trouble in
exporting:

Incoterms

There are 13 Incoterms that help define where responsibility passes from seller to buyer. They range from Ex Works (EXW) where the buyer picks the product up from your loading dock to Delivered Duty Paid (DDP) where the seller takes full responsibility for the shipment up to the door of buyer. A lot of first-time exporters assume that EXW is the best Incoterm choice because it shifts responsibility to the buyer immediately. But that is rarely the best choice based on how much control you need to have over the delivery of your product. Please also keep in mind that several Incoterms, including FOB, cannot be used in air freight (FAS, FOB, CFR, CIF, DES, & DEQ). A great book on this topic is Managing Exports: Navigating the Complex Rules, Controls, Barriers, and Laws by Frank Reynolds. Another excellent resource is International Trade and Banking Consultant, Roy Becker (http://roybeckerseminars.com).

Payment Terms

There are four main financing options for exports. First is for the buyer to pay cash up front. This is more common for highly customized products in high demand and for first-time buyers with no credit history in your company. Many exporters use the second option: Letter of Credit. But LOCs are very expensive and if written incorrectly can cause all kinds of complications to the sale. International bankers normally draft a LOC. They are best used for large item purchases and are less frequently used today because of their cost. The third option is Documentary Collections. In this option, the buyer cannot obtain the shipment until they have certain documents. The documents are sent to the buyer’s bank and instructions are carried out to pay the seller. Instructions usually include payment conditions. Finally there is the Open Account payment term. Open Account means that you’re extending credit to your buyer. This is a good payment term for long-time customers with good credit and fairly stable currency. Payments can be made through the SWIFT electronic payment system.

So which Incoterm and which Payment Term should you use? As with most questions in international business, the answer is- it depends. It depends on the type of product, the mode of transportation, how well you know and trust your customers, the level of involvement you have in installing the product, and your ability to repurpose your product to another customer should the original customer change their mind. To navigate these choices, I highly recommend talking with your international banker or your freight forwarder, if these are professionals you feel you can trust to act in your best interests.

Additional words of advice:

  • Match your Incoterm, payment term and insurance coverage (yes, insurance!) so that the point that responsibility for the shipment passes between buyer and seller is the same point that payment is triggered (even if it’s to be paid in the future by the buyer’s bank) and seller insurance takes over.
  • Find an experienced freight forwarder with small-enough operations to take your account seriously. A good FF can save you a lot of shipping expenses and help you navigate the documentation needed.

 

Best of success to you in all of your international business!

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur – Exit Strategies for International Ventures

business exit strategies, international trade, international entrepreneur

As your fiscal quarter or year is coming to a close, it’s a particularly good time to evaluate the effectiveness of your company’s various international business ventures. Many companies from countries with short-term business decision cycles (US, Australia, etc.) may be tempted to exit markets that are yielding lower than expected returns on investment. Here are several options to consider:

Exit as Quickly as Possible

If your company is about to fold or is significantly cash-strapped with few financial options, then by all means consider closing down some or all underperforming overseas operations. Keep in mind that there may be additional taxes or penalties owed for any workers’ wages, unemployment insurance, previous tax incentives owed to the local, regional or national government.

Another issue to consider is any future need to do business in that country. Business reputation takes a long time to build and a short time to destroy. The reputation is not only that of the company, but any individuals from the company who did business in that country. If Mr. Smith closes down operations in Indonesia and leaves partners, suppliers and customers in a bad position, then Mr. Smith not only earns a bad reputation for the company, but also for himself should he need to go back into Indonesia for a different company. A negative reputation is very hard to shake in most places.

Ease Out of a Country’s Operations

If a country’s operations is performing poorly and there is no reason to think that it will improve long-term, then another option is to slowly disengage from partnerships and suppliers in-country. This can occur when contracts come up for renewal or by renegotiating a smaller amount of goods. The idea is to preserve relationships and to also avoid costly fines from the local government. This is likely a better option than the quick exit when you want to preserve goodwill in country. Plenty of companies failed in their first attempt to establish a specific market. But oftentimes the same company will return years later and remember lessons learned (like Starbucks’ second attempt in China).

Stay and Make it Work

All new international ventures are challenging. One of the best options if you can afford it is to stay in-country and find new ways to improve your in-country operations. Also, there may be strategic reasons to engage in a low-performing market.

An example is the beer industry in China. There are hardly any profitable foreign beer producers operating in China. So why stay? The Chinese beer market increases by 30% each year. The average income of Chinese workers continues to increase and foreign beer is a status symbol of sorts, especially in the “night market.” Premium beer may not be profitable today, but in 5-10 years beer producers’ investments will likely pay off.

Consider renegotiating relationships with partners, vendors and customers to improve your profitability. It will benefit your partners to renegotiate often instead of losing your business altogether. Look for new ways to increase demand. This includes new ways to use your product or service or different packaging size. Personal items like razors can be sold individually. Consider renting instead of selling a product. Services can be repackaged as seminars of information instead of delivering it individually.

 

The International Entrepreneur – Cultural Tips on the United States by Becky Park

This week, I am featuring my home business culture, the United States.

What do you see as unique cultural characteristics of Americans that comes out in the United States’ business culture?

There are many cultural characteristics that color American business. First, Americans are the most individualistic culture on the planet. In business, this surfaces when Americans seek individual achievement instead of group success. Individuals are responsible for their own actions, including how we evaluate an employee’s job performance (Management by Objectives). Second, Americans have a special relationship with time. Most of the world views
Americans as very rushed in all activities, including closing sales. This view of time causes Americans to seem highly directed and single-minded. And third, Americans extend trust to others early in a relationship and then typically watch to see if that trust is well-placed. Most other cultures are slower to trust, but then continue to trust long-term. The risk with an American is to lose their trust. It is hard to regain once lost.

What are the United States’ most competitive industries in world markets?

There are a lot of different ways to measure, but from my perspective I would say aerospace/defense, high tech (software, bioscience, alternative energy, etc.), professional services (finance, accounting, legal, etc.) and higher education. Now that said, competition in all of these industries is growing stronger. Without government support I fear that the US may continue to comparatively drop in some of these fields.

What’s the best way to find potential American business contacts?

American businesspeople are often approachable in a variety of settings. I suggest going to in-country industry trade shows, if possible. In this environment, businesspeople are looking for new contacts and meetings are easily arranged. Unlike in many business cultures, Americans do not require an introduction from a trusted source. In fact, many business relationships are forged after one party contacts the other after finding them in an Internet search. If you do this, make sure to include information about who you are and why you are contacting this person. Introductions can also be made through your country’s official consulate or trade organization with an office in that location.

What do you wish people knew about doing business in the United States before they arrive in country?

I wish that people understood how diverse we are as a people. There is not one business culture, but many. I find that especially Africans and Middle Easterners expect that all Americans live a lavish lifestyle with many servants and lots of disposable income. In fact, only a very small fraction of Americans have employed servants. And while Americans may proportionately have more disposable income than many other populations that does not mean that they spend it in similar patterns to especially Africans and Asians.

Lastly, American business expects a larger than normal amount of record keeping, especially of financial data. This means that Americans also expect foreign partners to track similar information and be able to provide that information in reports.

From your perspective, what’s the business climate like for entrepreneurs (supportive vs. unsupported, culturally accepted profession vs. not accepted, etc.)?

American flag

Image via Wikipedia

The United States has a relatively friendly and open business climate towards entrepreneurship. There are many university, government and non-profit programs supporting entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is particularly prevalent in population segments that traditionally have had a difficult time getting fair treatment in more established companies (women, minorities, etc.). Americans tend to idolize highly successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Meg Whitman. While the American government is trying to figure the best ways to encourage and support entrepreneurship, it often has policies that inhibit it. Countries like Israel have government programs which are much more effective.

The Cultural Tips Series has now been to Israel, Uruguay and the United States. Where would you like us to explore next? Please comment and let me know!

Onward and Upward,

Becky Park

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The International Entrepreneur: Think you know American values?

American culture values doing business internationalLike most of my readers, my business focus is on the world. As an American doing business internationally, I see my fellow countrymen sometimes make assumptions about other business cultures and fall flat in business relationships. The American cultural traits listed below all have implications for Americans doing business abroad.

The world keeps changing, but I think it is important to note that cultural values tend to remain steadfast over time. The United States does not have a long cultural history compared with cultures like in China or India. But its cultural characteristics have been present since before the American Revolution. These traits may be applied in new ways to work within our changing environment, but understanding them gives key insights into how Americans approach business.

Caveat: These are culture generalizations and all traits to not necessarily apply to all Americans in all situations. They may be more or less pronounced in specific regions of the country.

Mainstream American Cultural Traits

1. A high value on “Material well-being”.Anyone traveling through one of the American suburbs can see this cultural trait in action. In its more extreme form, it is materialism. While some cultures share this trait, there are many cultures that rank this as a lower priority. Americans are often willing to sacrifice leisure time for work time, meanwhile all of France goes on vacation in August.

2. 2-fold judgment based on principle. Americans often look for the simple answer to complicated questions. This may be a reason why American businesspeople conduct business so quickly. We don’t always spend the time to understand the fuller context of a situation. Most international situations are nuanced and complex because of culture, business environment and customer preferences. We jump in based on a quick decision we’ve made about a potential partner or an opportunity. It is much more difficult getting out of sticky situations when we are wrong. This cultural trait explains a lot about American politics too. But that is a whole different subject.

3. Tendency of moralizing.In the American culture, we often judge based what is perceived as morally right or wrong without first understanding the context of a situation. For those wishing to do business with Americans, it may help to explain a situation when Americans throw down their opinion prematurely. For Americans, this means ask questions about a situation to understand context & don’t verbalize your conclusions.

4. Distinction between “work” and “play”. Americans do not usually socialize with colleagues and clients as much as in countries like Japan. In Latin America this distinction is blurred too. As Americans doing business abroad, you may be expected to be on call after work if the local culture expects it. For those doing business in the U.S., while there may be occasional dining together, do not expect that your American hosts will always see to your schedule outside of normal work hours. Also, do not necessarily expect to meet an American colleague’s family or friends.

5. Special attitude towards time. Americans focus on “Time Management” the ability to carefully plan our time in order to produce the right outcomes. A common expression in American business is: “Time is money.” The emphasis is on completing the task, the sales transaction, the hiring of new staff, etc. as quickly as possible. For Americans, please understand that the rest of the world knows about this trait and frequently uses it against us. That long, drawn-out negotiation in Thailand may actually be stretched out to encourage Americans to give more concessions. Americans, don’t share your actual timeline with international contacts. For those doing business with Americans, understand that when you feel Americans getting impatient with your long story, it may be time to make your point and move on to the next task or topic.

6. High value on Individual Efforts and Optimism. The American culture is supposed to be a meritocracy people’s fortunes rising and falling based on their individual efforts. This fuels the famous “American Dream” where anyone is supposed to be able to succeed with enough hard work. Americans want to be judged on their efforts, instead on the basis of their family name, socio-economic class, race, age, or gender. At work, we want to be compensated based on their efforts and results relative to their peers.

7. High value on Individualism and Individual Freedom. As Americans, we often focus on the “I” before the “we”. Others may see us sometimes as selfish and disconnected from the group dynamic. We need to be mindful of group context in order to be most effective internationally. When doing business with Americans, it is helpful to know that when the American decides to leave the group early to go do something they prefer, it is not necessarily considered rude in our culture.

8. When it’s man vs. nature, man wins. As Americans, we feel that we should have control over our physical environment. We can design structures to withstand most natural disasters. With medical procedures, we hope to avoid death. This trait also plays a role in some American’s view of Global Warming and our desire to find technologies that allow us to continue current energy usage with less environmental consequence.

9. Avoid uncertainty through legal process (courts, contracts, etc.) and goal setting. For Americans, a legal system should protect individual and business rights. Once someone signs a contract, they are legally obligated to follow its provisions. The contract serves as the foundation of most business relationships. In contrast, for many cultures a contract is not legally enforceable. The business is based on the relationship forged with individuals or enforceable by having friends in power. While such a foundation is much more flexible over time, it is difficult for many American businesspeople to adjust to relationships being more important than contracts.

10. Egalitarianism and Fairness. This value is part of the work environment as access to opportunity. While Americans have a wide range of socio-economic status, we at least try to give equal access for those with talent and drive to success in business. Women now get most of the same opportunities as men. Young people can lead older colleagues if they have the right skills. As a culture, Americans don’t like what they perceive as being unfair. Other cultures may feel that there is no way to be completely egalitarian, so there is little point in trying.

11. Importance of “belonging” – membership. While I believe that more “group-oriented” cultures stress “belonging” more than Americans do, I think Americans associate with others based on shared values. This could be by religious affiliation, hobby or interest, shared education, a passion for a cause, etc. Examples include: Methodists, Harley bikers and those raising funds for cancer research. The important aspect is that Americans decide for themselves what groups with whom they affiliate.

12. Humanitarianism and generosity. Americans are not the only culture to emphasize individual generosity and humanitarian traits. But we do expect that people and companies take social responsibility for issues around them. As an American, realize that not every culture expects similar actions. As someone doing business with Americans, consider contributing to or at least acknowledging a cause championed by the American company.

13. Nationalistic and patriotic. Again, Americans are not the only culture with this characteristic. But Americans need to be mindful that with our country’s relative size and might. Overt nationalism needs to be toned down in the international business environment or be perceived as arrogant and ignorant. And anyone still convinced of America’s exceptionalism should do their homework (education, healthcare, economic opportunities, best countries to do business, etc.) and join the 21st Century.

14.Religiosity (very religious). Religion does play a significant role in many Americans’ lives. It can provide structure for “belonging” to a same-values group. A religious organization often provides ways for its members to donate money and time to help others. Generally, it is wise for those doing business in the U.S. to avoid the topic of religion all together.

(Source of the original cultural trait list: Cross-Cultural Management by Dr. Kang-Rae Cho at the University of Colorado Denver)

I hope you found this article helpful as a perspective on doing business culturally as an American or as someone wishing to do business in the United States.Best of success to you in all of your international business dealings,

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur: Management Commitment – Vital to International Expansion Success

international business meetingThe last in-house career job I held was sixteen years ago. I was an eager young marketing professional at a growing healthcare software company based in the San Francisco Bay area. The head of our department was a charismatic and experienced Sales and Marketing Vice President we’ll call “Joe”.

Top leadership at the company changed and Joe couldn’t go along with less-than-ethical orders. When he stood up for what he felt was right, he was “reassigned” to the role of International Sales.

Now Joe was actually excited about the prospect of building an international sales operation for the company. There was great potential for the company’s products in international markets. He quickly began building a sale pipeline with hospitals and health systems around the world. But before the sales potential could be realized, the company leadership gave Joe his termination notice. The newly formed International Sales Department quickly died away, along with that untapped potential.

The takeaway from Joe’s tale: without management commitment, you might as well skip the internationalization effort all together. International markets require dedication and a long-term strategy of revenue growth and expansion. If management cannot see that growth potential, it will be undermined at the first convenient time to fire a vice president who is out of favor or to cut costs before leadership performance is measured.

How do you know if you have management commitment?

1. International operations are integrated into the whole company

There are many tales of an enterprising young professional who asks for permission to pursue an international sales opportunity and uncovers a huge overseas market. What usually happens next is that the company’s leaders say “yes” to the sales opportunity and even to future international sales. It’s a short-term gain, so why not?

Now it’s a few years later and that enterprising young professional has grown this market segment into 20 or 30% of the company’s overall business. What a great international business success story, right?

Here’s where the problem bubbles up: As the business segment grows, the young marketer asks for additional internal resources to keep pace with the growing opportunity. But management still sees the international efforts as a side project to their core market. They don’t incorporate the internationalization into their overall strategy and operations. Eventually the talented young marketer leaves the company in frustration and takes a better job somewhere else. The international business quickly fades away, along with the long-term potential for revenue and profits.

2. Top Company Leaders Are Engaged in International Responsibilities

When new markets are being opened around the world, the President/CEO should be traveling to the new markets and meeting key partners, government officials and potential clients. This is especially true in markets where a position’s title is everything. By not going, the head of the company is telling the market that their commitment is questionable, which actually is very likely. If your company president cannot travel to India, China or Canada because of preconceived notions of what he will find, he will be unlikely to support you later when more complex business issues arise.

3. Planning for a Long-Term Return on Investment

International markets are a long-term growth accelerator. But it takes a great deal of time to make the right connections, learn about the market and the new potential customers, and control costs. Rarely are international markets profitable in their first year. Now by Year Five, these markets could very well be the driver of your business. But a company leader who consistently brings up ROI as a point of failure when the expansion has just started? This is a manager whose commitment is waning. Beware.

I hope you found this article useful. For more information about doing business internationally, please read more of The International Entrepreneur Articles.

Best of success to you in all of your business ventures,

Becky Park

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