February 22, 2018 International Business
What You Need to Know About American Business Culture: Key Facts for Selling to Americans
Our first post here is going to talk about American business culture. We’ll talk about some key points to keep in mind that will affect just about all interactions with American business people. We’ll cover both large corporations and small startups, so no matter who your clients are you’ll be able to use these tips to win more sales.
Time is money
The first thing to know about American business culture is that time is money. American businesspeople in all types of companies, big or small, work hard, often work long hours, and expect those working for them to do the same. 60-hour work weeks are not uncommon in many US companies. Two weeks of paid vacation per year is the norm (and many people don’t take all of it, because there’s too much to do!).
As such, when working with Americans, and especially in the sales process, be sure to respond quickly. Your potential client will want to see that when there’s an issue, you’ll be available and will be able to work on it and solve it immediately.
This also can have an effect on who wins jobs during the proposal process. Think it will take 6 months to achieve a certain result? That’s fine, but if one of your competitors quotes 4 months (and has the credentials to back it up), you’ll be way behind. This is especially true at startups. With larger companies, decisions can take a longer time to make, as there are generally a lot more people who have input on decisions.
Americans Accept Failure as Part of Learning
Americans in the startup world, understand that failure is part of the learning process…as long as you don’t make the same mistake twice. Far worse is not doing anything at all, or sticking to very conservative approaches. Try to hide your failures and mistakes though, and you’ll rapidly lose respect and trust.
This mentality is different in many big companies. Often, larger companies have an established system and brand reputation to worry about, so they may appreciate a more conservative approach. They will also be much less accepting of mistakes.
You should be able to get a read on this based on their own marketing measures and your conversations with them. Does your prospective new client sound like they have an established system in place that they want to stick to? Or do they want to take big risks, try some controversial advertising techniques and content, and maybe get a big payoff? In either case, you should make sure your proposals and actions match your client’s preferences.
Tell it Like it is
Going along with accepting failure, American businesspeople want to hear the true state of things. Adwords not working like you expected? Your SEO efforts not paying off as fast as you projected? Be honest about where you are, where you expected to be, why there is a difference, and, most importantly, what you are going to do to fix it.
Trump Mentality: America’s Politically Correct Climate and its Effect on Brand Reputation
If you follow American news, you know that America right now is at a very divisive point in time. There are hard lines across the political parties, with some people choosing not to associate (or do business with) those who do not agree with them. The media (and social media) are quick to point out racial insensitivities, gender insensitivities, and other biases or offensive comments by brands. Whether the brand made an honest mistake or a malicious attempt at cruelty seems to make little difference.
Mistakes like H&M’s ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ photo can cost a brand millions in sales (for those who don’t know, ‘monkey’ is a derogatory term for people of African descent. H&M had an African-American child wear the shirt, which some perceived as offensive). H&M lost celebrity endorsers and likely millions in sales from their advertising oversight, which seems to have just been an honest mistake by a very unfortunate manager.
Some companies will embrace this divisive culture, and will want to create controversial and potentially offensive content to grab views, or intentionally use controversial current events in marketing materials to help get views. Other companies will want nothing to do with this at all, and will want to steer as far clear of anything controversial as possible. Know what your prospective client wants, and if they want to go controversial and take risks, don’t be afraid to go for it.
Build Trust Before Asking for Business
If your prospective client just needs a quick landing page setup, or another very short task, you can ignore this tip. However, if your prospective client is looking for a longer term relationship, you need to gradually build trust with them before even thinking about starting to ask for their business or close the sale.
In larger companies, sales cycles can take a long time, with a lot of stakeholders who get their opinion heard. One way or another, you’ll need to build trust with all of them (we’ll discuss how in a future post). Smaller companies in many ways are easier, as there are generally few decision makers. Whenever you get to speak directly to a decision maker, find common ground (which could be common interests, common travel locations, sports teams, or just about anything else), show an understanding of your prospective client’s business and needs, and give examples to demonstrate your own expertise.
Respect the Sales Process
In American business, respect and trust are both huge pillars of relationships. It’s uncommon to discuss terms for a partnership before at least one call, which often starts with a little small talk and getting to know each other. Respect this process. Jumping directly into talking business when your client wants to get to know you a little better is a surefire way to lose the sale. If you’re unsure, follow the client’s lead.
We’ll talk about some other very common mistakes related to this rule in future lessons, especially involving early communication and the proposal process, in a future post.
Ad Wars: Differences in Laws in America
If you’re from many European countries, chances are your government has laws about talking about your competitors. The US has few such laws, and advertisements bashing competitors and their products are as American as apple pie. So if your potential client wants to attack a competitor, go for it.
There are many other legal differences between the US and other countries, too many to cover here. If you have a great idea but are worried about its legality, the best thing to do is show it to the client. If they’re from the US, they will be more familiar with American business practices than you are (at least until you finish this guide!), and they’ll appreciate your creativity if nothing else. Ok, just a couple more ad wars pictures, because they’re fun.
Using American Business Culture Knowledge to your Advantage
Now you’ve got a nice overview of US business culture and some things to watch out for in your interactions with Americans. Understanding these points and using them to your advantage will definitely help you score more sales and win you more happy customers.
Our next post is going to talk about your online profiles, including your company website, social profiles, and reviews, and how to use them to create the best impression for your business. Don’t miss it!