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Selling Abroad Ė Rules for the Road


By Kathy Rodgers

Want to sell your product or service abroad? You are not alone. U.S. companies sold $773.3 billion in goods and $295.1 billion in services to foreign markets last year. Selling to foreign markets is an excellent way to increase revenue and bolster your bottom line. But, before you start pushing your product/service abroad, you should gain an understanding of the culture and business practices of the market(s) you plan to enter.

"Itís interesting that when a foreign businessperson comes to America, they generally take the time to get an understanding of  how we conduct business, when the situation is reverse, American businesspeople usually do not," says Christine Harvey, a sales trainer, author of six best-selling business books and a export consultant who has helped hundreds of businesses successfully enter foreign markets.

The business first model is not as effective in foreign markets as it is here. According to Harvey, many American businesspeople donít understand the emphasis foreign businesspeople put on relationships. "Building a business relationship is very important when doing business in Europe and even more important when doing business in Asia," Harvey explains. As a rule of thumb, it takes three times longer to build a business relationship in Europe or Egypt than it does in America. In Asia, you should estimate it would take up to five times longer.

For example, when dealing with Europeans, you should understand they are not as forthcoming as we are in the beginning, so you want to slow down just a bit. While this doesnít mean you should forget about doing business altogether, you should pursue it in a more controlled way. "You canít come in the door pushing your product," advises Harvey, "Pace yourself. Get to know them. Youíll make a better impression."

Harvey once had an American client who was looking for a distributor in Egypt. The client, a classic aggressive "A" personality type, arrived in Egypt determined to visit five distributors a day, set a deal and go back to America. He never realized his schedule was totally inappropriate for doing business in that country. The second distributor he visited, invited him to lunch. Since his self-imposed schedule didnít allow for such indulgences, he declined. Fortunately, for the client, he was accompanied by a consultant from Harveyís firm. The consultant pulled the client to the side and informed him he was insulting the distributor. The client relented, had lunch with the distributor and it lead to a very profitable business relationship.

Harvey stresses, one mistake many businesspeople make is to paint an entire region with the same brush. While relationship building is important to businesspeople abroad, it is more important in some countries than others. For example, in the Philippines or Japan business may not even be discussed during the initial meeting, as the parties concentrate on getting to know one another. In Singapore or Hong Kong, however, that is not necessarily the case. While businesspeople in those countries believe in building relationships, they also want to get down to business. Therefore, to be successful when going global, you must do your research and acquire an understanding of the business practices of the individual counties you are targeting. To do that, you might want to speak with an export consultant, like Harvey, or you can get assistance from the U. S. Export Assistance Center, a part of the U. S. Commerce Department.

To drive home the point, Harvey suggests visualizing the difficulty a foreign businessperson would face coming to North America under the mistaken assumption that the United States, Canada and Mexico is just one big market.


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