Tips for Selling to International Buyers

April 23, 2013


With an increasingly global marketplace, salespeople encounter international buyers on a regular basis. While this presents an excellent opportunity to expand territory and sales, it also comes with the possibility of miscommunication or even offending those you try to do business with if their culture is not understood.

Here are some marketing and sales tips for dealing with international buyers.

1. Don’t make assumptions

Basing your approach to a foreign culture on assumptions, especially those derived from stereotypical portrayals on TV or movies, can lead to embarrassment and lost sales. Plan on doing some research, including hiring an expert familiar with the habits and customs of the cultures being marketed to, before launching a campaign. Spend some time in a target country to soak up some of the culture if possible. Observing how the local businesses sell can also provide a wealth of information and some business owners might even be willing to share marketing and sales tips with you.

One area where you should be extra cautious is in applying humor, as some jokes just don’t make any sense in other countries or can be construed as deeply offensive.

2. Use professionally-translated marketing materials

It is off-putting to read marketing materials which are poorly translated. Awkward phrasing, odd slang usage, and inappropriate dialect use can occur when translations are done by amateurs or, worse, you try to do them yourself using Google or Bing translation tools.

Do yourself a favor and spend a little more to hire a professional translation service with experience in writing for the exact region and public you are targeting. Materials written in Spanish for Cuban-Americans or Puerto Ricans on the East Coast or would not necessarily go over as well in Mexican-heavy Los Angeles, for example, as even common words might have different connotations. If you are targeting both, then the safest bet is to use proper Castilian, the standard for radio and TV.

3. Learn the non-verbal cues

Most people know by now that displaying the soles of the feet is offensive to many in Arabic countries, so displaying a model with crossed legs would be bad form in promo materials. But there are less obvious things which might lead to a faux pas.

As reported in Entrepreneur, in Asian cultures a nod often means “I hear you,” not agreement. As many of us are taught that nodding represents interest and a possible shift into “buy mode,” this can lead to a premature attempt at a close, turning off the buyer.

4. Prepare to bargain

In some countries, bargaining over price and terms is expected. Americans in particular are averse to haggling over price, unless they are car shopping.

The important thing is to not take it personally when a buyer haggles with you or even flat-out insults your price. If you have done your research, you should already be prepared to give a small concession with this type of international buyer or otherwise “sweeten the deal” so everyone wins: he or she feels she drove a hard bargain, and you get a sale with a still profitable margin.

Hopefully the marketing and sales tips above help you maintain smooth relations with international buyers and enable you to expand your current territory. Good luck!