Often, customers negotiate a global agreement so that they can have similar terms around the world, regardless of their volume in different countries — and they expect supplier representatives in all countries to understand the agreement and to know how to support local differences in applying the agreement.
The challenge is that the people who develop the sales relationship and service the account in one country are not the same people who do the same job in other countries. As a result, unless they’ve all been trained the same way, the sales experience for customers of a global supplier will be all over the map.
The need for a consistent sales process across domestic and foreign subsidiaries is clear. To achieve this, global companies need to implement a global sales training program that brings the same skills, methodology, and process to those who work with or support customers around the world.
Equally true is the need for consistency in companies that are expanding their geographic reach to find new business. Often, these growth-oriented companies want their customer experience in new countries to be based on the same best practices developed where the headquarters is located. This means replicating these practices across global subsidiaries through consistent training.
One challenge in delivering global sales training programs is that there may not be enough people in each country to justify holding a workshop exclusively for those in, say, Japan or Israel or France. The alternative is to bring these groups together in a common training environment, using English — the language of business around the world — as the language of delivery. An added benefit is the ability for people from different countries to learn from one another, share success stories, and strengthen their network of internal contacts. And, if they all happen to serve the same global customer, they can trade information and experiences related to that account.
One difference from a typical US training environment is having a workshop full of people for whom English is not their first language. For the facilitator, this means slowing down the pace of speech and taking somewhat longer to deliver some of the content. The slower pace is needed so that participants, who are usually translating English to their native language as it’s delivered, can fully absorb the content.
When course content involves complex concepts, it can take speakers of basic English even longer to translate and understand the nuances. In one workshop I conducted, one participant spoke English and Italian well, and someone else spoke Italian and Polish well. One Polish participant spoke very little English. After I would present a concept, the person who spoke English and Italian would translate it in Italian for the person who spoke Italian and Polish, and then he would translate it for the Polish speaker. Not every word needed translation, but the complexities were conveyed in their native language. It sounds problematic, but it actually worked quite well, and the translators increased retention through the retelling, as well.
Much is made about cultural differences in selling, and they do exist, but our research in building sales processes at Richardson has found that most of the time, the selling process remains constant in all locations. We have interviewed people from China, Dubai, England, and Canada — all over the world — about what they do successfully in sales. What we discovered is that most of the actual sales process is the same, although the length of time spent in each stage may differ. While some activities may be added or not needed, the overall path and process to create a successful sale is usually the same.
Take building rapport, for example. In the Middle East, nobody does business until after they have socialized and gotten to know each other. There may be four or five social meetings before sales is ever discussed. Conversely, in Germany, people prefer to get down to business faster. They do build rapport, but they’re more comfortable doing it in a business setting. They don’t feel comfortable socializing until business relationships have developed more fully. But, nobody skips the rapport-building stage, although the way they do it and the amount of time they spend on it can differ.
One of the biggest challenges for global companies, especially with the speed and influence of social media around the world, is the ability to manage the behemoth of a global presence and brand. The difficulty of consistency and alignment among 50,000 or 150,000 people working for the same company around the world is enormous. With the growth of international business, this may be one of the biggest challenges of the next ten years. The role of the sales team, which is usually the most externally focused part of a company, has a huge impact on that international presence and brand, so getting this right in different countries is critical.
Companies that can get it right can provide the best customer experience and demonstrate consistent control of quality around the world, and they will differentiate themselves and create a significant competitive advantage. This is why global sales training programs are such a challenge and a necessity.