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Are You Equipped to Successfully Navigate the Sales Process Across Cultures?

Business went global some time ago, but many business people have yet to follow. Not understanding cultural differences can lead to frustration and confusion in the most common everyday interactions. If you're constantly frustrated or confused by the things people you work with every day are doing, that's not the basis for good business relationships.

Does Culture Influence Sales?

Absolutely. Many may believe everyone buys and sells in similar ways wherever you go, this would be wrong. On the surface, you may easily find similarities, but once you pull back the curtains, you'll soon find critical differences defined by the difference in culture.

Once, a US delegate met with Chinese officials so the delegate could share with the Chinese officials a tour of their factory and then share their proposition to sell their product. When they were meeting with the Chinese officials, the US delegate sent their junior staff member to meet them. This put out the Chinese officials; in their culture, they operate by more hierarchal standards. Sending a junior staff member made it seem as though they were not worth the US delegate’s time and the Chinese officials felt a loss of face.

After the tour, the US delegate offered to host the Chinese officials for a dinner. The Chinese officials asked the US staff where they should sit and in response, the staff member said, “wherever you would like.” This might not have seemed like an important note to Americans, but to the Chinese officials, where high-ranking executives should be directed to the best seating, it felt like a rebuff.

The Chinese officials left without signing any contracts. The US delegate’s misunderstanding of the Chinese business etiquette and cultural norms made the Chinese officials feel humiliated and so they decided to seek other business relationships. Do you see how misunderstanding the differences in culture leads to a missed business opportunity here?


How do you sell to different cultures?

Now that we understand how culture can impact the sales process in various ways, we must acknowledge what this might mean for you. Do you sell successfully across cultures?

Cross-cultural sales are about being aware and adaptable. You must understand your prospects and meet their needs with the appropriate solutions. It is important to understand the sales cycle within a particular culture.

Generate Leads > Qualify Your Options > Negotiations

But are you adapting your current business process when you work across cultures?

Let’s talk about how the sales cycle can be impacted when selling across cultures.

Generating Leads

First, think about how you approach your business partners. Are you direct? Indirect? In some cultures, or in countries like Germany or the US, it is perfectly acceptable to be direct in a proposal. Actions like cold calls or direct messaging might work even if there was not previously a relationship between the involved individuals.

In other cultures, or in countries like Japan or India, direct approaches would be considered rude and would be unsuccessful. In more indirect cultures, direct tactics may come off as impersonal or aggressive. The way to be successful in these types of cultures would be to go through personal recommendations or professional introductions.

Qualifying Options

What is essential in this stage is having communication skills. Without them, you will not be able to accurately ask for or assess information effectively. You must be able to understand how your prospects communicate so you can effectively read between the lines of their communication. Not all cultures will be direct with you. Be aware of your relationship with your prospect. If your relationship is new or not very good, you will be seen as someone to compete against. If your relationship is stronger or more long-lasting, you may be seen as someone to collaborate with.

Cross-Cultural Negotiating

Where you stand in your relationship also affects how much detail they share. Understand that those building relationships will always go farther in global sales.

When negotiating across cultures you must also be aware of the differences in legality and pricing. Understanding the culture will ensure you are aware of when to talk about money, and how flexible the agreements made are expected to be. More direct cultures may present fixed pricing models early into negotiations, as opposed to more indirect cultures that speak about pricing towards the end of negotiations and whose structures are more liable to change.

In many cultures, there is also the expectation to negotiate or haggle, not only the pricing but any terms or conditions in contracts or agreements.


Misunderstanding these differences in culture can lead to frustration and confusion. Do you think you’ve ever lost an opportunity because you were not able to communicate across cultures? As mentioned before, if you are frustrated or confused by differences in cultures in an increasingly global business, that is not a good basis for a strong working relationship.

If you don’t learn how to avoid or recover from a cultural crash, you will miss out on opportunities to build connections and achieve greater success in all your business and personal endeavors. Mona Lou International (MLI) offers customized consulting, training, and development services to assist your business in thriving in the new global era. MLI empowers businesses to seize opportunities to create more prosperous cross-cultural business relations and partnerships.

Seeking to know more? We’ll be happy to assist.

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