To survive in the sales world, global executives must be adaptable. Studies show that there are three ways people commonly adapt to foreign cultures.
The first is unconditional acceptance of the foreign culture with a critical view of home. For example, a VP of sales marveled that in Japan cab drivers wore white gloves and the hotel staff always welcomed her with friendly smiles. She complained about the lack of courtesy in American business and scorned the negativity of American workers.
The second approach shows a strong loyalty to "back home" culture and a critical view of foreign culture. A manager who went to France complained that everyone was rude, griped about the French taking too much time for lunch, and felt that the French were too slow to understand new business ideas. He concluded that the French could benefit greatly from American know-how.
The third approach is to selectively adapt and integrate the best characteristics from all cultures. A successful adapter will patiently sip green tea with a Japanese executive and refrain from drinking alcohol during a meeting with Arab investors while remembering to make specific notes for a board meeting back home.
Many salespeople don't realize that they need to adapt their sales strategies, as well.
The first style of sales adaptation is to cling to the past while being critical of the present. A seasoned sales rep told me, "I will not bring up the subject of business unless the client brings it up." This salesperson believes that social media is a waste of time, thinks that CRM is a hindrance to belly-to-belly selling, and refuses to leave voicemail messages.
The second adaptation style is to embrace new ideas unconditionally while categorically rejecting old practices. One salesperson I met declared that face-to-face selling was a thing of the past. Believing that the future of selling would be exclusively in electronic commerce, he built a Facebook page, tweets six times a day, started a blog, and built his own landing pages to attract prospects. After two years of hard work, he is still struggling yet scoffs at people who still travel to see customers in person.
The most successful style for adapting to the ever-changing present is to rely on those practices that continue to work well while searching for more effective ways of doing business. The well-adapted executive still writes thank-you notes and personally extends special offers to valued clients. Successful salespeople use social media to engage customers in conversations on their terms while not ruling out lunch meetings. And they know – executives and sales reps alike – that keeping up with what’s current is a demanding job. They realize that if they cling to the past they won't be free to seize new opportunities.
Conversely, people who think of only the future tend to live in their imagination. The best way to adapt is to constantly learn more effective ways to manage the present and be receptive to new possibilities. Adapting to the present demands receptivity and the desire to move into more successful ways of being in touch with reality.