7 tips to overcome cultural differences in new markets

Breaking into a new market isn’t easy and it involves a lot more than just language barriers, writes Sharon Dehmel.

Far away fields are greener and this is definitely the case for Irish SMEs.  Ireland is an amazing country however the market size means that for those of you with ambition it’s not. 

It’s very daunting going abroad and especially to markets where we don’t speak the language and their approach to business can be very different to what you are familiar with.

“Are cultural differences eating your strategy for breakfast?  How culture resistant is the fit between your value proposition and your overseas customers?”

Nowadays getting over the language piece is easy however understanding where culture meets business is not yet a function of Siri or Google.  Your main focus at the beginning is on the doing and rightly so. 

The next challenge is when you get in front of the client and begin to collaborate that’s when the frustration, misunderstandings and mistrust can begin.

  • Strategic analysis,
  • Competitive advantage
  • Scalable business model
  • Regulation & Compliance
  • Customs

1. The secret to overseas success is preparation

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

You’ve got the customs and logistics nailed.  You know what you want to say but do you know what they want to hear?  What assumptions are you making that are impacting on your success?  Getting the superficial greetings right is easy, a quick read of the infographic.  The reality is this:  if you want to raise your level of performance, focus on your preparation.  Understanding what matters to you?  What assumptions do you have around how to build trust? 

2.  Know your overseas clients’ preferences

Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – Stephen Covey

You are already doing this, in fact, you know their pains and aspirations better than they do themselves!  But what assumptions have you made about how they go about making decisions,  is it consensual or top down?  How does this impact on the decision making process and timeline? 

When it comes to persuading, do they prefer the executive summary first or do they want to know the theory and research behind it before moving on to the conclusion? 

Sometimes it is not a question of going deeper but of switching perspectives.  How can shifting your standpoint get you closer to a signed contract?  How different is the view from the client’s standpoint?  How can you leverage this knowledge to help meet your objectives not just in this market but in the others yet to come?

3.  Align your value proposition

Are cultural differences eating your strategy for breakfast?  How culture resistant is the fit between your value proposition and your overseas customers? 

Does your business model require a multisided platform for home and overseas customer segments? 

How is this reflected in your business model in terms of customer acquisition and retention?  How much time are you willing to spend getting it right?

4. Get a feel for their culture

Culture be it national or organisational is about ‘how we do things around here.’  Think of the different organisations you have worked in over the years.  They all had a different approach to getting on with their business. 

When reaching out to new markets it’s not about fitting in, it is about being able to modify to connect between cultures.  Intuitively, you are probably doing business with countries similar to yours. 

For smaller companies focusing on countries that stretch them a little and present a lower risk can be a very useful strategy and a great way of practicing those intercultural skills.  What insights have you gain so far?  How do you share these insights within your organisation?

5. Look deep into the cultural differences

understanding culture for overseas markets.

Can you think of three things that are strange or unusual about your culture? Not an easy question to answer!  We are so conditioned to see the world through our own cultural lens that it is difficult to imagine that for other cultures we to do things differently. 

Our culture shapes things like what good looks like when it comes to how we communicate, persuade, give negative feedback, etc.  How ready is your customer support for the first stress test, no one size fits all.  By all means go global, but remember you still have to win on the ground.  How are you capturing the learning from these overseas cultural challenges to use later as learning experiences.

6. Know what to expect and how to be

What are the cultures that are the most challenging for you? If you had to work with or lead a group from different cultures which culture would stretch you the most? How is it impacting motivation, retention, acquisition and collaboration? 

Walking the battlefield before the battle ensures you are better prepared. Giving you the insight to be able to recognise and influence to get the outcome you want. You are capable of far more than you imagine.

7.  Train and rehearse for success

“Victories aren’t born on the field. You create them during practice” – Silvia Pencak

What a great idea!  What a useful tool!  I must remember that!  How do you go from being (would like to do that but can’t yet), to the effortless stage? 

There is a saying in Papua New Guinea that you don’t really know something till you know it “in the muscle.”  Once you have prepared, used scenarios to help tackle uncertainty, complexity and misunderstanding, the moment will come when you can let go and get rid of the training wheels.

Key Benefits of intercultural competencies:

  • Increased confidence in challenging cultural differences
  • Empowered belief in trying new ways of building rapport
  • Personal responsibility towards your own outcomes
  • Ability to modify to communicate and get positive outcomes
  • Desire to build on personal growth
Sharon Dehmel
Sharon Dehmel enables ambitious companies accelerate and helps new or emerging leaders to feel confident and competent when it comes to managing and leading diverse teams and clients. A multi-lingual, Italian and German, MBA Leadership and Intercultural consultant, coach and trainer, her fascination for everything intercultural developed grew during her 20 years spent living overseas where she dealt with cross cultural differences daily. With experience in a range of business environments, she witnessed first-hand the potential for misunderstanding, loss of business opportunities and failure to meet deadlines when people don’t fully connect because of cultural differences. “That’s why intercultural excellence is at the core of everything I do.”