More Alike Than Different

“I want to make sure you understand how our country is different.”

No matter where on Earth I visit to speak, this statement about “cultural differences” is always one of the first statements I hear. I agree to listen and learn. But rarely do I hear anything that draw a bright line between the country I am visiting and the United States—or any other country.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are vast cultural differences, all of which matter greatly. I’ve seen dramatic differences, especially in Asia and parts of Europe, and especially when it comes to things like respect for authority (I have no idea how you might convince some sales forces in some countries to “challenge” anyone, and I am fearful of what might result from doing so).

But these aren’t the “cultural” differences that are shared with me.

I often hear that the host country’s economy has experienced a deep recession, their government spending is out of control, and everyone is price-driven. I am fairly certain we invented these “cultural” attributes here in the United States (and if we didn’t invent them, we clearly mastered them beyond anyone’s wildest imagination).

Then I hear that decision-makers really don’t like to meet with salespeople. They’re too busy. They perceive time spent with salespeople as time wasted. Nobody is really buying right now. And all of the best prospects already have deep relationships with their current provider; you need to know someone. Respecting our great cultural differences, none of this sounds any different from what any salesperson might say anywhere in the world (even here in the United States, where selling is easy . . .)

Finally, I hear that salespeople in other countries can’t ask for commitments. It’s too aggressive. They want to be a trusted advisor or a consultative salesperson. By asking for the commitments they need, they may be perceived as being a salesperson—and no one wants to be a salesperson! As strange as this cultural difference may sound, it has an oddly familiar ring, doesn’t it?

Respecting the fact that there are real and vast cultural differences, I have found that we are more alike than we are different. The challenges we face in creating value for our clients and capturing some of that value seem to be true wherever on Earth you may happen to find yourself.

And I haven’t yet been anywhere where trust and relationships don’t matter (and I hope I never find a place where they don’t).

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