A friend of mine who runs a direct marketing business, knowing I work with in the Indian IT outsourcing industry, told me a story at a party last weekend: His business is putting together integrated direct marketing campaigns, including direct mail and internet sites, to generate leads. One of his recent clients is a small Indian outsourcing business, and he built a promo for them that seems to be working exactly as planned – prospects are finding them, clicking through to a white paper, providing contact info for the company to use for a follow-up phone call. But so far, no sales results – and he thinks he knows why. When my friends talks to his client, he can’t understand him. “‘Slow down!’ I tell him, ‘I can’t understand what you’re saying!’ He talks so fast, and he has such a strong accent, I don’t think anyone can understand him.”
Of course, by “anyone” what he really means, is any American – but that is who his client is selling to. Selling across cultures is always challenging, and in B2B sales, building good relationships is key to major sales. It’s hard to start building a relationship when your prospects can’t understand you easily! So what do you if you’re in this situation?
On a structural level, one solution is to map out your company sales process so that inside sales calls are made by people with the same native language and accent as your prospects. Call center managers know this very well – American call centers are often placed in regions that are perceived as having a “neutral” American accent, such as Maine; and offshore call centers devote lots of training to accent neutralization. In American B2B sales, it may make sense to have the first phone call to prospects made by an American inside sales rep, who sets up a face-to-face meeting with the sales rep. Even if follow-up meetings are usually done by phone, accent issues can then be mitigated with an agenda and presentation that provide context and support for the verbal message delivered by the sale rep. This hand-off does require coordination between inside sales and the outside sales rep, but if it improves the lead generation results, it’s worth it.
On an individual level, the old adage, “practice makes perfect,” comes to mind. Most good sales reps, no matter their nationality, practice their telephone pitch; if you are selling across cultures, and accents, practice is essential. Ask your friends and colleagues of the same nationality as your prospects to listen to you and give you pointers.
If you manage an international sales team, work with each of your sales reps to be sure that their verbal pitches are both appropriate and understandable by their target audience. Build this practice into your on-boarding process for all of your sales reps, and incorporate it into your sales meetings when new sales materials are introduced. This effort really pays off in widely distributed teams, where new reps have limited opportunities to participate in training calls; you will appreciate it when you accompany your rep to a key presentation for a major sale.