Infrastructure Questions in Global Business Selling

Boston is getting back to business today, two days after a transformer fire that knocked out power to most of the Back Bay, affecting hundreds of homes, businesses, hotels, schools and colleges.  Two days!  That’s a lot of lost business.

Coincidentally, at the moment the transformer went out, I was speaking only a few blocks away about the differences in business infrastructure in India and the U.S.  Infrastructure in most emerging economies is really poor, and India is no exception.  My colleague, Matt Sullivan, and I talked about problems with electricity, roads, and clean water. But we also noted that every Indian software park has back-up power and at least two ways of connecting to the internet (if not three or four).  Because the country infrastructure is so poor, businesses have to provide their own infrastructure (an added cost), yet that means they can also keep going when the local or regional infrastructure fails (an added benefit).  I mentioned the example of business grinding to a halt when there’s a blizzard in Chicago, while monsoon floods cause barely a ripple in Mumbai. I could have used the example of a transformer fire in Boston, never mind severe weather.

This is a paradox that experienced global business managers know, sometimes first-hand, but mid-level employees often do not.  Prospective customers for global business services in emerging economies are often reluctant to ask about country infrastructure, for fear they will seem either ignorant or prejudiced.  It’s important for salespeople to proactively address concerns about poor infrastructure, and provide real-life examples of how alternative solutions (e.g., employee buses) or back-ups (e.g., UPS electric outlets, cable and satellite internet access) work. You don’t want to belabor this or get pedantic, because experienced buyers assume these systems are in place – gauge your audience carefully and find the right mix of useful and positive information, especially if you can use it to differentiate your business in some way.

Likewise, if you’re selling business services in the U.S., clearly articulating the value of a developed economy infrastructure can boost your customers’ assessment of your overall business value.  We see this in some discussions of manufacturing today, where low wages in China (and other low cost manufacturing locations) may be outweighed by lower total costs of doing business in some U.S. locations.

The importance of infrastructure in attracting and growing businesses is getting increased visibility today, and that means it is increasingly important to discuss it with prospective clients.  Unfortunately, part of why we’re hearing more about the value of infrastructure in the American business community is because we’re falling behind, and are now ranked number 23 among countries worldwide.  Whether you’re pitching business in a developing or rich country, infrastructure differences will continue to be a factor in any international sale, and need to be covered in your customer conversations and sales collateral.

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