Preparation will help make your trip smoother and more productive. Here are some tips:
1. Answer queries. Always politely and promptly answer e-mail, fax, and telephone inquiries from overseas. Provide price lists, quotes, and other information. Build your own marketing list from the contacts. The query you ignore today could be your next best source of future business.
2. Start with what you know. Consider doing business first with a business culture and system similar to that of the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom are good markets to start in.
3. Learn from your domestic customers. Apply cultural knowledge you gain from selling to Latino, Asian, and other consumers in the United States. Preferences, product usage, and business protocol won’t translate perfectly, but helpful information can be harvested here in the United States and applied to market entry efforts abroad.
4. Be patient. Different cultures have different concepts of time. Few markets have a faster business pace than the United States; many are slower.
5. Take time to develop personal relationships. Especially do so with distributors or large-volume buyers. Remembering birthdays and other important events in the lives of your business associates and their families are good intercultural business practices. It is generally not difficult for Americans to be warm, welcoming, respectful, and thoughtful. Be yourself—or even a little more. If you can’t, or the self you know doesn’t fit this profile, consider sending someone else.
6. Learn the language. A few words of the native language of your buyers or business associates will go a long way. They will appreciate the effort. Words of welcome on your Web site, and maybe a currency converter, will further demonstrate your interest in doing business in ways that are mutually respectful.
7. Get an intern. As business develops with overseas customers, consider recruiting a college student intern who speaks the language and understands the business culture. Interns are especially valuable in doing business with customers in Japan, China, and Arabic-speaking countries.
8. Attend a U.S. trade show. Find one in your industry where foreign buyers are present. You can make good contacts—even sales—and test the waters before heading overseas.
9. Attend an international trade show in your industry. The U.S. embassy often staffs a U.S. pavilion where U.S. sellers and foreign buyers, often from many countries in a region, meet. A great way to understand a different business culture is to do business, not read about how others do it.
10. Get help. Before you head overseas on a business development trip, contact the U.S. embassy and the U.S. Commercial Service. They’ll line up qualified buyers for you to meet, and they’ll counsel you on business protocol, market intelligence, regulatory issues, and much more.