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17 Nov, 2016

Preparing Staff for International Clients

Technology has now made it possible to work with people from all over the world at virtually any time and any place. However, cultural variations across the globe that range from the more obvious regional distinctions, such as language, to blatantly differing national perspectives on productivity and the work ethic, (not to mention the often mystifying non-verbal communication within any given society), are all challenges that must be met head on by any smart business leader. These days, with an Internet connection and video conferencing software, anyone can communicate instantaneously with a client or customer anywhere they may be. This is not enough to ensure success; it’s like buying a gym membership but never stepping through its doors…

Businesses attempting to expand their client base into new countries will often be faced with the above (and other) challenges. Something as seemingly innocuous as declining an offer of tea in a place such as Bahrain can end up being seen as extremely disrespectful. In order to avoid such cultural pitfalls, additional training for one’s staff is highly encouraged. The following are different ways you can prepare your staff when reaching out to new clients in foreign locales.

Verify Client Legitimacy

Unfortunately, there are scams being played out all over the world, therefore verifying that a client is truly legitimate is crucial. Wasting staff hours on a client who chooses not to pay for rendered services or products can eat into profit margins significantly. Keep in mind common sense practices, such as not sending products to a new client without payment verification. Many fraudulent entities will use credit card information to pay for a product, which will then be disputed later. The sale is then lost along with the product as well.  (This sort of issue can often arise with over-the-phone bill payments.)

How to Remedy these Issues

  • Requiring half-payment up front, with the other half being submitted upon completion of product delivery or service, is a viable option. Many companies require this when a business relationship is first created. Once trust is gained the business can then return to their default payment terms, usually after a few months of successful interaction.
  • Ask for references and actually go to the trouble of verifying them, (rather than taking a client’s word for his or her trustworthiness), can go a long way in shining the light on the darker elements with whom we are often compelled to do business.
  • Many companies have testimonials on their website; search out the names listed and attempt to contact these people. (Keep in mind that testimonials are often fabricated or utilized without the knowledge or approval of those supposedly quoted.)

Get Travel Documents in Order

For many from foreign locales, it is a preference (if not culturally obligatory) to meet face-to-face a few times a year rather than just communicating virtually. Any staff working with such an international client would be well served in putting together any necessary travel documents in preparation for visiting said client's native land. (This normally takes some time and legwork to set up, but there are ways that the process can be expedited.) If a business owner feels the need to a send an employee overseas to interact with a client for a longer duration, say for a few months or more, then a business visa will also need to be procured. (Note that one can pay fees to streamline this process in certain circumstances.)

Other Aspects to Keep in Check

  • Record a budget of all passport expenses incurred since these costs can normally be covered by one’s employer.
  • According to Rush Passport, (arguably one of the best full service passport and visa expedition service providers), a business owner cannot apply for a passport for his or her employee as the person must be present with documents in hand as well as to physically appear to sign the application. It is recommended that the employer prepare the filing on the employee’s behalf and set an appointment so that he or she may appear in person to sign all the appropriate forms and have all necessary pictures taken.
  • Check into what inoculations are mandated for a trip overseas. Some countries require certain shots to be administered prior to being admitted into the country. (This is yet another expense for sending staff overseas, but it is one that is absolutely necessary.)
  • For those employees who already have a passport, they should confirm that the passport is indeed valid for entry into a client’s home country. For instance, some countries will not accept a passport if it is due to expire within 6 months to a year.

Train Your Employees on Cultural Business Norms

There are many behavioral norms that differ immensely from culture to culture. A great example is that of South American business people who, for example, might have a much looser definition of timeliness when it comes to arriving for a scheduled meeting. In contrast a German business person values punctuality greatly so being on time can make or break a budding relationship. It can be really helpful to allocate the time and expense for sending staff to a business etiquette seminar in order to familiarize them with the social mores of those from countries with whom they intend to conduct business. Something as seemingly easy as accepting a business card with two hands and a bow in Japan can mean the difference between an affront and a well-received gesture. Be mindful of certain foreign clients as they can sometimes be uncomfortably direct to the point of seeming rude. This may be an aspect of their own traditions, they may simply not yet be competent with English, or it can be due to the way in which we at home conduct business, which can be alien to others.

Clients can easily ascertain if your staff has sincerely attempted to educate themselves on their home country’s cultural norms. Most will greatly appreciate this as they know, from personal experience, that learning cultural differences is no walk in the park. Note that any staff you hire who are either from a country with which the company does business (or has knowledge about the way business is conducted there) can be a great resource.

Be Prepared to Negotiate but Know When to Stand Your Ground

There are many cultures, particularly Asian ones, that never accept the first offer or price in what turns out to be a negotiation, (whether or not you intended it to be so going into a transaction).  It is obviously helpful to engage competent negotiators when dealing with international clients- Arming the salesperson or client manager with effective tools can pay off in a big way for your company. It is necessary to educate your staff as to what the profit margins are so they can know at what point the company must withdraw prior to exceeding a profitable price point.

All that being said, it is a fact of life that your company will lose a client when you cannot agree on a price for products or services. Take to heart that the attempt to expand internationally at the cost of profit margins can be quite dangerous for the life of a company.

Business Documents and Proposals

There are contracts that are not enforceable in certain countries that may very well be so in the U.S. Fortunately there are lawyers all over the world who can write an ironclad agreement in their home country. Clarifying certain language is vital and the lawyer should be able to help you with that as well. The U.S. has a favorable exchange rate in many countries, so hiring legal help there can be quite cost effective. (Do not risk thousands of dollars to save a few bucks on having a contract written up by someone who is not qualified to do so.) It is also vital to ensure that all documents that are to be presented in a foreign country for business, legal, academic, or personal purposes secure a certified translation as needed. The aforementioned has the capability to facilitate this quickly and conveniently.

International business is obviously here to stay but it does take hard work to master one's dealings in multiple countries. Managing the details that are within you and your staff’s power, when it comes to this new paradigm, is integral for success. Garnering enough clients worldwide can help a business turn its brand into one that is recognized globally and this can ultimately result in an impressively bolstered bottom line.

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