Your product is great, your attitude is positive and you know that the secret to successful B2B selling is understanding what your customer wants. For you, slipping into your customer’s shoes is simple. But what if those shoes were in the U.S., India or China? Would you find selling just as simple?
We asked some of our consultants to shed some light on the differences between B2B selling in the U.S., India and China.
“We still do business in the U.S. by a handshake and a look in the eye. Regardless of technology, there is an unwritten and unmistakable value in face-to-face interactions."
Robert Nooney, Krauthammer Consultant United States
- Depends on personal connections, but typically the purchasing process does not begin with the decision maker.
- Initially, one deals with the so-called ‘feelers’ who gather all the information about the vendor and pass it on.
- A big no-no is focusing solely on the decision-maker and missing the influencers. It’s ok to ask who else’s opinion is important and what’s most important to those people.
- It’s important to be able to make it clear early on that you know your product/service can solve your prospects’ problems.
- Buyers in the U.S. expect sellers with confidence but not arrogance.
- Keep your presentation to the point and have the courage to ask the hard questions like "What do you like about our competitor?"
- Relationships are the name of the game in the U.S. More business is done “on the golf course than in the office’ and this is supported by the tax write-offs for business dinners and drinks.
- People buy from people they trust and they will spend more money for a product/ service with vendors they know personally
- The process can be quite long and lots of time can be spent with sub-stakeholders before you reach the decision maker. However, once you reach the ‘person at the top’, the process can speed up.
- Americans are not averse to taking risks with someone they trust. However, it often takes a long time to build those relationships and even more time to maintain them.
“There are many different areas in India and a noticeably big cultural divide, so there’s no one way of doing business. You need be aware of the bureaucracy and the political environment while remaining sensitive to the needs of each organisation and its individuals and always be ready to adapt."
Julius Lobo, Krauthammer Senior Consultant India
“Show respect especially to senior levels, they love it. Be flexible and open to negotiations. Indians are hierarchical in nature and society, respect age, hierarchy and position. Avoid first names when speaking to senior people especially in family owned or government companies."
Heike Kshetry, Krauthammer Consultant India
- India’s market is price sensitive with a very high level of competition. It’s important to be a part of the buying process early not just for the sake of business but to demonstrate your stable presence.
- There are always several levels involved in the process. Management wants low risk and high return, more so when dealing with you for the first time.
- Be aware that different locations have different needs so remain open to applying a varied approach.
- Indians are usually very comfortable with their current vendors so getting them to switch takes a lot of effort, so you need to prove that you are different and worth it. Buyers in India will want references and work done in a similar sector and a strong résumé.
- Indians are hard bargainers and always aim to get the best deal for the cheapest price possible. Be prepared to prove why you command your price and stay flexible and open to negotiation.
- Purchasing in India is based on 2 factors: relationship and recommendation. Without them, nothing happens but when you build on them and gain trust, business comes almost automatically.
- Organisations are obviously hierarchical. Decisions are made at the top and to get there, it’s necessary to build relations on every power level in order to move up to the decision maker.
- Indians bond over “chai” so be open to spending time sipping tea/coffee with clients.
- Decision making for high value buying tends to take longer and goes through several levels before approvals.
- Find out how the organisation works, who can inﬂuence and who can decide, otherwise you might end up investing time in the wrong person to build a relationship but you won’t build up any business.
- How long decisions take varies. Indian organisations have fairly quick decision making processes which gives them negotiation power. Multinationals take longer to decide.
“Guan Xi” (关系) is an inevitable part of business in China and sometimes it is the determining factor in the decision to buy or not. Referrals that come from a sibling or relative are more useful than an ex-colleague and a word from a close friend is better than 500+ thumb-ups on social media.”
Gary Chu, Krauthammer Consultant China
“In China we have an idiom “position determines your thoughts”. Decision making is well influenced by what position you are in and you cannot take over what goes beyond the scope of your position.”
Yang Wang, Krauthammer Consultant China
- Purchasing follows a strict flow. Decisions are usually made with a hierarchical, top-down approach but there are many different types of businesses and for each the process is also different.
- The more people involved in making decisions the more complex the process will be.
- Respect must be shown and hierarchy acknowledged.
- Make sure you show that you know the customer and their business needs, while highlighting the value, experience and service offered.
- Professionalism must be demonstrated at all times.
- Show that you’re interested in long-term business and not just a quick deal.
- In China, creating good “Guan Xi” (favouritism due to a trusting personal relationship) with a prospect or client can open the ‘gate’ in your favour and close it for your competitors.
- Sometimes business relationships and personal relationships are not clearly separated. Also, a personal gift, mutual favour or a memorable meal can play a key role in achieving success.
- No means no and sometimes silence means no as well. However, by maintaining good “Guan Xi” with everyone, you may get another opportunity in the future again.
- How long decisions take depends on how many people are involved.
- Time should be invested in building relationships and winning the trust of people, especially allies who can positively influence decisions. Spending time motivating allies.
- Patience is crucial to developing long-term business.
No matter which country you are in, behind every organisation you want to sell to, people are most important and building relationships with the right ones in the right way is an essential part of the sales process. If you are bearing this in mind and take the aspects which might differ in the B2B selling approach your sales efforts have a great chance to be successful.
Takeaway tips for all 3 countries
* concentrate on relationship-building
* be prepared to invest time
* use a personal, face-to-face approach
* work with the established process, not against it
* identify the key decision maker(s) as early as possible
* clearly communicate your competence and the USP you offer