The Leading Edge
Taking Care of Business
We live in a multicultural world and you will undoubtedly end up doing business at some stage with people from different cultures, whether your business is confined to Canada, or operates internationally. Having a knowledge of some of the basic differences in how people approach business might well give you an advantage over your competition.
Some years ago my job took me on overseas selling trips where I had not only to sell to people who had a different perspective on business to me, but also socialize with them. Back at head office buyers would arrive on buying trips from all over the world. The one thing I remember clearly from that time was that each selling experience was different from the last. I particularly remember selling to a Japanese man. Luckily I had the help of an export agent whose first instruction was to never ask a direct question, which went against everything I had been told about the key to closing which was to ask for the order! He then told me that I should hand the buyer my business card with two hands, while slightly bowing. The experience showed me that selling is about showing respect, whether your buyer shares your culture, or comes from a far off land.
On another occasion I was selling to a Greek gentleman and got completely confused as in this culture the movement of the head that we would interpret as meaning yes, is actually indicating no and vice-versa. In fact the word for yes in Greek is 'Ne' - which one would think by its sound would mean no.
So, gaining a little insight into the mannerisms of people you are selling to can be very useful.
Here are 6 tips that might help you connect better with overseas businesspeople:
1. Many businesspeople from other countries speak English as it's the international language of business, however if you make no effort to speak a little of their language buyers are less likely to warm to you at that all-important first meeting. Learn enough of your buyer's language to effect a basic greeting. At the very least learn to say: good morning; good day; good afternoon; good evening; good night; yes; no; please; thank-you; welcome; greetings etc. You will be surprised at how much your effort will be rewarded.
2. Language is not the only challenge; people from different cultures speak differently - some talk very fast, some slow - some talk loud and others softly - some talk in what could be conceived as an aggressive tone, others very passively. Do some research into what to expect from your guest and if in any doubt adopt a neutral tone until you are comfortable talking in their style.
3. As with any business (or social interaction for that matter) avoid talking about politics, but at the same time investigate whether there is any acrimony between your buyer's country and your country and that of any other party involved in the transaction - for example suppliers, distributors, manufacturers.
4. Be aware of time differences - this may seem obvious but it is surprising how many times I have been called on my cell in the early hours of the morning by clients in the Maritimes who have not thought to check what time it is on the west coast. So, if you are calling Australia or China (or another part of Canada) quickly double-check, online, the current time in the city you are calling.
5. Be prepared for sales interactions that can vary from extremely formal to very informal. Buyers from some countries will want to get straight down to business while for others it is important they get to know you first. A little research will give you an overview of how each culture differs in this way, but always be prepared for someone who acts differently to their cultural stereotype. Respect for each culture and being able to adapt quickly are paramount to cross-culture selling.
6. Time is a relative thing and while the British and Germans might expect punctuality and look poorly on you if you are late for a meeting, many other parts of the world have a laissez-faire attitude to appointments, so don't get upset to discover that an appointment time is more of a guideline.
There's a great deal more to international communication than we can cover here, but I hope these few tips will stimulate you to investigate further the fascinating variations of communication and cultural styles displayed by businesspeople from around the world.
Fed-up With PowerPoint?
Want to breathe new life into your presentations?
If you are still using PowerPoint to make presentations you're certainly in the majority, however there are several alternatives to this aging and iconic software that you might want to check out.
Keynote, Apple's alternative to PowerPoint is well worth investigating, especially as so many PC users now have iPad's. What's nice about Keynote is the templates are not as common as PowerPoint's so can give your presentation a fresh look. What's really nice is that you can save a Keynote presentation as a PowerPoint presentation allowing you to create it on your iPad and deliver it using your laptop or PC.
Prezi has been around quite a while, but is still not widely in use among small business owners. It offers a different approach to the two programs mentioned above, in that instead of a series of static slides Prezi combines motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to help engage your audience. Chris Anderson (CEO of TED) said, "Prezi is helping to reinvent the art of presentation" and he's probably right. The problem is, there's a learning curve so it takes a little commitment to move over to it. Depending on how sophisticated your audience is, it could however be well worth the effort.
There are many more pretenders trying to get your attention; a few worth taking a look at are: PowToon - an animated character, story-telling, software; Haiku Deck - a quick and easy slide deck creator good for mobile devices; and SlideDog - which allows you to combine PPT's, media files, and PDFs - it's sort of a playlist maker rather than true presentation software.
No matter what software you use, here are 6 quick tips that will make you presentations more effective.
1. Minimize the amount of text you use - people can read or listen, they can't do both well.
2. Ditch the bullet points - seriously! Make one point per slide - visually with an evocative image, and/or statement or point. For instance "78% of all statistics are made up on the spot." You want to grab your audience's attention and then tell them what you need to tell them. If you use bullet points for you, not your audience, to keep you on track for instance, then invest in a tablet and have them all on your mobile device - don't bore everyone else with them.
3. Avoid using a template, create your own. Go online and search for tips and advice there's a lot out there. Basically, use sold colours and keep it simple.
4. Use awesome photography that capture attention. There are many fairly inexpensive photo-library sites and the investment is well worth it. One that you might want to check out that has free shots is (www.freeimages.com). Look for evocative shots that tie into the point you are making. Don't use typical images of people, groups, office workers, and those with white background that look staged.
5. Never, ever, use clip art - it's so old fashioned you will be in danger of being laughed at or at least thought unprofessional.
6. Be cautious with fonts. Unless you are a graphic designer it's safest to use only one, or two fonts and keep to the standards. Arial, Helvetica, Calibri are all good. The object is for the audience to read your words. Those fancy, decorative, or downright weird fonts can be used, but only as you would an image - for effect.
Creating an effective presentation is important in today's business world as it points to your level of professionalism. Bullet points, masses of copy that no one can read, little stick people, cartoon characters, cute clip art cats and dogs - none of this has any place in a business presentation today. If you'd like to check out an effective presentation here's a link to one that we have no connection to - we just thought it illustrated many of the points above quite well!
Visioning; More Than Meets the Eye
By now you've heard many times from your banker, investors, and others about the importance of a business plan and strategic thinking. Usually the focus is on that first critical year of the business with some planning into year three. This attention to planning is of the utmost importance as shown by the fact that most businesses that fail, do so in the first two years. Causes may include lack of funding or insufficient market research; either way it's those early days that involve a myriad of details you can't afford to overlook.
Having successfully launched your company, it's equally important you develop your broader vision; the image of your company that you saw in your mind when the idea first came to you.
Effective entrepreneurs possess the ability to see what the future of their business will look like and lead others to it; this includes employees, investors, bankers, and supportive family members.
Visioning is valuable for starting or reorganizing a business, and for creating a sense of purpose. The steps for the use of visioning as a tool to design your future include: removing any obstacles to the visioning process; overcoming your own scepticism; and dealing with resistance from others whose support you need.
Having a vision of an ideal future helps us provide balance and order in our lives - and in our company - no matter how small. Vision enables us to survive outside pressures and radical change. Visioning is a way of preparing the mind for whatever may come along. If we do not have a vision, we may not recognize the opportunities that can lead us to our ideal future.
With rational analysis, the reasons why something won't work are already in the mind. We all know from experience how and why something cannot be done, such as our ability to jump a 10 foot wall from a standing start.
Visioning on the other hand is a process that enables us to put aside reason, at least temporarily, and look beyond the present to the future as we would like it to be. 'It can't be done' is irrelevant; we can't make that judgment about something we have not yet conceived. The poet Robert Browning said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp," suggesting, to achieve anything worthwhile, a person should attempt even those things that may turn out to be impossible. So while the vision may "exceed our grasp", how to turn a vision toward reality is something that happens once the vision is created.
The visioning process is valuable in building a team or group, starting or revitalizing a business, or creating a life purpose that fits deeply with a person's ideals.
The recent past is filled with examples of visions. Some examples include; on human rights and social purpose Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech and John Kennedy's "Americans will walk on the moon within this decade", and from the business world; Fred Smith's slogan for Federal Express became "absolutely positively overnight".
Visioning may not be a thinking, rational process, but it is a skill that can be learned, and once learned, is never forgotten.