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When selling to Europeans, adjust your business clock to Europe

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When selling to Europeans, adjust your business clock to Europe article image

Occasionally I am reminded how different I am to the typical Australian, not having grown up in Australia, but in France.

I realise every day how big the difference is between thinking like an Australian and like a European. And since 2010 I am both!?

Actually, from the export perspective it is quite important for Australian businesses to realise that, and to be ready to switch between different mindsets.

You and I don’t have the same business clock.

I do realise when I work with small businesses that they don’t have the same expectations in terms of sale cycles. I think in 3-year and 10-year cycles, where do I take my clients to in 2-3 years and where will they be in 10 years.

For most small Australian businesses I talk to I don’t mention sale cycles because I know I am going to scare them off!

Australian businesses, in my view, tend to think very short term, they only think about the results they are going to achieve by the end of the financial year or at the end of their visit to the European market. It means Australians and Europeans have a different relation to time.

Europeans think three years is short term and Australians tend to think this is long term.

It has an impact when you start dealing with European businesses, because you need to step into their shoes, when you talk to a European distributor.

Interesting client portfolio

Three weeks ago I had a meeting with a Swiss distributor for one of my clients. They are the largest Swiss distributor in my client’s industry.

They have the most interesting client portfolio. And what the Swiss CEO said to me was: “We think this Australian product is great, we will add it our range, it will take us three years to launch it to the market. We will start mapping a plan for the next steps to get that going.”

Then I report back to the CEO of my Australian client, saying: “Look, Switzerland is not a huge market, it will take three years to launch your product, but I will start training their sales team to get them started.”

My client’s response was: “Why bother?” The idea of a three-year product launch process was something she did not understand.

I realised I needed to adopt another approach to make both their views coincide, and presented it this way:

I presented my Australian client with an alternative short-term outcome – the Swiss have two very large multinationals as clients so I am going to meet them both with them and get sales from them first to get them going. The Australian CEO was happy to have a short-term outcome.

Everybody was happy

And then I reverted back to the Swiss distributor, saying surely we will focus on a three-year plan and start by training their sales staff and get their catalogue ready and focus on some of their key accounts.

Everybody was happy and I was making sure that I was going to get sales in my pipeline.

This distributor will think: “Well I can fully launch this Australian product and make it fully part of my product range within three years.”

A sustainable long-term and loyal source of sales!

Yesterday I was talking to one of my British partners. We both have a business developer mindset. He was telling me how the sale cycle was longer for his UK team in comparison to his Australian team, which would get results in a much shorter timeframe.

Longer decision cycles

I do feel the same when I take Australian clients to Europe. We will have a longer sale cycle in Europe. I need to warn them about that. Not only is the dimension of European thinking in longer decision cycles.

But they also have long term visions, just because mostly the companies they work for has been around for more than 100 years, if not 200 years! So they have a long term vision, and the great thing for Australian businesses is that if they take you on board they do for the long term.

Wouldn’t any Australian Small Business want to work in partnership with a German, French, or British company for 10 years??It means that there is a degree of loyalty that is more pregnant in Europe.?

Reflecting on my conversation with my Swiss large and well established distributor, he also mentioned he worked on a job post in Hong Kong a few years ago and he said: “It’s quite different there, we had an incredible fast growth of sales the first months and then it suddenly dropped we could not sustain these sales, the customers switched to something else.”

Getting a fair go

A funny thing that happened to me when I started my business in Australia in 2006: I had been a Sales person all my life in Europe, I had sold stuff to all kind of Europeans. So I move to Australia, I set-up the business and off I go, start selling my services. And what happens? “I can’t believe it! I get so many meetings from the first phone call! Woohoo! I am thrilled I am dancing in my office, this business is going to smash it.

Then a week later, I follow-up with the people I met and I start to realise that they just were being nice to me and were just giving me a fair go! In my European mind, I could not believe that these people wasted their time having a meeting with me, without having any interest in my service. Why would you do that? What would you waste this time?

I had just been used, to getting No, No, No in the first instance that I was expecting a longer timeframe before I would get the first meetings with potential Australian clients.

A ‘no’ means try again

I didn’t realise that Australians were being nice and just wanted to give me a fair go.

In Europe, it is much harder to obtain a meeting. A no, means try again.

So, the difficulty for Australian businesses that are used to getting their first meeting with potential clients in a shorter timeframe is that they will need to adjust to a European “no”.

It will just mean that they will need to persist and go again, and follow-up and follow-up. Don’t get me wrong, if a client asks you to stop contacting them just stop! However, if a client says no, you will need to understand why.

You will need to get the feedback from your European clients, and work on it. They may say, it’s because we don’t see a potential for it. So you will have to work on showing them the potential by generating a lead for them.

Persistence is expected by a European buyer. If you are a serious player in the market you will stick around for the long term and keep working on it until you get it.

And here we are back to the first comment – it’s OK because European think longer term, sustainable sales and they are loyal!

Get ready for it and adjust to your new European business clock.

Christelle Damiens is the managing director of Exportia Australia and the president of Exportia France. Exportia assists Australian SMEs to successfully export their technology to Europe.

www.exportia.com.au

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