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Sell American: How to take your business across the Atlantic

6 Mins

Taking your business Stateside can be one of the most rewarding adventures you will ever have – but you will have to work for it. The US has long been dubbed “The Land of Opportunity”, and that’s not wrong. The problem with opportunity, of course, is that it’s not just there for you. When you get past the myriad of legalities, processes, documentation, logistics and red tape, you’ll find a lot of competition. If you want to stand a chance of making your jaunt into the US market a success, you’ll need to understand the various socio-cultural differences between the UK and the US, and the nuances of doing business in this lively – but complex – market.

There can be no doubt that the US possesses the infrastructure for almost any sort of business: the country’s geographical diversity and large economy means that, if an idea is workable and potentially profitable, it can find a home – no matter how bold or exotic it may be.

But the nation’s size is a double-edged sword. For every geographic region, be it city or town, there are countless demographic markets, all with individual behaviours, buying habits, and consumer practices. Furthermore, the disparities in size and performance across individual state economies means that the purchasing power of consumers is far greater in some areas than in others. To put this in perspective, it’s worth noting that in 2015, California, the state with the largest economy, had a Gross State Product (GSP) over 75 times larger than that of the state with the smallest, Vermont.

How can UK businesses hope to navigate such a variable landscape?

Avoiding socio-cultural pitfalls

The UK and the US may share a common tongue, but the complexities of doing business in America illustrate the differences between communicating and simply speaking a language.

If UK business owners with expansion plans intend to acculturate, they’d do well to keep the following pointers in mind.

Be clear

This goes for any kind of negotiation – American businesspeople prize “straight shooting”, and tend to be honest and upfront about their intentions. No deal will be closed until all parties are singing from the same hymn sheet: being forthright is the best way to expedite this process.

Read more about business in America:

Be prepared to sell…and sell hard

Salespeople in the US and UK have different notions about proper sales decorum. Where a degree of understatement and timidity might be acceptable on this side of the Atlantic, on theirs, you’re encouraged to “go big or go home” – often to a degree that might seem excessive by our standards.

Don’t be shy

Be polite – but don’t be too polite. And don’t be afraid of stating exactly what you want.

Be prepared

As far as American businesspeople are concerned, your first pitch may as well be your only pitch. Nine times out of ten, you won’t be afforded a second chance if you don’t nail the initial meeting. Making sure you have all the right information to hand will do you huge favours in this fast-paced, no-nonsense environment.

Be positive

The English stiff-upper lip can often rub uncomfortably against the American “can-do” attitude. But in business, there’s no room for uncertainty or friction: if you can’t demonstrate a significant sense of self-belief, you’ll have a hard time succeeding in the States.

Follow up

It should go without saying that persistence is absolutely critical to winning new business. And, with the sheer number of competitors nipping at your heels, time waits for no one.

Be concise

Short, sweet, and to the point. It’s the American way.

Trans-Atlantic consumer psychology

New personality studies are now identifying key differences between Britons and Americans. The results have given businesses keener insight into the consumer psyche – and a deeper understanding of emerging trends.

The latest study carried out by VisualDNA found that UK consumers are “more pessimistic about the future” and have “taken the recession more to heart” than their US counterparts. They are more careful with their money – “with spending always in the back of their minds” – and it takes more to convince them of the value of a particular purchase. Overall, Britons are three times more likely to be careful spenders than Americans.

These nuances, and the ones mentioned before, are not insignificant. Manners, attitudes, methodology, and customer behaviour: they’re all done differently in the US, and to succeed, you’ll need to make the effort to understand the points of divergence. But it’s a country that has been built on the same things as the UK: imagination, determination, and bags of courage. Finding common ground – and making the most of the differences – is the surest way forward for anyone looking to take their business across the Atlantic.

Paul Black is CEO of sales-i.

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