Top 10 tips for selling products in the United States

It’s unusual to write a global business column, which is published for a largely American audience, about how to sell into the United States. However, many businesses are advising foreign firms about what’s needed to successfully sell into the United States and how decisions are made here.
Also, showing the idiosyncrasies of the U.S. market makes U.S. firms more aware about how to sell abroad.

Some U.S. business characteristics:
• Time is money — The idea of spending time, wasting time, borrowing time, buying and selling time is uniquely American. Foreign firms often get frustrated when they experience U.S. firms in a great rush and when inadequate (by their standards) time is budgeted for appointments.

• Information is a corporate asset — A Japanese business executive may get very confused when told to enter his personal customer information into a CRM program controlled by some chief technical officer he’s never met. Asians may not want to share all of their sales proposals and cost figures on a blog or a Google document.

U.S. firms feel that information belongs to the company. U.S. firms selling abroad often try to write “audit” privileges into (e.g.) a European distributor contract.

• Business is business — In most countries, “business is personal.” The “let’s get down to business” attitude of many U.S. firms can put off Asians and Europeans.

Americans spend little time on rela­tion­ship building, even though an Amer­ican executive may feel she’s asked the requisite questions, such as, “Are you married, do you have any children, where do you live?”

• American marketing savvy — The United States sees itself as the world’s greatest marketer. No country has the global brands of the United States. Starbucks, Coca Cola, McDonalds, YouTube, iTunes and Facebook are all American phenomena. We may not brag about the highest-quality products, but we do brag about how well we market them. Foreign firms that aren’t sensitive to this will be seen as inferior.

• Cross-marketing pioneers — The United States also enjoys the idea that marketing runs through several disciplines. For example, Disney characters have appeared in movies, television shows, blogs, proprietary websites, online games, YouTube videos and McDonald’s meal packages. You can buy Disney toys, Disney T-shirts, Disney games, enter Disney contests, read Disney newsletters, listen to Disney radio or see a full-length Disney movie. You can even vacation at Disneyland.

• Technologically superior — The United States believes it’s ahead of most countries technologically — which isn’t necessarily true. Foreign firms that don’t have basic necessities such as cellphones, websites, mobile email and social-media platforms will be seen as in the Dark Ages. Orders must be able to be processed electronically, and client data should be able to be reviewed and disseminated electronically.

• A reason for a discount — In negotiations, prices and terms often are amended as a way to close a business deal.
When a U.S.-based firm is offered a price that then is lowered, there’s often a need to rationalize that decision. “If you order now, you can get a discount” or “my firm really wants to get your business, and we are willing to work at a discount for this first order.”
Without rationale, U.S. negotiators often see discounts as evidence of a dishonest first price.

• Assumption that visitors aren’t guests — When foreign business people and students visit the United States, they’re often shocked to feel a void in hospitality. It’s quite often that an Indian business person may come here, only to find out full agendas haven’t been arranged for them; they’re abandoned for dinner and never invited into an American home.
A Dutch couple once told me that they have been in the United States for seven years and never had dinner at an American’s house.

• Litigious mindset — A Canadian/U.S. joint venture in Colorado received a legal bill for $250,000. The Americans said, “That’s cheap.” The Canadians said, “Wow, that’s expensive.”
The U.S. legal system is a cost of doing business here, and it often surprises foreign guests how quickly we’ll consult with an attorney and how involved attorneys can be in all levels of production, HR, negotiation, sales and technology.

• The hardest market in the world to do business — This is always the biggest surprise. The U.S. market needs a great deal of money and methodology. To compete in the United States, companies must have adept managers; undertake excellent sales efforts; have the strong, fresh marketing support; and offer superior delivery with money-back guarantees.
Contrast this to the Asian and European way of being connected and therefore being able to “get into the market.”

These tips can help a U.S. firm advise its overseas business partners, and hopefully see some of the limitations and constraints in our own culture.