Unorthodox sales strategy: cross-cultural partnerships

 This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Over the years, I have seen sales teams come up with various strategies to enter a global account, or expand portfolio presence within an existing global account. A commonly used strategy is to secure "preferred vendor" status, by working with decision makers at headquarters: certifying the solution components, negotiating global prices and discount levels, etc. I am sure you are familiar with this approach.

Some years back, when I was invited to an international assignment in Russia, I stumbled on an unique strategy, carved more by chance than by design. This unique strategy was proven repeatable and allowed us to strengthen our position within key global accounts, where headquarters based efforts had previously failed. Here are the highlights of this unorthodox strategy:
  • Trojan horse: start by identifying the target account and the portfolio components you would like to position and sell to this account. A good target account is one experiencing growth (globally or on specific geographies). A Trojan horse likely to succeed is a portfolio component which can address the growth drive of the target account (in the selected geography).
  • Selecting the geography: the ideal geography is one of where the target account is experiencing high growth. A great tie breaker is a key competitive advantage you have in that geography. Our key competitive advantage was the local technical expertise. Our key competitors technical expertise was various time zones away, and spoke another language.
  • Leverage local expertise: rather than have your foreign resources flown in to deliver the sales pitch, let the local team prepare and deliver the pitch to the local customer counterparts. We found out that less involvement from outside was actually better at this stage, as the local customer leadership realized they have a "neck to choke" at arms length. After that, the local customer leadership was willing to fight any necessary internal political battles, safeguarding our relationship with the customer headquarters decision makers!
  • Secure a great customer experience: once the deal is won, it is critical to keep in touch with the local team and make sure all necessary resources are available to meet the customer business needs and exceed customer expectations. If this first effort fails, you might not have a second chance for quite some time.
  • Share the good fortune: once the project is delivered and the customer is happy, share the solution with other members of your global account team. You get brownie points if the local customer leadership is willing to describe the solution to their counterparts in other geographies. Chances are, the precedent will weaken the headquarters control and local leadership will enjoy extra decision power. This is specially true if the new deals are sought on the wave of the original success.
  • Formalize the relationship: once multiple deals are underway, headquarters decision makers will be eager to formalize the relationship and take advantage of a global framework, clear and predictable prices/discounts.
This strategy is not for the faint of heart, as cross-cultural partnership is the cornerstone of its success. All I can say to ease any concerns you might have around cross-cultural partnerships is that, over the years, most cross-cultural frustrations I observed were rooted on miscommunication. So, be patient, ask questions throughout the process, and trust your partners with the driver seat. You may just achieve unlikely results.

Have you ever faced cross-cultural challenges that made it harder or impossible to close a deal? Please feel free to share your experience with us in the comment box below.

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(Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG -; Post updated Apr/6/2014)


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