In business, they say, “it’s all about relationships.” But in a time where more and more transactions are automated and online, do relationships really matter? Now, more than ever. For example, let’s say you export textiles. On go4WorldBusiness alone, there are over 116,000 listings for textile suppliers. So if a buyer doesn’t like you for any reason, they can just move on to one of the other 115,999 listings. With that type of competition, there’s only one way to really stand out: become more than just a listing by developing a relationship with the buyer. But how do you do that with someone you’ve never met? It all comes down to TRUST. Here are 5 ways you can establish that trust early and often, and watch your business grow.
Try harder: Keep in mind that when conducting business over the internet, you don’t have non-verbal communication to help fill in the gaps. How you dress, how you carry yourself, the subtleties of your facial expressions – these are all missing, so your written communication must paint the entire picture.
In your listing, this means providing as much information as possible. In addition to adding visual appeal, a photo can help you get a foothold on trust with potential buyers – it shows the quality of your product and proves that you are willing to put in a little time and effort to provide relevant information.
Once you’ve established contact with a buyer, pay attention to how you communicate. If you took a business contact out for lunch, you’d wear a suit and your hair would be well groomed. In that scenario, a little bit of casual language here and there might make you seem personable and relatable. But without those visual cues, your casual language in an email could make you sound like you’re wearing sweatpants and watching TV. In other words, save the txt spk and LOLs for your friends.
Restate and Repeat: One of the most important aspects of international communication is ensuring that a message has been received and understood with the intended meaning. Whenever possible, confirm what your contact has stated, in your own words, to demonstrate that you understand and to get clarification. More than just a trust-builder for the buyer, it can actually save you from the pitfalls of a costly misunderstanding – before it happens.
When it feels natural, try to mimic your contact’s own preferred language when discussing details. For instance, if they refer to ships as barges (or vice versa), doing the same in your written communication can help contribute to a psychological feeling of similarity, which can build rapport.
Another area where clarity and confirmation are critical is with dates. While 12/1/18 means January 12, 2018 in many parts of the world, in the US it would mean December 1, 2018. For this reason, always write out a month when referring to dates. Similarly, when writing about time, always specify a time zone (preferably, your buyer’s).
Uphold your word: In terms of establishing relationships and developing trust, here’s a really useful acronym: DWYSYWD. It stands for, “do what you say you will do.” In other words, if you tell your buyer you will get back to them with costs by Wednesday at 2PM their time, make sure that you get back to them with costs by Wednesday at 2PM their time… do this with every deadline, no matter how small or seemingly casual that deadline may be. If circumstances change, communicate it before the deadline approaches, take responsibility for the delay and apologize. While many suppliers are afraid that admitting to a missed deadline will make them look bad, in fact, taking responsibility for it up front (so long as it’s not a chronically recurring problem) can do more to establish trust than if you’d never set a deadline at all.
Remember: every communication in the early stages of a relationship is used by your prospect to gauge what the relationship will be like moving forward. While you know you’d never miss a big deadline, your prospective buyer doesn’t know that yet, so use every opportunity (no matter how small) to prove to them you will be a reliable and professional business partner.
Scrutinize. Before you hit “send” or “post,” proofread and then proofread again. Although you may be writing in your 2nd language, spelling and grammatical errors look unprofessional and can hurt your credibility. Check your listing and emails with tools such as Google Translate and Grammarly®. If writing really isn’t your strong suit, consider hiring a freelancer to draft communications for you. Sites such as UpworkTM, Guru and Freelancer are great places to find help on an hourly or project basis.
When it comes to your listing, don’t just scrutinize the words that are already there, think about what’s missing. How does your listing compare to others like yours? What can you do to make your listing look more professional and comprehensive than the others? Finally, imagine you are a prospective buyer. Take an honest look at your listing from that perspective and revise it accordingly.
Trans-acculturate. Conducting business with others around the world can shine a spotlight on cultural differences. But you don’t have to wait for a snafu to learn about your buyer’s communication preferences. Research the psychographics of doing business with their country before you make a misstep. Geert Hofstede, one of the preeminent researchers on international business values and communication, offers a free site that allows you to compare your country’s psychographics with those of a prospective buyer’s home country.
Take into consideration if your contact comes from a high-context or low-context oriented culture. Professionals from the US and most of Western Europe operate in a low-context orientation, meaning that they prefer to communicate all details of a transaction in writing and have lengthy contracts so that no other context is needed to understand the deal. On the other hand, professionals from countries such as Japan, Greece and Arab nations operate in a more high-context structure, meaning that they prefer more nuanced conversation with fewer hard and fast rules and more flexibility to address problems as they arise.
Another word of caution: humor does not always translate globally. When emailing with a prospective buyer, if you’re unsure of how a joke will be received, go back and remove it from the email. When in doubt, leave it out.
TRUST. It’s the 5-letter word that you can use to develop lasting relationships and differentiate your business from your competitors. In this culturally complex world of international business, how have you worked to establish trust with prospective buyers? What are the difficulties you have faced?
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