How Transferable Are Sales Processes Across Culture Barriers?

If you are part of a global or multi-national sales organisation, or simply work for a sales team that export around the world, you will have noticed that a sales process that works well in one culture may not be nearly as effective in a different culture. Why is it that different national cultures can have such a profound impact on which sales strategies are successful whilst others fall by the wayside?


In some work we have been doing recently with an international sales group, they are attempting to ‘import’ their highly successful sales methodology from overseas. There appeared, on the surface, to be some perfectly obvious reasons why this straight-forward, step-by-step sales process could easily be ‘lifted’ from the country in which it works so well and ‘installed’ in to the local sales effort. However, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to be as straight forward as was first assumed. There are a number of dimensions to culture which may get over-looked in the urgency of capturing a new market opportunity or keeping up with the competition.

From Hofstede’s seminal work on understanding and measuring cultural indicators it starts to become clearer why some dimensions – if ignored – can play a critical part in the success/failure of cross-cultural sales strategies.

Hofstede described four main indicators, later adding a fifth to provide a more comprehensive guide:


PDI – Power Distance Index: the degree of inequality generally accepted as the norm, e.g. Denmark and Sweden score low

IND – Individualism Index: the tendency or preference for acting alone or belonging to groups, e.g. USA, Britain and Australia score high

MAS – Masculinity Index: prevalence of such traits as status, assertiveness, competition rather than quality of life, nurturing, stabilising etc., e.g. Japan, Italy and Mexico score high

UAI – Uncertainty Avoidance Index: preference for structure and order over chaos, e.g. Greece, Portugal and France score high

LTO – Long-Term Orientation: the degree to which actions are driven by long-term goals rather than immediate gratification, e.g. China and Japan score high

By using these factors as starting points; firstly, we can see where there may be differences between the originating culture and the receiving culture, and secondly, we can do something pro-actively about tailoring our sales methodology to account for these differences. It is, after all, what makes us all so interesting in the first place!