Three ways to boost your company’s cultural awareness
Entering any new market has its challenges. When that market is in another country with a very different culture from Canada, it can be harder still. What may be common practice in North America could be sensitive or off-putting to buyers abroad. So how do you make sure you start out — and stay — on the right foot when doing business outside of Canada?
There are three main ways to give your company’s cultural awareness a boost. Depending on where you’re at in your sales cycle and the kinds of relationships you’re building, one or another may be more relevant. In some cases, you may want to think about all three.1. Do your research
Most exporters research new markets as a matter of due diligence. That often tends to focus on the commercial and policy environment. But it’s a good idea to see what you can learn about the culture you’ll be dealing with as well. There are many resources with useful information on the business and broader societal cultures of other countries. A couple of key ones include:
- Embassy websites
Many countries’ Canadian embassies have information on their websites about their nations’ relationship with Canada, their culture, business etiquette and more. While these won’t give you a comprehensive perspective, they will get you heading in the right direction.
- Global Affairs Canada’s Centre for Intercultural Learning
The Centre offers courses and resources to help you gain a better understanding of working and communicating with other cultures, as well as a set of country insights with information about interacting with citizens of various countries.
CCC has regional directors around the world with relationships with foreign government buyers, Canadian embassy staff, trade commissioners and others. These directors can offer their own observations and perspectives on the target country’s cultural norms.2. Find a local representative
Beyond basic research, there may be times when you want to have a local agent in a particular country market to help you build your presence and navigate the subtler aspects of doing business. Ideally, this should be someone who understands the language, the culture, how government works, how business deals are done, and how to best promote your product to buyers in their country.
While the Trade Commissioner Service and Global Affairs Canada may be able to put you in touch with potential agents, they’re not able to endorse any specific representative, so finding the right person will require some screening and due diligence on your part to ensure their compliance with ethics, bribery and corruption practices. Meet with a potential agent in person. Confirm that they’re reliable, knowledgeable and a good fit for your own company culture. BDC has a great list of questions to ask when choosing a foreign agent.3. Hire a good interpreter
Communication is critical to business deals. If you don’t speak the same language as your buyer, you’ll need someone to interpret for you. Although your buyer will probably have their own interpreter, we highly recommend hiring your own as well to avoid any conflict of interest.
An interpreter can be a trusted ally. In addition to faithfully rendering your communications with your buyer, your interpreter can also keep an ear out for other conversations in the room that could have an impact on your negotiations. Contact the Canadian embassy in your target country for help finding a local interpreter. There are many expatriate Canadians abroad who understand both Canadian culture and the culture of the country where you’re doing business, which can be an enormous help in building bridges. Be sure to hire someone who is professionally qualified as an interpreter, as the role involves specialized skills and expertise and a lot can ride on the precision and quality of their work.
Despite all the differences that may exist between your company and buyers in another country, ultimately it’s important to remember is that you’re still working with people. All transactions come down to human beings relating to other human beings. Making personal connections, earning trust and respect — all of those count hugely no matter where you’re doing a deal.Are you looking to expand into foreign markets? We can help.