Thursday, October 19, 2006

Doing Business in USA

Here in USA businesses are interested to expand globally, therefore, the rest of the world has to learn to deal with Americans. This story is about my own experience of doing business with Americans in America.

Usually, building international business starts with the 1st business visit to the country and one can understand a lot about the nation just from dealing with its customs authorities. I am no longer surprised that I am being held in a detention center (for documents check) every other time I cross US border. But I am surprised with the tendency: I was NEVER stopped by an American who was born in US, but I am nearly ALWAYS detained by a former immigrant. How do I know? I can tell from the accent that the guy is Mexican or Polish but not born and raised here, he was in my position, probably, a couple of years ago and then he got the passport and now he’s “the king”.
The same thing you’d notice anywhere here while dealing with business people or authorities: the ones who were once in a disadvantaged position themselves now tend to over-exercise their authority and make your life miserable.

The next thing you do (if you are let into the country) is getting acquainted with potential customers, partners, etc. I often feel uncomfortable in this situation because most likely the dialogue goes like this:
- So where are you from?
- Russia
- Oh!!!! My great-great-great grandmother was from POLNAD!!!!!!!

And then I am confused: I see that the person is over-excited by the fact that he met someone, as he believes, from his homeland. But I cannot share his enthusiasm: I have nothing to do with Poland, Russia doesn’t even have a boarder with Poland (or Czech Republic, or Slovakia or Croatia, etc.) We are two different countries!! But at the same time I don’t want to upset him. So at this point I just smile for about 20 seconds and then try to change the topic of the conversation.

The discussion of the potential business opportunity is the most difficult bit. Most Americans are sure that they know everything about other countries or rather they think they don’t really need to know anything about other countries because for them selling their products from Illinois to California seem to be the same thing as selling products from USA to UK. They don’t see why the process/product/price/advertising campaign etc. should be any different. And if they ever sold a product abroad, say to UK then they believe that the whole world will be at their feet because they already know how to do business internationally. They don’t have a slightest doubt that you cannot approach the Russian market the way you approach the UK market. By the same token the Brazilian, Chinese, French, etc. markets will be totally different. You would think that by now they should have learnt something from their mistakes but NO! Just recently I heard from a potential customer who never worked with Russia and was looking for some consulting advice: “We don’t need market research, we just want to sell”.

And this case is not exception it’s a RULE. At a certain stage I was so upset with American approach to doing business that I wrote a series of educational articles on how to do business with other cultures, which I will be publishing on my blog soon (please, come back to read!). The first of them is New Market Entry Strategy where I talk about steps a company must take when deciding on entering a new market. Some of the steps should be taken before entering the market to avoid mistakes in the process.

After the meeting there is time to follow up. Americans almost never follow up. And if you do follow-up yourself they are not likely to respond. Generally, they are not likely to respond to about 90% of correspondence sent to them. You won’t believe how many e-mails, postcards, letters and faxes that I sent were left unanswered. If it is a “cold call” - 99% of your correspondence will get no response. But even if you met with a person before, your chances of getting an answer are very slim too. Many times I was sending people I know information that was beneficial to them (articles, links, invitations, etc.) and I never even got a “thank you” note. Most of the time they even don’t call you back when you leave them a voicemail! This is very frustrating. In my culture it is disrespectful and if it were up to me I would never deal with such people, but I have no choice: then I would have to cross out the majority of American customers and colleagues. The funny thing is they all admit with regret that this is true about their way of dealing with people and still they don’t change it.

The only way to fight with this approach is continuous education, I guess. So the second article I wrote is about Customer Relationship Management, which I will also be publishing in my blog too.

This is a snapshot of what I learnt about American business culture during the 9 months of my living and working in USA. I don’t want to sound negative, though, but I guess this was an outlet for my frustration that built up over a period of time. In reality it is not all “doom and gloom” here. The best part of doing business in US (if you have your business registered in US) is a great support for small and medium size businesses and entrepreneurial initiatives of all sorts. Especially if you a minority, say, a woman. The amount of support groups, associations, government programs, etc. is just phenomenal! And all of them exist with the sole purpose of helping you to develop your business.

I guess it’s been a bit difficult for me because I am foreigner and I need to adjust to this new culture and this is why I am sharing my experience with you – so that you are prepared if you want to business in USA.

3 comments:

James Galvin said...

We Americans are very geographically poor unfortunately. I recall hearing someone do a "Minnesota" accent, which derivates from swedish immigrants who moved there a while ago. However, they always mention the film "Fargo" as being from Minnesota. Being largely locked away from other countries, and only having mostly harmless neighboring countries means that americans have not had to worry about outside invaders.

I was on a train in the middle of China going west when I met three Kazakh students who were studying in China and headed home. One of them lived a year in Montana, and all of them spoke perfect english and pretty decent Chinese. I found it amazing how aware they were of international events, U.S. political personalities, and how liberal they were politically and religiously. Now, the movie Borat coming out will soon defame Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the majority of Kazakhs will be painted with a brush which could be applied to us as well.

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thnks dave

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