by Doug Lewis
Who am I?
I am an American businessman with over 30 years of experience selling and buying products in Asia, Australia, Europe and the U.S and Canada. I have worked for technology companies in software and processing and in economic development in International Trade and entrepreneurism.
Where do I come from?
I’ve lived most of my life in the middle of the US but I have traveled throughout the US and in many other countries and I’ve lived in Japan and Sweden. I understand quite a bit about international business but not a lot about doing business in South America and not a lot about Argentina.
Why is it worth selling to me?
Because I’m really not trying to sell to you. I work for Santex. Over 90% of our revenue comes from the US market. I have nothing to sell you. I say this because unfortunately too many times the first connections between businesses who want to sell are people who are trying to sell to each other. They are the people in international sales for each company or sometimes even the CEOs themselves. They just shouldn’t try to sell to each other.
So let’s suspend reality for a moment and assume in this case that I am buying from you.
I’m buying and I’m buying services in an economy where services are close to 80% of the economy. That economy is 17 trillion dollars according to the Worldbank. Trillion is 1 with 12 zeros behind it. That means people pay 13.6 Trillion dollars per year for services in the US. I’m buying for many reasons but here are a couple of them. I am buying because after dealing with the rest of the world for a long time, I’m concerned about places and countries closer to home. I’m concerned that bigger countries than the US will have even more influence that will affect the future of my kids and their kids.
And because I’m really tired of dealing with 12 to 15 hour time differences with Asia. It always means that someone is working in the middle of the night. I want to find sources closer to home but I am also accountable to my stakeholders and customers to get a good price or provide a good value for them. Price is a factor especially if I can get it somewhere else easily.
Just a word about competition. If you are in software development services like I am, Your competition is not in this room. Your competition isn’t in Cordoba. It really isn’t even on this continent. It is any place on the planet. Because the software code can be developed wherever any one has a portable computer and can delivered when and wherever it’s needed. Competing on price alone will leave you starving. You need to deliver value to your customer.
If I’m going to buy from you then you are probably asking “what do I expect from you?”
I expect solid and simple communication the way that I want it. Please don’t take me on a walk through the forest. I don’t want to sift through information to try to find what you are trying to tell me. I really don’t know what I’m looking for. Get yourself organized. Group your products into categories and name them. In other words, I need your information presented in a context and it needs to be complete.
Don’t expect me to ask questions about something that I don’t know. You know your product and you need to be able to communicate with me in my language. So I need your help.
I do expect you to have any material that you present be in standard American English. I don’t expect you to speak perfect English but I need to be able to understand you. If you need a translator then you need to provide it. I don’t think you want one of my employees who studied Spanish in school and drank rum or tequila drinks on a beach in the Caribbean to be your translator.
As an American, I expect information to flow freely to me. When you hold something back or I find out something later that I thought I should have known. I feel one of two ways, I am suspicious of your motives or I think you don’t know what you’re doing.
I’ve done business in around 40 countries but I really don’t know much about Argentina and so you will need to explain a little bit about your country and I want to learn. I know there are the positives of doing business with you and I want you to get that point across but there is one factor that is more important than anything else. I only deal with honest people. It makes my buying decisions much easier. You just won’t get another chance if you don’t deliver what you promise.
I’ve heard about the government and the economy but I’m a business man. I’m willing to buy a good product for a fair price.
I will do my research on you before we meet so I will expect to find you on LinkedIn with a profile in proper English. I will expect some information on your website. If you only have a Spanish website, I’ll let the browser do the translation but you never know what I will get that way. I can tell you that in Hong Kong, Singapore and many other countries I will not only have websites in English but a lot of information for me.
I know enough about international business and dealing with business people around the globe to know that cultures are different. I know that things like jokes and stories don’t always translate well so I personally avoid them. I don’t like to confuse matters by being misunderstood by a joke and I certainly don’t want to explain a joke fearing that I mistaken the lack of laughing for misunderstanding the punch line.
Time is important to me. I like to use it well and expect others to do so too. I have a lot of people who make demands on my time. Face to face meetings are so productive that I don’t want to have them be wasted. I like a meeting agenda ahead of a meeting and I will come prepared and I expect that you will too. I like to concentrate face to face meetings at places where I have meetings anyway. International trade shows and conferences when I attend are places I can do this.
By the way, sometimes the easiest and most relaxed time to meet with me is at breakfast and it’s best before 8. I can take time with you not distracted by others in my com palm texting or calling me. On occasion, I’ll have a business dinner but I coach my kids sports teams and have family activities after 6 so evenings are scheduled for me and I like to be in bed by 10. Golf is good for those who play well but I don’t play.
Are you believable?
Will you really do what you say you will? How would I know? That’s why I expect that you have customer references. You are certified in quality standards and you belong to US and International industry and Professional groups. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world; you only have one chance to make a good impression. I may be dressed casual but I’m always impressed by someone who is dressed to sell.
How much do you really know about the US?
Do you know that there are at least 4 geographic markets in the US? There are two that most people know and they still put them together. There is the West Coast or Left Coast as we call it. It’s fast paced but casual. High tech but also Hollywood. It’s where everyone from around the world takes their idea and their movie script to sell it. Competition is fierce. Making a splash is nothing unusual. It’s on a big ocean and people do it every day. Money flows in and out easily until there isn’t anymore and then it crashes.
Then there’s the East Coast. It’s traditional. Money has been there a long time and they want to keep it that way. They don’t give it up easily. They are skeptical of everyone, even people they grew up with. You can imagine how important it is to be credible. There are more people squeezed into the land between Philadelphia and Boston than there are in Argentina. That distance is 100 kilometers less than from Cordoba to Buenos Aires. And know your baseball teams. Don’t wear that baseball cap you bought at Yankee stadium in Boston.
Moving along to the South. They haven’t had money since the 1800’s. There are pockets of wealth like Atlanta, Miami and Dallas. Overall, it’s conservative but it’s changing. People are moving in but people are still paid less and the infrastructure isn’t as good as other parts of the country. People don’t part with money easily and especially not for products that don’t look like they are from home. It’s the headquarters of Walmart, where the company slogan is “Always the low price. Always.”
And then there’s the Midwest. In the Midwest, there are two natural resources. One is land and the other is people. Both are becoming more scarce and therefore more valuable. The land of 12 states is one fourth the size of Argentina and there 67 million people. The largest city is Chicago. It’s a world class city that considers itself in a league with Buenos Aires. One hundred dollars will buy what 160 dollars buys in New York City. The second largest city is 2 million people. It’s Indianapolis and is a lot like Cordoba.
Energy production– wind, biofuels and oil and natural gas is the new industry in the Midwest. Agriculture is changing from old to new to feed the world and manufacturing is finding its way in a new global market. And what about the money? The money is here. It’s stable. Midwesterners like to pay cash and they like to own what they buy, not borrow to pay for it. They have experience taping into the east and west coast and once you are partners, they will take you with them. You may just want to take a look.
So what’s the place where people are the wealthiest? It’s in the Midwest. It’s in fact Des Moines Iowa.
Here’s a video that makes that point.
So things are not always as they seem. Sometimes unlikely places have more potential than at first glance.
For more information check out Doug Lewis’ presentation on Slideshare.
Doug Lewis is a Manager of Inside Sales and Business Development for Santex. Throughout his career, Doug has developed high value sales and business relationships for companies seeking international markets. Prior to joining Santex in 2012, Doug was with the Iowa Department of Economic Development where he worked in the Innovation and Commercialization Division in entrepreneurial development. He was program Manager for the Iowa Demonstration fund which helps companies commercialize innovative products in three targeted industry sectors– Advanced Manufacturing, BioScience and Information Technology. Over 100 companies received close to $12 million in state funding to launch new, innovative products.