Why arent’ they telling the truth?!I was recently at an event where a Nordic entrepreneur was talking to an audience about her success in the US. The “success” she talked about was getting a meeting with her dream client about a month prior. She talked about how much the person she met with said he loved her product and she was assuming a big sale any day. My American colleague was perplexed after her talk and asked me, “why was she talking to a room full of people about this ‘success’ when she had only had one meeting? It sounded like he was just being polite when he said he loved her product.” The Nordic entrepreneur and my American colleague both heard the same words but attributed completely different meanings to them. A few years back, another Nordic startup was so sure they were close to closing a huge deal with a Fortune 500 company because they had multiple meetings with that company over a period of time that they focused all of their efforts on the deal with that one client…but two years later they were actually no closer to a deal and had run out of money. The cultural language the Nordic startup and the Fortune 500 company were speaking was not the same.
US companies are all hierarchies even if it doesn’t look that way on the surface. Know who you are dealing with in the company and who the actual decision maker(s) in the company are. The company gatekeeper is the one who has the power to decide if you get to move on within the company to the next level of decision making. The gatekeepers will almost always exaggerate their level of power; you need to get past them so you must display respect for their authority but you shouldn’t actually believe they have the power to make the decision to buy your product. Effective networking can be a way to bypass the gatekeepers to get to the actual decision maker(s) directly which is one of the reasons networking is so important in the US. In the story of the Nordic woman meeting with her dream client, she was undoubtedly only at the gatekeeper level because this was her first meeting with the company.
Ascertaining whether a company is just browsing or actually shopping is often difficult because the language is similar. Most seasoned US sales professionals know that companies are browsing if there is no definitive current need. They are also aware, however, that the onus to move a potential customer from browser to purchaser is on them not on the potential customer (they need to clearly state what the benefit of their product is to the customer, they need to follow up quickly and follow up at later intervals if a current sale isn’t possible, they need to be aware of any potential competitors moving in, they need to initiate any next steps in the sales process to effectively move the sales process forward, they need to ascertain whether there is someone more effective within the company they could be dealing with, etc)…and they know they need to keep have a deep sales pipeline at all times because talking to a potential customer (even at the later stages) is not equivalent to actually having a sale. “I love your product” can mean “I love your product and I’m interested in potentially buying this,” “I love your product I want to move this up to our management to purchase this,” “I love your product but we have no current need for it,” “you seem like a nice entrepreneur so I don’t want to quash your dreams but this product is no good,” etc. US business politeness is not misrepresentation or not being honest, it is culturally understood that the true meaning of their words will be ascertained by the actions they take in response to your follow up. Note, even when “I love your product” actually means “I love your product and I’m interested in potentially buying this,” it is important to understand that Nordic time and US time are not the same thing. Even US time and Silicon Valley time aren’t the same thing. Especially in Silicon Valley, time is such a limited resource that attention spans are often short as a result and business priorities are constantly in flux. What I mean by this is that no matter how interested the person was in your product at the time of the meeting, they will have other things become a priority after the meeting so the onus is on you to follow up quickly and to repeatedly move your product up on their priority list.