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Essay 4: Three salesmen walk into a bar
November 14, 2008, 5:44 pm
Filed under: 1

This post is dedicated to whoever found my revision essays by googling the entire exam question at about midnight last night. Good luck!

Topic for today: Discuss, compare and contrast the differing approaches and strategies required by sales people operating in Japan, Germany and Australia. When framing your answer, consider both the salesperson and their customers.

The tactics used by sales people in Japan, Germany and Australia are significantly different. These differences reflect the highly contrasting cultures in the three countries and the need to follow the social paradigm. So in order to discuss the sales approaches and strategies employed in each country, we must first consider what the prevailing cultural factors are.

Kotabe suggests that there are seven elements of culture: material life (what technology is used and how), language (vocabulary, idioms, slang, explicit/implicit), social interactions (perceptions of power, dynamics of relationships), religion (values and authority), education (level of sophistication), aesthetics (colours, complexity) and value systems. However, it is also worth considering Hofstede’s model of cultural classification with its five factors: power distance (the largest socially acceptable difference in status), uncertainty avoidance (comfort with new/foreign ideas), individualism (consideration for individual or social group), masculinity (gender imbalance and competitiveness) and long-termism/Confucianism (balance between focus on future or short-term benefits).

When entering a new market, sales people need to adapt their sales approach to the local cultural factors mentioned above to avoid causing offence, recognise the different needs of the market and show that they are willing to put effort into the transaction.

Australian salespeople are generally straightforward, reflecting the explicit nature of the culture. With low power distance, emphasis is placed on trying to be friendly and not appearing to be outsmarting the customer. However, this must be balanced with high individualism and moderate masculinity which indicates that sales people are competitive. These factors mean that sales people should focus on personal benefits that their customers will derive from the product. They need to be aware of the highly complex Australian slang and idioms.

Generally religion and value systems are highly diverse, requiring a high level of cultural sensitivity within the market. Strong relations are not considered absolutely necessary to conduct business, so most sales transactions can be conducted relatively quickly. Australians are moderate in uncertainty avoidance; they do not actively avoid new products but lack of punctuality is generally frowned upon.

Many Australian businesspeople have found it difficult to understand the Japanese culture as it varies greatly from their own. Without a prior understanding of social norms, sales people are not usually informed when they make a mistake as Japan has a high-context culture. The main issues are the high uncertainty avoidance, difficult language and complex rules of social interactions. The Japanese are less receptive to foreign ideas and have a set way of doing business.

Sales people need to be aware that social interactions in Japan are influenced by their relatively high power distance, collectivism and long-termism. Companies seeking business are expected to spend a lot of time and money building a relationship with their prospective customer before attempting to talk business, to show that they are committed to the partnership. The Japanese are very conscious of social status and not showing proper deference to a person of a higher position may ruin the business relationship.

The collective interest is considered above the individual at all times, and so a gaffe by one person may cause shame for the entire company. Sales people hence have to be extremely cautious with their use of language; body language, the correct Japanese deferencial grammar and addresses. Since Japan is a more masculine country, male sales people may have more success in the business environment.

Germany also has a masculine culture with relatively high uncertainty avoidance, but in many other ways is opposite to Japan. Sales people are generally straight to the point, with social norms dictating that extended chatter or relationship-building is a waste of time. Punctuality is highly regarded. Similarly to Australia and opposing Japan, Germany’s culture is individualistic and masculine and so can be highly competitive.

The explicit German style and strict adherence to rules means that they are often seen as abrupt by Australians and rude by the Japanese. Conversely, they may feel that foreign businesspeople are wasting time or making matters unnecessarily complex.

[Insert conclusion here.]

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