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February 11, 2016

Getting Better Projects From U.S. Clients

Do you feel stuck in growing your offshore project portfolio with U.S. clients? Do you know you have a lot of value to give, but feel like you are hitting a brick wall moving forward? 

The video below highlights a few salient issues companies in India face when engaging with U.S. clients. I would also like to highlight a few points with some of my personal observations from the field. 

“Getting Better Projects”
While this is discussed at the end of the video- the point made here is very pertinent. When asking Indian companies working with U.S. clients if they face problems, Jennifer Roberts says that Indian companies say the only problem they face is in “Getting Better Projects.” This is actually a loaded answer. Getting better projects encompasses so many elements from sales generation, project management, and company vision and strategy to name only a few. Let’s take a look at a few that Jennifer and her colleague Hugo Messer mentioned in this video.

Communication Clarity
This is a loaded topic as communication encompasses virtually all elements of business. I’d like to focus on lead generation and requirements gathering.

Lead Generation
In the video, Jennifer noted that some companies see a 10% return on lead generation. This means that out of every 100 leads, 10 become clients. Based on my experience via Authentic Journeys, this is a very ambitious figure. Teams Authentic Journeys has worked with on lead generation are lucky to get 1 or 2% of any 100 prospective clients. This is a dismal figure, and can really be demotivating. As Jennifer notes tearing apart cold emails to assess where to improve, Authentic Journeys has also worked with teams on cold emails, cold calls, and relationship building with US client prospects. 

Jennifer noted in the video something very provocative. She notes how she worked with Ukrainian teams on how to show emotion or enthusiasm when closing a deal with U.S. clients. When I was listening to this, I thought of how this also can apply in the Indian situation. When starting projects, as an American I feel Indians are happy, but may not show excitement about it like Americans would. Usually when Americans get or start a project, the excitement is palpable. People show excitement through their voice and word choices, using a lot of phrases like ‘looking forward to working together,’ and ‘let’s make this great!’ While Indians also use collaborative phrases, the tone of voice or facial expressions (including twinkling eyes) may not be so easy to spot, even in face to face interactions as with Americans. Being in India for five years now, I think some of the reason for this difference is that in India maybe showing too much excitement is considered to be ‘jumping the gun’ or being ‘overconfident.’ After all, we haven’t started yet and don’t know where this is actually going or how it will go. Maybe Americans may seem Indians as being more cautiously optimistic, where as Indians seeing Americans start a project may feel Americans are too ambitious or overconfident! 

Requirements Gathering
In the video, Jennifer talked about the telephone or broken telephone game (probably known as the Chinese Whisperer game in India), and how in some cases what is initially gathered as a requirement is translated as something very different as it travels through the corporate communication chain. This does result in lost business, no-show clients or clients who just seem to disappear. Why? Because Americans are not comfortable with vague communication. Americans prefer more concrete communication. As we can see from the get-go these two communication styles are just about in direct opposition to each other!

In this process it’s good to understand how to gather requirements; and believe it or not there is also a huge cultural difference in this process as well! I remember the first time I tried to gather requirements for a training program in India. I came extensively prepared for the session. I did a lot of research about the company and had a litany of questions. I was greeted with a bated and stunned silence. As an American I felt I left the meeting with LESS information than I came in with. I was stumped. Over time, I realized that some Indians may feel that too many questions could give the impression of being unprepared or not really having expertise in the area because if you are an expert- why would you need to ask questions! Then, I realized that the questions would not be questions but statements to gather information. This would not at all work with Americans as statements are considered combative and rude. Americans may just shut down. A classic example of a request that often comes as a statement in India is the meeting request:

Meeting request as a statement: We will meet tomorrow at 5pm.

What an American would think about this: “Why are they demanding my time? This is not a request. It’s not even polite. It’s rude. I am not answering this.”

How it should be worded: Shall we meet tomorrow at 5pm?

Tips: The request needs to be framed as a question with a question mark. If we are writing it, we must assure the question mark is there for tone. If we are on the phone, we have to assure the tone rises at the end to form a question. We practice this in sessions, even with using actual phones.

Lesson: It’s actually quite impressive to think the way Americans see questions and Indians see question can often be in complete opposition. Our mindsets or our cultural conditioning about asking and answering questions on many levels is so different. In sessions we help people to try to overcome this cultural conflict. In addition to framing questions appropriately, we look at how to ask open ended questions, closed ended questions, follow up questions and build on questions. The requirements gathering process should not be an interview, but a conversation. It should feel natural, not stressful. It’s not a viva voce or thesis defense on either side, but a casual conversation between colleagues. I have seen impressive results with a few tweaks from the Indian team members. Now, it would be great if Americans can meet them half way!

Competition for services could sometimes mean a waste of time

Cross Cultural Consulting
Learn more here.
The last point I’d like to assess is the idea of competition for services. Indian companies offer a wide variety of services. Depending on the business, there may be a lot of competition or very little. Regardless of the amount of competition for your services, I wouldn’t suggest berating or comparing your company to others in sales calls. This will not give a good impression to U.S. clients, and it may feel like gossiping about others or boasting about yourself. Instead, to boost our own position, use examples and evidence from our own company compared against the larger, broader industry. Use numbers. Use facts. Use figures. Time saved. Money saved. Resources saved. Use logic to convince. With Americans logical arguments do appeal to their feeling. Even if there is very little competition in your business area, Americans will be much more easily convinced with facts and figures. This means, it takes time to prepare for each call or email in advance. Research the company, know a little about their needs and business problems. Compare it against other similar companies your company has worked with. Where can we make parallels? Talk to the company as though you already know them. From the Indian perspective this will seem alien because in India, as per my experience the initial conversations are much less targeted as people want to build a more casual relationship at first. In fact, when I think about this process through alien American eyes, I feel it is a bit strange. Why? Americans tend to believe in privacy and having personal space. Yet, this whole research process actually goes against the cultural concept of privacy, because essentially we have to do background checks on the company or people we work with before we actually start working with them! In sessions we also talk about cultural dichotomies like this and how they can pose interesting situations for those involved.

To wrap up this long post, there are quite a few problems many small Indian firms working with Americans face in lead generation, client-facing skills and project handling skills that can be improved to maintain and generate more business. Join us (Jennifer Roberts, Hugo Messer, Hans Gaetner, and me, Jennifer Kumar) on March 10 in Trivandrum, India for an interactive workshop which will tackle these topics to improve your company’s business outcomes. To learn more about this program and register today, visit the event's Facebook page.

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Author of this post, Jennifer Kumar is an American who has been living in India and working with distributed, offshored, outsourced and virtual teams through Authentic Journeys. Authentic Journeys has coached and trained over 2,500 Indian professionals just like you looking for answers to improve business relationships and outcomes with U.S. Americans. Contact us for more information.

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.