“Getting Better Projects”
When asking Indian companies working with U.S. clients if they face problems, many management teams may respond with the challenge “getting better projects.” While this seems like a relevant answer, this encompasses so many elements from sales generation, project management, and company vision and strategy to name only a few. Let’s examine a few of those points.
This is a loaded topic as communication encompasses virtually all elements of business. I’d like to focus on lead generation and requirements gathering.
Aggressive figures suggest that one could get a 10% return on lead generation. That seems to be quite ambitious. This figure can drastically decrease if trying to sell to someone in a different culture where all aspects of the communication process (cold emailing, cold calling) can seem very different.
In addition to the process of getting leads and following through with leads, knowing how to communicate with the lead across cultural boundaries can also be a challenge. Sure, one needs to know English to do cold emailing and cold calling with Americans, but the cultural and local use of English in the US can often be very different from it’s usage in India.
As we build momentum for the sale and it looks like we will close a deal, even the approach to closing the deal can, and often, does vary across cultures. Where as I have seen teams in India take a cautiously optimistic approach to the start of a project, US Americans usually tend to verbalize excitement and build a lot of excitement to kick off a project. Sometimes, these two approaches can clash, and there can be cultural confusion.
Have you ever played the game ‘telephone?’ In this game, a chain of individuals stand next to each other. The person at the start of a line whispers something into the next person’s ear, and so forth the message gets passed to the next person until it gets to the end of the line. What normally happens to this message when it gets to the end of the line?
It gets distorted.
Why is this a problem? Well, especially when there is no or bad documentation, the requirements get lost in translation along the communication chain. And, worse, if we don’t really understand the business need for some of these requirements, we lose more understanding of the importance of a requirement. This results 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!
To impress your to-be or already signed on US clients have a firm process in place with tidy documentation (this will help later, also, once they are onboarded and discussions about change requests may arise).
Case Study in Cross-Cultural Requirements Gathering:
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
|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.
How to Convince US Americans:
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 some 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. If you’d like to tap into our expertise through consulting and coaching, get in touch.