Chapter 1: Your first overseas business meeting: do your homework, listen and ask!

Cualquier fallo en una primera reunión comercial internacional puede ser razón de falta de confianza y, por lo tanto, falta de cierre de trato.

Any gaffes in a first meeting may cause a lack of confidence and, therefore, non-closure of the deal.

After working with more than 500 SMEs over the last few years and, more often than not, organising their first meetings with overseas customers and partners, we are have established a standard by which to measure those companies that will be successful in their international relationships and those that won’t. In the race for overseas business there are more and higher hurdles to jump than in your home market and I can assure you that any failures during your first meeting may cause a loss of confidence which may result in your not closing the deal.

In the first part, we are going to set out as clearly and simply as possible the key points that you should follow to make the most of your first international business meeting with a greater chance of success:

Do your homework:

That great Spanish asset: the capacity to improvise should be reserved for solving problems and sorting out problems in your own company. You should do your homework for ALL your meetings! Before your appointment with your client you should have deep understanding of the company, its structure and products. You should also brush up on the professional profile of the person you are to meet.

In most cases, a first meeting will have been preceded by an exchange of information and, most probably, by conversations. You should take detailed notes of these contacts and use them during the meeting.

Your homework should also include knowing the dress-code for the country, the specific industry and the company. Whilst at home, it may be admissible to wear jeans in our industry, but when visiting a key account in, say, France, a suit may be advisable. Please keep in mind that there are studies showing that the first 7 seconds of a  meeting will establish whether or not we are professionals and the confidence with which approach the appointment. This is even more important when visiting a foreign client.

As well as the dress-code, you should also brush up on the business etiquette in the country in question: level of physical contact; presents/gifts; communication style; the  role personal relations play; the importance of having numbers and statistics at hand…

Go over your travel plans and make sure you know exactly how to get to your destination on time. Being late will get you a black mark in many countries and will give your client cause for mistrust.

Don’t forget: samples; catalogues; visiting cards; PC; and all marketing tools that you may use.

Listen and ask the right questions:

You’ll only get one shot to make a first impression and, in all probability, you won’t be given a lot of time to do it. Don’t waste this opportunity to find out exactly what your client’s real needs are now that he is there to clear up any doubts. If you make a very detailed presentation of your company, you’ll probably be talking too much. If you don’t let your opposite number get a word in, he will get bored or annoyed. Information should be provided following criteria of quality, quantity, congruity and cohesion: get your key points over simply, clearly and succinctly. You also have to brush up on differing country cultures: in some places a direct simple approach may be the norm whereas in others a longer presentation may be the rule. Nevertheless, the golden rule is: don’t exceed your allotted time.

Make good use of your time and grab the opportunity to ask questions and listen to the answers. When the client feels he is being listened to, he’ll probably relax and that is when you will be given much more information than in a tense situation. You will be amazed how much can be achieved in a pleasant atmosphere. When faced by the customer “clam” who does not seem to want to provide information, it is a question of asking the right questions and listening to the replies. Slowly but surely confidence will be established and the information provided.

When preparing for the appointment, prepare the questions you need answers to by writing them down These questions should be built into the natural flow of the conversation. You may wish to create a list of questions, some of which will be common to all potential customers, whilst others will have to be adapted to individual situations.

In December’s newsletter, we will continue with our examination of those points should be to taken into account to make a success of a first international meeting.

Júlia Farré
Partner and Consultant in International Team Consulting