Crossing cultures – The importance of understanding U.S. and European markets

It’s getting late but it’s never too late to say yes!

I remember the first deal I closed with a U.S. client. I received a Skype message at about 10.30pm my time. “So, we appreciate all the time you’ve put in over the last few weeks, especially when it comes to communication. We know the time difference isn’t easy with you being 10hrs ahead but your proposal meets our needs and we believe your service and was above and beyond what others were able to provide. So… we’re going with you! Send through the contract and we’ll get it signed by the end of the day.” Closing deals at 10.30pm was new to me. It’s tiring working around the clock but the adrenaline was amazing. I could get used to that! It was an early lesson in the many differences between selling in Europe and selling in the U.S. Over time, I’ve learned so much more but sadly many companies haven’t taken the time to adapt and have failed when expanding into new markets.

U.S. – Europe, Europe to U.S. The challenges are just as difficult either way

Some of you will remember Tesco trying to conquer the U.S. market or Best Buy spending $2.1 billion dollars for a 50% stake in Carphone Warehouse in order to grow significantly in the UK. Maybe, instead, you’ll remember the attempts of Marks and Spencer, WHSmith or Dixons to cross the pond but if you don’t, I wouldn’t blame you. All of these attempts failed, each one for different reasons but none of them had fully understood their new clientele. A proud scouser, working with U.S. clients and selling internationally, I already had some grasp of the differences in sales culture but I knew I needed a broader understanding of the European market to truly make a difference.

A little clarification

My views are based on a mixture of anecdotal research and personal experience so they will obviously create generalisations but one thing I can say for sure is that they have helped me to massively grow business to business tech start-ups across the globe.

It’s all a bit scripted

“Hi there, Joshua, it’s Logan, calling from SAAS limited, thanks for jumping on a call with me today. How are you today Sir? … Fantastic. Before we get started today, I just want to confirm you still have 30 minutes for our call?…” In the U.S., it’s often the case that a sales call will be made using a script with many obvious leading and closing sales questions. It happens in Europe too but when it does, the customer is often a lot more wary of such “sales” language. Lines that work in the US, might often do not work in Europe. There could be a million reasons for this but I think one of the key aspects is cultural. In the U.S. a lot of communication is transactional. Online purchases and meeting online or over the phone are often enough for a buyer to make a decision. It can take more time in European markets as services are often bought only when they are needed. Taking a risk and testing something that might give them the one up on competitors is less common.

It’s not a broad brush

Trusted brands (industry leaders etc) and building a deeper trust are important aspects of the European market but the way to make that connection with your buyers can vary. It all starts with a casual greeting. Go too hard with a hug or too lose with your handshake and you might lose the deal before it even starts. That’s why it’s important to understand, for example, how people greet each other with 4 kisses in some parts of France and with 2 kisses from the right in Paris, how the English often prefer a sturdy handshake and how Italians would like to have a coffee with you before business ever gets spoken about. It’s important to understand the role that localisation plays and that it is not as easy to go from country to country in Europe as it is to go from state to state in the U.S. Although the U.S. is different in every region, the language is the same as are the typical ways of greeting each other. What really matters in Europe though is that you are willing to learn about the buyer and that you share common values. Things like football (soccer) can often create an instant connection.

As simple as logistics?

Part of the reason Europeans are more willing to have face to face meetings, which allow for better relationship building is logistics. Most business in Europe is done in major cities such as London, Paris, Munich and Berlin, which means many meetings can be had within close proximity. It’s possible to get the Eurostar from Paris, have a full day of meetings including a pub lunch in London and return for dinner in the evening without missing out on any work time. Meeting in the U.S. can easily mean travelling 6 hours for one meeting before travelling another 6 for the next. This wouldn’t necessarily even be for larger deals. That’s why the possibilities that have arisen from new technology have created completely different ways of communicating. Having said that, a lot of communication these days is written and the importance of getting this right is vital when crossing into Europe.

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Now, you’re speaking my language

Although so many Europeans have English as either their first (UK, Ireland) or second language. (This link offers more detail), language isn’t as simple as the words used. Many buyers in the UK refuse to interact with written communication using Americanisms such as sidewalk or sneakers or even English words with American spellings. You see, it’s all about localization or should that be localisation. It might not seem important but to many locals, it is a sign that you haven’t bothered to learn about them and their needs. Of course, it matters across Europe too. Having somebody from the region you are selling to, who understands the nuances of a language will make a big difference to a buyer. They can also help with identifying the best times to make a call and all of the other challenges that we’ve spoken about above.


If I were to give a suggestion as to the one thing you should take away from this article, it would be the importance of doing your research so that you can understand the market you are entering. Too many sales leaders in the U.S. and Europe think that adding a new location is a simple as rinse and repeat. It isn’t. If you need help from a sales leader who understands both markets well, get in touch with me, Joshua Swerdlow today.

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