In 2008 Martin Kisseleff, then President of César Ritz Colleges, had invited me to speak about my work in China to a group of students that visited Guangzhou. He shared an excellent experience that he learned when managing hotels in Namibia and it stuck with me until today:
“Common sense is culturally biased.”
While this may seem obvious, I realized then that I have experienced this first hand twice in my life. When I was 16, I moved for six month from my small hometown in the North of Germany to a Boarding School in Bath, England. From today’s perspective, it was a small move from one European country to another. But back then, the differences in lifestyles, personality characteristics, perspectives and opinions seemed huge! I quickly understood that my cultural frame of reference was of little use at a uniform-wearing, English pop-culture consuming Boarding School. Five years later, after completing my degree in Hotel Management, I moved to Beijing. Again I had to make an extra effort to get to know the people I worked with. I needed to understand how they judge what is good and bad in life, desirable or undesirable in business and friendly or rude in human interactions.
I am most thankful for these experiences, as it taught me to approach the people I meet with an open mind. Diversity and Inclusion are related. Embracing diversity is of little help when our diverse clients don't actually feel welcomed. At times, people may look out of place in your business. They may seem like a less experienced consumer of your brand or an unlikely client for the service you offer. Markets are globally connected and in most urban centres you will work with clients or colleagues who you are not able to judge by your own cultural cognition frame. The realization that people evaluate things differently depending on where they are from has been one key learning in my life.
So how does this relate to Sales?
In a B2B sales process, you may deal with a large, multinational American company, as well as an unknown organization from a country you have never been to and whose language you may not speak. When an employee of a lesser known company and from a different cultural environment reaches out to you to inquire about your product or service, extend them the same courtesy than you would to a corporate giant from your own country of origin. Show interest in the work they do and try to find common ground to build rapport with the buyer on the other end of the line. Demolish unnecessary barriers for potential clients to spend money at your business. The buyer that feels like they are being treated with less attention than others will leave and invest their money elsewhere. Most of the time, you will never know or hear about it. The client that was insecure about calling you in the first place and was welcomed with open arms will never forget that and you may have won a customer for life.
In the world of luxury retail, where a product is sold to the consumer, a client can’t be judged by what he or she wears. “What does a Louis Vuitton customer look like?”. “What does a Maserati client look like?”. These questions are unnecessary in a world where CEO’s like Mark Zuckerberg wear a T-shirt to work and your clients of the past hour may come from 6 different countries. As a retail store or any business, focus on questions like “How do we ensure we offer a consistent arrival experience?” instead and ensure your sales team provides a judgement free environment.
Review your appearance and operational process.
At the beautiful Hazelton Hotel in Toronto, we had a gorgeous lobby, designed by the famous Yabu Pushelberg. To allow for more privacy for our often famous guests, the reception, as well as concierge desk, were tucked away behind large slabs of grey marble. While stunning in design, this privacy was intimidating to some of my corporate clients that came to take a look at the hotel for one of their meetings. To offset this intimidation, I made an extra effort to be in the lobby before they arrived to welcome them warmly.
Writing a detailed Standard Operating Procedure that clearly states who the client is first greeted and welcomed by is key. Is the first impression of your business inclusive to clients and guests from all over the world and with different levels of “consumer experience”? Lead your team by example and train each sales and service person in keeping an open and welcoming mind towards clients of all backgrounds. Your bottom line will thank you (plus it makes for a more positive working environment, too!).