A cheat sheet to doing business in the United States

Ameeta Virk
Market Specialist - India & USA | Business West
14th July 2014

With 311 million potential customers and a GDP of $16 trillion, the US is an exciting place to export. However, before boarding the plane starry-eyed and dreaming of the millions you will make, stop to consider how Americans like to do business.  Yes, they love your Britishness, your 4 o’clock tea and your cool accent. Yes, they are generally an enthusiastic bunch who’ll always give you a chance.  But that’s as far as it goes.  You need to deliver on their terms when it comes to actually winning business.

You’re probably thinking, I speak English, I’ve seen all of the latest Oscar winners, I’ve even been to NYC, so what could be so different? In fact, quite a bit, and not only when it comes to trunk vs. boot and loo vs. bathroom. As an American who has lived in the UK for 4 years, the cultural and business differences still astound me.  In this piece, I’d like to share with you some of the stand-out differences and tips to help you become a rock star US exporter.

Communication Styles

Have you ever called someone and not left a message ‘giving the missed call’? Come on, you know you’ve done it. Strange I know, but this doesn’t work in the States. Leave a message! A detailed, and to the point message or risk losing the deal. Americans will appreciate it and might even share your much- loved accent with their friends. They communicate through voicemails like we do with emails.  Speaking of emails, Americans generally try to answer emails within 24 hours and this is in-line with their get an answer NOW mentality. Please communicate and follow-up NOW or risk Americans losing interest or questioning your dedication. Finally, be confident, direct and use the tools.  And don’t stick with just one tool.  A few emails, yes, but then move on and get to the phone and talk.  They are not afraid of the phone, in other words.

Is that a YES?

Americans are a straightforward bunch.  They are direct, to the point and loathe wasting time. If they like what you have to offer, they will tell you and want to move ahead quickly.  If Americans can’t see a good fit, they will tell you. They don’t sugar coat.  But remember, the US is a “yes-we-can” country.  Americans like to find a way to say “yes” to you and they don’t want you to stop at a “no”.  This means, look for ways around a “no” and be sure to ask the magic question, “What will it take for you to say yes”? If it’s still a NO, then ask the next magic question, “Do you know someone else who might be interested”? Americans are natural connectors, and if they can think of someone within their network who is interested they will connect you.  Trust me this works. When I was selling UK brands into the US market I was told “no” by a top retailer but the buyer referred me to their competitor, complete with their direct phone number! This is part of the American culture, where everything has been built on a collaborative competitiveness, close networks, and sharing of ideas.

Ask for the Business!

Here in the UK, I’m constantly amazed at how indirect people can be, in business and elsewhere.  In the States, when it comes to negotiating, Americans expect to be sold to and expect you to ask for the business directly, laying out why you should win and what is unique about your offering.  If this is all delivered quickly, clearly and confidently, the chances of success are much higher.  Delivery of the pitch is everything in the States because this is seen to reflect how the real business will play out.  In the UK, this kind of approach is felt to be awkward and obnoxious, assuming and over-confident.  In the US, you have to go a lot further before over-confidence becomes a problem.

Finally, before you hop on that plane, remember these bonus tips.

Time is money. Leave the weather chit chat at home. Deals can close in record time and meetings are generally 30-45 minutes. Be ready, be assertive and get down to business. Most importantly follow-up quickly as Americans hate to wait and will move on fast.

Know and rehearse your USP; the capitals are there for a reason! If your offering isn’t unique in some way then forget it, there will be thousands of companies who have already been there and done it ten times over.

Save the delicate handshake, as Americans attribute confidence to the handshake and a firm and brief handshake is best.

There is a lot of positive enthusiasm going around Stateside. Americans are very friendly and will make you feel like you are their best friend but remember this does not mean you got the deal. It is simply the way they are.

Finally, keep trying! Each state is different, so what didn’t sell in California might be the next best thing in Ohio.

Good luck. If you need more advice, myself and my fellow International Trade Advisers will be happy to help.  Ring our friendly international trade team on 01274 370944.

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