How To Sell In An American Market — From a German Perspective

This article was written by Evert Zelaya, Founder of Menlo Sales Labs. Menlo Sales Labs helps startups go global by penetrating new markets using innovative sales strategies. Follow Evert at @ev_zelaya on Twitter.


People Buy From People

At the time of this writing, I’ve worked with tech startups from 20 different countries (mostly European). When you factor in cultural norms, language barriers, time zones, writing etiquette, etc., selling in any foreign market can be an intimidating experience.

No matter what the country, here are some universal truths on selling:

  1. No one likes to be “sold” to
  2. If you have no experience in sales, you probably hate the idea of having to do it
  3. It’s less about charisma and more about process
  4. Personalization and understanding the buyers’ world reigns supreme
  5. It’s best to be polite, empathetic, and knowledgeable

Despite our differences, there are also many commonalities when it comes to selling to international markets. The commonalities are much more influential in a sales process since, at its core, it comes down to being genuine and solving other people’s problems.

In 2019, you may be targeting the U.S. market. If so, congrats! Your first goal should be to understand and embrace the universal truths shared above. Your second goal should be to create a solid sales strategy to maximize your impact.


Let’s Bring in a German Expert

This post will focus on selling in the U.S. market from a German perspective. Before diving into the U.S., we’ll first establish some German cultural norms that could clash with selling in an American market. I’ve asked one of my colleagues for his input — Marc Oliver Nissen is a sales leader at the LinkedIn office in Berlin. He’s been in sales for over 15 years and I asked him what advice he would give to German teams. His thoughts are in bold italics and my remarks will follow:

“One thing that German entrepreneurs have to get familiar with is a Value-driven sales approach rather than a Technical-driven approach. German entrepreneurs, even if they have good ideas or solutions, sometimes struggle with selling their solutions. Not in terms of selling but rather in terms of pitching to an American audience.”

In Silicon Valley, sales teams are obsessed with value. I dare anyone to have a conversation with a sales rep here and not hear that word. Americans certainly want to learn about the technical aspect of a product or solution, but that comes later. First, you must establish a strong narrative that explains how your product is the clear solution to their problem. You do that by understanding the prospects world even better than they understand it themselves. “The Challenger Sale” does a great job of explaining this.

“A German could go to a U.S. city and possibly struggle when explaining their vision and mission behind an idea. When we’re searching for people to hire, people for solution-selling in tech, one of the buzzwords is ‘storytelling.’ I would assume that you even need more of that skill in the U.S. market rather than in Germany. In Germany you can try it as well but if you go to a traditional company to sell something and start with storytelling, you may fail because they’re not interested in the story. But vice versa in the U.S., it could help.”

Along with value, being able to craft your narrative via compelling storytelling is critical. There are tons of classes and YouTube videos that show you how to craft a compelling story. Most of the advice I give to entrepreneurs when coaching them on their pitch is to keep it simple. A common interview question amongst sales leaders here is how an interviewee would pitch their product to a child or their grandparent. You should hold yourself to the same challenge. The goal here is not to compel your niece to buy your product. Instead, on a fundamental level, they should understand what your product does.

Extra points if you can combine outstanding storytelling with valuable data driven insights.

“Germans love to have events that are not inside the office. They cost money but we really have an event culture where it’s a great opportunity to build up trust.”

Marc is referring to the effectiveness of hosting events when selling a product or service. Live events are certainly increasing in popularity here in the Bay Area. No matter what the culture, there’s nothing as effective as meeting someone in person.

That being said, the ability to progress through a sale via video conferencing is becoming more effective by the year. If there’s anything Americans love — especially a B2B buyer, it’s convenience. If you are selling a complex product, you will have to meet your prospect face-to-face but don’t be afraid to rely on video, even for important conversations. Here are some tips to make your sales video conferences more effective.

Companies are also regularly hosting informational webinars to help sell their products. Marketing and sales typically coordinate on structure and messaging but getting prospects to attend is another challenge in itself.


Extra Tips and What To Expect in 2019!

Let me provide you with some extra quick tips on selling in the US market:

  1. The Bridge Group (a US based inside sales consulting firm) analyzed the sales development function of 434 B2B companies in 2018 and came up with interesting findings. They found that in 2010, it took an average of 4.7 attempts to get a hold of a prospect. That number in 2018 rose to 9.1 attempts, almost a 2x increase. I find that many early stage teams give up too easily when trying to get a hold of someone — I’m talking giving up after two, maybe three attempts. In the US market every decision makers email inbox and voicemail box is getting inundated with messages. Teams that see this as a marathon instead of a sprint will win the race.
  2. Product offerings are becoming more complex and expensive. Naturally, decisions are harder to make and more people are getting involved. There are multiple steps that buyers need to complete in order to successfully finalize a complex transaction. It’s your job to know each buying personas world and craft effective individual messaging.
  3. Americans will care less about where your company is based or its age compared to other cultures. Don’t get me wrong. That criteria is important but American buyers are more willing to take a risk for the right opportunity. More important to the buyer is, “Can your solution solve my problem for a price that I can justify to my boss?”

Bain & Company created a pyramid that categorized 40 distinct kinds of value that B2B offerings provide:

As you create your strategy, this pyramid will be a great start to identify your company’s strengths and areas for improvement. You would be doing your team a disservice if you identify them on your own. A great use of time would be to create quick surveys to share with current clients, target personas, and even investors.


About the Author

Evert Zelaya is the Founder of Menlo Sales Labs. He consults with international startups on sales strategy, prospecting, mid-market and enterprise sales, along with scalable training procedure. Over the last 15 years he has trained over 100,000 people across the globe and taught over 1,000 online sessions teaching reps how to maximize sales performance.


Did you find useful information in this article? If so, hit that like button! Thank you for taking the time to read this and if anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to message me. Lastly, if you have any more information that you’d like to add from your experience, please share in the comments area below!