11/12/2012 06:18 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

Kiss, Bow, Shake Hands, or Cold Call?


I can't even count the number of times I have walked into the office of an international marketing department or a translation company to find a copy of Terri Morrison's book, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands sitting on an executive's bookshelf. It's a classic guide for global business people, and really, for anyone working across borders. So, I was delighted to learn about Morrison's new book, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: Sales and Marketing. This newly released book follows a similar format as the classic version, but focuses exclusively on providing tips in the areas of selling and marketing in 20 different countries. I had a chance to ask Morrison questions about her latest book. Her answers are in the interview that follows.

Nataly Kelly: The book addresses many different cultures. Did you have a particular culture in mind as your target audience when writing it?

Terri Morrison: I tried not to be U.S.-centric in this book. Hopefully, we achieved this, because several foreign rights contracts were picked up almost immediately. I believe that a Mandarin version will be released soon. The target audience is global, and that is one of the reasons we included the U.S. in there - so that other cultures might gain some insight into our multi-ethnic country as well.

How did you carry out the research on so many countries for this book?

It took two years of interviews, visits, and research to compile the data on the 20 countries. Granted, we do have some pretty good connections -- my firm has been in business since 1990, and this is my ninth book.

Which countries are the hardest to sell into?

I believe that good salespeople can be successful anywhere. But some countries may require more intercultural skills than others, as well as more support from headquarters. For example, if you are selling into a culture where bribery and corruption is relatively commonplace, you should know how to handle that. I advise clients to look at to obtain that type of data. Similarly, some cultures may have traditions and belief systems that are far different from your own background. Your personal values and ethnicity may make it easy for you to sell into certain cultures -- or require you to adapt profoundly to completely different behaviors, languages and beliefs.

Are some countries more receptive to things like "cold calling" than others?

We're probably the most amenable country for "cold calling." The United States is an egalitarian culture, and theoretically, everyone has an equivalent chance to connect with anyone else. This concept of "admission" is actually one of the sales tips in the U.S. chapter. In contrast, "cold callers" are not common in places like Japan, South Korea, or even Germany. Introductions are vital -- even if it's via email, or a brief meeting at a huge trade show.

You mention working with interpreters and translators in the book, recommending, for example, that people translate their business card into the language of the host country in some cases. What other tips do you have for businesspeople regarding interpreting and translation?

Businesspeople underestimate everything about the profession - the complexity, background requirements, and cognitive demands. There are many bad brands and translation blunders that have occurred because of clients cutting corners and simply having a lack of knowledge about the job qualifications. Never underestimate the value of clean global communications. I advise clients to send all jargon, contract requirements, marketing collateral, etc. weeks ahead of time. I suggest they set up a virtual meeting as soon as those materials arrive, and review everything with the translators. Details are important. I also suggest they hire two interpreters for on-site negotiations -- so that they can spot each other every two hours. Senior interpreters expend the same amount of energy as do master chess players. They literally lose weight from the cognitive drain, and after several hours of contract negotiations, they need a break. Words carry enormous weight in every language, and it's worth paying for the best.

Which cultures do you think have the hardest time understanding each other in business settings?

Tough question. You can hit a roadblock or reach a détente in any culture -- depending upon the topic. I'm writing a script right now for the American Bar Associations' Section of International Law which demonstrates the cultural differences between a female Manhattan attorney and her South American oil and gas industry contacts. There is such diversity throughout the United States (as evidenced in demographic data and birth statistics), in our own families and workplaces, it behooves us all to stand back and appreciate that there is no one correct approach to business. That said, there can be a rather substantial cultural gap between female executives from New Zealand and observant Muslim businessmen from the Wahabi branch of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. But that does not mean that they cannot get along. That just means that they have to think it through and appreciate each others' cultural values.

What cultural factor do people in other parts of the world have the hardest time understanding about American business culture?

Our individualism, our concept of "time equals money," our viewpoints on litigation, our desire for "the truth," how loud we are, how large we are...I cannot pick one!

Did anything surprise you when doing the research for this book?

There is always a known process -- figuring out the format, winnowing down the topics, etc. But this book was a fun education for me as well. I love interviewing people about their experiences, and really enjoyed including some of their anecdotes in different chapters. Many cultures avoid confrontation, and use metaphors, anecdotes, or stories to communicate unpleasant data. It is a more subtle way than bluntly coming out with the truth face to face. Of course, other cultures never deliver bad news directly to a valued contact -- they use a third-party intermediary to do the dirty work.

I believe this is the first time I was truly able to see that process occurring over and over as I conducted interviews. Many people tried very hard to explain insulting topics in their cultures -- and used wonderful stories that took the onus off any individual involved. Or they had someone else call me to tell me the ugly truth! I learned a bit about diplomatic communications around the world, and was surprised how much that affected me. It is truly a skill to understand how to phrase a question, or respond to a rude inquiry without offending anyone. It's also important to "hear" the answer -- and distinguish a "yes" from a "I'm just trying not to offend you so I'll say yes" response. There's always something new to learn.