International Business: 'Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands' is a new guide for international sales and marketing

Published: Saturday, Oct. 10 2015 3:01 a.m. MDT

Interesting highlights in a new guide for international sales includes the notation that the workweek in Saudi Arabia runs Saturday through Wednesday, not Monday through Friday. (Shutterstock) Interesting highlights in a new guide for international sales includes the notation that the workweek in Saudi Arabia runs Saturday through Wednesday, not Monday through Friday. (Shutterstock)

"International sales manager P.J. Delaye was met at Jakarta International Airport (Indonesia) by his prospective distributor, who happily announced, 'I canceled your hotel room; you're coming to my house for the weekend!' write authors Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway in "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: Sales and Marketing." "While this major change in plans was startling, it turned out that the contact was married to a daughter of former President Soeharto (Suharto) and their family's home was palatial.

"After Mr. Delaye spent an entire weekend following his prospect's agenda (seeing the country, meeting family, etc.), he was offered a durian — a vile-smelling local fruit that many Indonesians consider a delicacy. Mr. Delaye, who is of French descent, thought the stench was deplorable but gamely tried the fruit. His feat so impressed the Indonesian distributor that he exclaimed, ‘You are the first Caucasian I've met who ate the durian!' Dining on the durian closed the deal."

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When I asked Morrison to share some of her favorite anecdotes included in this new book, Morrison cited Delaye's story as "a great example of dealing with things on the fly" and making an effort to adapt to local cultures and customs.

Morrison and Conway's latest volume in the "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands" series contains many cultural tips like this for communicating and closing deals overseas. Back in the 90s, Morrison first created a digital database on doing business in 60 countries. Some of the first users of this database included Booz Allen Hamilton, AT&T and DuPont. In 1994, that database was the foundation for the first "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands" book, which is still very popular among international business executives and professors as a reference guide or even "bible" of international culture and business etiquette.

As a fan of these previous "Kiss, Bow" books, I am very pleased with the latest focus on international sales and marketing. This recent release is informative, entertaining and arranged in easy-to-read sections profiling 20 major countries.

In what country might a newly introduced business associate ask you seemingly intrusive "icebreaker" questions about your age or even your salary? According to Morrison and Conway, these may be legitimate topics in Japan for introductory questions to ascertain your status.

In addition to outlining acceptable icebreakers, each country profile includes information about the following issues every dealmaker must understand: perceptions of punctuality, workweek schedules, greetings (whether to kiss, bow or shake hands), business card exchanges, top three tips for selling, and the language or languages spoken in the country. The structure makes the books easy to reference, and each section also includes various call-out boxes filled with culture-specific tips to help with marketing, advertising, and more.

The pictures Morrison and Conaway paint of each culture are fascinatingly different in many ways. For example, where we typically stand about two feet apart when meeting someone in the United States, business associates stand much closer together in Saudi Arabia and farther apart in South Korea (thus leaving room to bow).

"If you are selling toothpaste (in France), highlight the sexy, alluring aspect of the product, not the cavity fighting features," says an advertising note in the guide. "Leave that for Germany."

However, some practices are fairly similar across cultures. For example, the guide notes that businesspeople in many countries including Australia, Canada, China and France are traditionally punctual. However, even when punctuality may not be a traditional value in various other countries, we foreigners are expected to arrive on time.

Other interesting highlights include the notation that the workweek in Saudi Arabia runs Saturday through Wednesday, not Monday through Friday. Saudis also typically receive a minimum of 23 vacation days each year. Asian readers who are accustomed to very formal business card exchanges read that, in the United States, "cards may… be placed in a wallet, which may go into a male executive's back pants pocket. None of this is considered insulting."

"Do not be surprised to see very young-looking executives in positions of substantial responsibility," explain the authors in another curious cultural note about the United States. "Young managers in senior positions are often quite capable and exceedingly competitive. Alternatively, they may be youthful looking because of surgical interventions."

In an effort to emphasize the importance of setting appropriate expectations, Morrison and Conaway share an anecdote about the CEO of a multinational company who visited South Korea. His hosts planned an elaborate schedule for the week that began with an expensive evening of drinking and entertaining. As a "profound Southern Baptist," the CEO refused to drink or participate in what the hosts thought would be an impressive first meeting, and this set an uncomfortable tone for the rest of the week. The authors do not insist that the CEO should have simply obliged just as Delaye ate the durian in Indonesia; however, they note that a little advance communication about the CEO's convictions could have avoided this awkwardness.

Morrison and Conaway also include tips about translating marketing collateral, working with interpreters and learning common phrases in other languages. These guidelines are even helpful in English speaking countries: the profile on the United Kingdom lists various English words that have different meanings in that country, and the profile on South Africa notes that advertising in that country tends to be very visual due to the widely varying levels of education and the multitude of other official languages spoken.

"Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: Sales and Marketing" is available in e-book or paperback format and works well as an entertaining in-flight read or as a handy reference guide. I recommend it as a good belated Christmas gift for anyone fascinated by international business, sales, marketing, language and culture. Now that my wife has given this book to me for Christmas, I am curious to find the closest market selling fresh durian.

Adam Wooten is director of translation services at Lingotek. He also teaches a course on translation technology at Brigham Young University. Email: awooten@lingotek.com. Follow him on Twitter at AdamWooten.

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