The Business of Culture

This article was written by Ali Bortolin, Relationship Coordinator at Beck Technology, and published in the February 2016 edition of Marketer.

SMP Marketer FEB16 coverIn my position, I deal with people from different cultures. Most often, I work with professionals in Brazil and South Korea—two cultures that may seem opposite, yet share similar business goals.

My responsibilities include developing partnerships with companies in other countries, managing our international partners, finessing our customer relationships, and selling our technology to people overseas.

Navigating Across Cultures

Managing an international presence from the United States can be taxing, but I enjoy dealing with the mix of cultures. Knowing there are people on the other side of the world that have heard about my company and are interested in our technology is intriguing. Where did they hear about us? What kind of value do they perceive our software to offer their firm? Additionally, it is interesting to notice the speed of information in the world we live.

For me, it is fascinating to discover the nuances between cultures and to be able to navigate those differences. It feels like a dance and, when the message comes across in the right way with the right intonation, the business deal is smooth.  I see how different ideas can become easier whenever we have a variety of cultures involved. People from diverse cultures come up with ideas you would not think of without interacting with them. It is a constant exercise to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

The Right Mix of Technology

Working in an international environment means adjusting to global time zones and being flexible to meet the client’s needs. Whenever I have to set up a meeting with a client in another country, I use the website www.timeanddate.com and it tells me the best times for all people in the meeting, which makes my job more productive.

Usually the initial conversation starts with an email, followed by a quick phone call, then we schedule a web meeting where they can better understand our products. Seeing each other “face to face” helps in having a great meeting. Body language speaks louder than words. After those initial meetings, I typically communicate using whatever technology is more common to the client’s culture as long as it is not inconvenient for me. I find it to be a good way to make the other side feel comfortable and tighten the relationship. For example, most Brazilians I have worked with love using text messaging. My clients in Brazil reach out to me via text messages on WhatsApp. Being open to using multiple communications channels is a critical factor to success in in working in international markets.

People from all over the world—China, India, United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore and some Middle Eastern countries, for example—reach out regarding our technology and are curious about our solutions. Each culture has its particular way of communicating and expressing its needs. Due to this, the message can come across with the wrong intonation. You might say it was lost in translation. We know that if our day is not going well, we can easily take offense to someone’s off-the-cuff remark. That same situation happens in international business, but the remark is not off-the-cuff. Many times, the “off-the-cuff” remark is how they were taught English or their native language does not translate well. Over time, I learned that this is part of my daily routine and one of the challenges of my job. Now, whenever I hear or read something unpleasant, I always double-check with the other side to see what they really meant by their statement rather than making an assumption. Misunderstandings can happen quite often, but taking the time to learn more about the other person can reduce those misunderstandings.

As I continue to advance in my career, it is getting easier to understand the logic of thinking behind a person with a strong accent and a limited English vocabulary. The more you are exposed to different cultures, the easier it gets to understand the gist of the message quicker. I don’t mean only Brazilian and Korean cultures with which I work regularly; it gets easier to understand new cultures and new accents at a faster pace than I would have before.

I had no idea being born and raised in Brazil would be so helpful in my international business career as I communicate with people that enables me to capture more than just words. Since I am used to spending time outside of my comfort zone (for those that don’t know, speaking a second language is not as comfortable as it is to speak your native language!), I have developed other senses of perception to read people and understand their communication in a new dimension—skills that I didn’t even know I would have.