The process of designing a strategic plan for an international customer requires an approach that differs greatly from traditional modes of account planning. Below is a summary of the unique challenges posed by key international accounts, followed by a collection of actions that should be incorporated into a strategic plan to manage an international customer.
Recognizing the Barriers to International Key Account Planning
Strategic international account planning requires a key account manager to recognize the obstacles that can interfere with managing international clients. Some of the potential barriers key account managers should take into account include the following:
- Physical distance and geography make face-to-face meetings difficult.
- Different time zones can impede regular communication.
- Cross-cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings.
- Political unrest and elections can impact purchasing ability and trends.
- International economies tend to be subject to increased volatility.
Failure to recognize these challenges can negatively impact the relationship with key account personnel. Below are some measures that can be taken to proactively address each of these potential barriers.
Schedule Conference Calls and Skype Sessions for Early Morning or Early Evening
One of the biggest challenges to international key account management is difficulty communicating with executives due to major time zone differences. As most American executives are beginning their work days, the business day for clients in Africa, Asia, and Australia has already come to a close.
One way for key account managers to address this challenge is to plan to be at the office two or three hours early on certain days of the week to increase their ability to respond to the needs of overseas customers. Conference calls and Skype sessions should be scheduled at times that are convenient to the customer, even if it requires an increased degree of flexibility on the part of the key account manager.
Keep Track of Upcoming Elections and Potential Effects on Buying Ability
The outcome of an election can have a drastic impact on the buying patterns of key international accounts. In some cases, customers will base their buying decisions on election outcomes, making it critical for key account managers to follow the political climate in countries where overseas customers conduct business.
In some cases, special incentives should be offered to customers to finalize purchasing decisions prior to an election, especially if it appears that the election outcome will likely result in increased fees or taxes on imported goods.
Maintain a Keen Knowledge of Current Events Impacting Your Client’s Country
Elections are not the only events that can influence buying patterns with overseas customers. The following current events can dramatically influence your customer’s ability to conduct business:
- Overseas labor strikes can delay the importation of shipped products.
- Wars and airstrikes can impede delivery of goods.
- Economic distress can lead to a lack of available capital or access to funds.
It is critical for key account managers to keep track of current events and anticipate the impact that they could have on an international client’s buying abilities. Additionally, an awareness of the economic and political climate of a customer’s country demonstrates genuine concern and interest for a client’s wellbeing.
Participate in Cultural Sensitivity Training
Failure to recognize cultural differences that exist with other countries can lead to bruised feelings or misunderstandings on the part of a key account manager or an international client. The best way to avoid potential cultural misunderstandings with a client is to learn as much as possible about a customer’s country, culture, and standard business practices for that region of the world.
Proactive participation in cultural sensitivity training courses is an excellent means by which a key account manager can develop an appreciation for a customer’s mode of business interaction. This type of training can also provide insight into more ways to profit from an existing relationship with a client.
Building Trust Through Awareness and Sensitivity
The complexities of international accounts require key account managers to heighten their focus on proactively maintaining trust, cultural sensitivity, and understanding the impact of political and economic events.
Additionally, key account managers should have a heightened awareness of the intensely competitive international marketplace, and should always attempt to be one step ahead of their international customers in the realm of new product development. The end result is a heightened level of trust between the key account manager and international client.