Same language, wrong questions

You’d think that cultures that speak a common language, would act in a similar way though wouldn’t you?

Starbucks did too, when they tried to enter the Australian market.

Aussies act the same as Americans so why wouldn’t their coffee drinking habits be the same? (they thought)

Turns out, Australians place greater importance on local businesses and those who are fine with chains found Starbucks too expensive.

Eventually, Starbucks closed 61 stores at a reported $143 million loss. It handed over its remaining 24 shops to an Australian group before trying its luck elsewhere.

Uluru in central Australia
Down under there are a few differences to other English-speaking countries

The problem as a lack of market research in advance. Perhaps someone travelled to Australia, saw how much people love coffee and the huge market for their products. They asked questions and got positive answers.

Either they didn’t ask the right questions or people said one thing and did another. Often we have this idealised view of what we would like to do and answer questions that way.

Sure, theoretically I’d buy a fancy coffee when out, linger with friends, maybe buy a snack too. But realistically that doesn’t happen very often – and if there’s a quirky independent coffee shop, I’d probably choose to go there.

Your market research has to be deeper. That’s why I spend time in German-speaking countries every year (2020 and 2021 were exceptions) – because it’s the best way of getting to know your ideal clients. And in my case, useful immersion in the language.

If you can’t do that, ask meaningful questions, then more questions, read everything you can. Ask people who can help.

If you want to grow in the British market you could do worse than reading Small Island, Big Business. Insider insights into the British mind and what we think about foreign businesses, your websites, and how you can use this knowledge to grow your business. From the comfort of your own home.

Read on for a sneak peek inside Chapter 2:

The Non-Confrontational Sandwich

After speaking to a few international colleagues who have lived in the UK for many years, I’ve come to realise the non-confrontational sandwich is typically British. Not an official term you understand but a good description nonetheless!

Let me explain.

We take great care in Britain to cushion the blow of negative feedback.

First give your customer/supplier/client some positive feedback. This is the top slice of bread. Then tell them the areas in which they need to improve. This is the filling and the most important part of the message you want to convey. Then finish with another positive comment.

A picture containing drawing

Description automatically generated

The non-confrontational sandwich of criticism

The second slice of bread, the positive comment, allows the subject of your criticism to leave the  conversation without feeling crushed or deflated. But they still know they need to improve and can set about making that change in a better frame of mind.

The problem with this approach is that a non-native  English speaker might understand things differently – that the criticism wasn’t all that bad. The same might apply to a native speaker who chooses to focus on the positives. Take a look at this example:

(+) Catherine, that was some great insight you got from your market research.

(-) I think you could do with going a bit deeper. We need much more detail on the xyz don’t you think?

(+) But it’s really shaping up well, good job on the project so far.

You’d better believe Catherine goes back and works on getting that extra detail somehow and she’d better not resubmit the report until she has. Before then she thought she’d finished.

That didn’t sound so critical to you? Martin von Wolfersdorff, an international sales consultant who has lived in Britain, agrees the Brits are complicated.

“You really have to engineer and craft everything. There’s a double sense and really the message is between the lines, so you’re saying one thing but the message is in how you say it or what you’re not saying. The message is not the message – and that’s way too complex and complicated.”

“Your criticism doesn’t sound aggressive to us foreigners but in British culture, that’s really like a slap in your face.”

If you’re ever unsure what your British customers or suppliers mean – ask them to tell it to you straight. If you have British colleagues you need to deliver negative feedback to, consider the sandwich approach!

Adapted from Small Island, Big Business by Sarah Silva