If you really have to enter the US market – some do’s and don’ts

A few weeks back I had written a post on entering the US market. It was very gratifying to see the response from so many of you on that post. So following the lead of that article, here is another one. 

In this post I talk about some of the basic things Indian companies can do to improve their probability of success in the US. If these come across as simplistic, its because they are not hard to do, but they are made hard by the cultural programming we come with. To paraphrase Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, companies have to be consciously willing to say – “Toto, we are not in Bangalore any more”. So, without further ado, here goes: 

Lesson #1

– Employee #1 has to be a jack of all trades

– The first person you hire will likely be required to set up office space, put in a phone system, hire new staff, set up payroll, healthcare, the list goes on. If you are thinking of hiring a sales top gun as your first employee, think again. You will need to have the basic HR infrastructure set up for your sales people to not have to worry about the basics. If you don’t do that, you will frustrate new hires and scare away high performers. 

Lesson #2

– 9AM EST does not mean 9AM – 10AM EST –

We Indians are hardworking, committed but we aren’t exactly known for punctuality. In the US, IST (Indian Stretchable Time) jokes abound. All too often, this translates into missed appointments with customers and prospects. Time is valuable. If somebody has given you an hour, respect that.  While showing up on time is important, ending on time is important as well.  If in doubt, ask. Nobody is going to mind if you ask for permission to go over your allotted time. 

Lesson #3

– Don’t talk over people. Its rude.

– Another very Indian trait is our love for intellectual discussion. Coming from a country of over a billion, we are used to shouting over each other to get our point across. Unfortunately it doesn’t work in other parts of the world. All too often we get carried away and talk too much for too long. Other times, we will interrupt a speaker to inject a point or many times simply to agree. I learned this lesson the hard way many years back, when a customer essentially asked me to shut up and listen (they did buy from me).

A much more culturally acceptable norm is to not interrupt a speaker. Let them finish, ask if they are done and then make your point. When making your point, use short sentences and stop often and ask for feedback. It is not natural behavior for us Indians but we need to be conscious of it. 

Lesson #4

–  Learn to say no

– We work hard and we love to please. Sometimes it translates into not being able to set boundaries. In the product or the services business, you have to set boundaries if you want to be profitable. If something can’t be done or will cost more, flag it. Customers expect that. We can’t please everyone but if you don’t set boundaries, you will please no one.

Lesson #5

– Over-communicate

– You have a client. The project has begun and the India-based team is working hard. The India team is telling you everything is on track but the customer keeps sending you emails on how she is not happy with the project. Sounds familiar?

In my experience, this happens most often because the Indian team does not communicate enough with the client. The already jittery client who has bet on an unknown quantity gets even more rattled by not getting any regular updates from India. Make a conscious effort to communicate every day. It could be just an email update summarizing what was achieved that day but it goes a long way in giving peace of mind to the client. 

Lesson #6

– Use your network for initial hires, if using recruiting companies, choose carefully

– Your first few hires are critical. They are best picked through people you know and trust. So, first look to your network. If you do have to go and hire an agency, be picky. Indian recruiters, and I am sure there are some good ones, come with the same set of problems as the rest of us from India. My sample size is small but in my experience (and the experience of many of my associates), they aren’t punctual and don’t call on time and their follow-up is terrible. Rather than getting prospects excited about your company, they end up pissing them off. So, do your due diligence and talk to current clients of the recruiting company you are thinking of employing. It is worth spending time thinking through your hiring strategy. Humans make the company. Don’t forget that. 

Every one of us is shaped by our experiences. My observations are shaped by mine. For what it is worth, my viewpoint has evolved on four continents over a 24 year period. Like everything else though, it changes through new interactions and experiences. These are my thoughts today. Tomorrow might be a different story.

Agree. Disagree. Or have another viewpoint. Would love to hear your thoughts.