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How to Sell to Customers Who Bargain: A Lesson in Cross-Cultural Selling

October 4, 2011
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Local Resident Gets Thrown Out of the Acme Food Market for Bargaining

Yesterday, a New Jersey man was asked to leave the Acme food market for bargaining. Mr. O’Grady emptied his shopping cart full of groceries onto the checkout counter. When the cashier gave Mr. O’Grady the total dollar amount for his groceries, he attempted to barter with the cashier for a different total.

“I know the total is $180 dollars but I’ll give you $100 for everything,” O’Grady said. The incident escalated to the point where the store manager asked Mr. O’Grady to leave or he would call the police.

OK, I really didn’t do that. But could you imagine if I did? You might assume I was losing my marbles.

There are natural systems in our American society that we just follow. We stop at red lights, go at green lights, and we certainly don’t negotiate prices at the local food store. But what if you were born and raised in India, or China, or another country where bargaining was an everyday tool for feeding your family?

I’ve had the benefit of meeting many people from other cultures. In the Indian culture, for example, it is completely normal to have to barter for food and household supplies. How well you negotiate at the market may determine if your family eats that day. If you are raised this way, it must be difficult to completely adapt to our American buying and selling processes.

It's common to not understand cultural differences in buying situations. You may have had challenging times dealing with cultures that naturally negotiate. But how you react to these differences is crucial in business.

According to Cindy King, an international business and cross-cultural communications specialist, there is one common reaction that is a sales killer: making assumptions.

Making too many assumptions based on your own cultural background can lead to multiple communication barriers and lost sales.

What’s in Your Way?

You may think that the biggest obstacle in selling to other cultures is something that's out of your control — their culture. That's not the case. According to King, the biggest barrier is your own mindset and the cultural assumptions that you may have.

Assumptions that certain customers are cheap or that they don't appreciate what it takes to do a quality job will kill your sales. Not only that, but assumptions also lead to misunderstandings and lost credibility and trust.

5 Tips for Selling to Customers who Bargain

So, as you take care to avoid assumptions, here are five tips to help you sell to customers who bargain.

1. Don’t take the bargaining personally. It doesn’t imply disrespect to you; it’s just part of their culture.

2. Ask probing questions that put you in a position to give authoritative and educational answers. Questions like: How long do you plan on living in your house? What's your average gas and electric bill? Do you have a budget in mind for this, or do you need me to show you what the budget should be?

3. Have testimonial letters from other customers of similar cultures. This will help build your credibility.

4. Offer interest-free payment options. Have your company set up with a finance company that offers these interest-free payment programs.

5. If you are able to give discounts on your price, go ahead and give them. This will show the customer you are working with them and show a sign of respect.

It’s not part of our American society to negotiate or barter in American food markets, but in a customer’s own home, you’re on their turf. Never make assumptions, show respect, offer options — and you’ll close the sale.
 

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