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December 16, 2018

The Intercultural Spotlight: Unlocking the Cultural Side of Sales

Sales, Part 3 of 3
The Intercultural Spotlight: Unlocking the Cultural Side of Sales

Intercultural competencies unlock new territory in customer engagement.

Our last article in this series highlighted how an understanding of personality drivers helps us engage with potential customers as a buying decision-making coach.

The Everything DiSC® Sales Profile brings these insights and skills to life by shining a spotlight on people’s natural styles of behavior and how they shape the relationship between buyer and seller.

But there is another side of sales that is often neglected, misunderstood, or simply ignored: the cultural side.

Even within similar social demographics, many factors influence our personal cultures to vary widely. Beyond that, there is the trend of people from different cultures moving and mixing globally. These realities mean that nearly every sales interaction, even close to home, has intercultural dynamics wrapped up in it.

Cultural intelligence has never been more important for customer engagement.

To equip customer relations teams and sales teams with a top-down understanding of “culture” and how to put it to work for you, we use The Three Colors of Worldview© and The 12 Dimensions of Culture©.

Culture Shapes the Decision to Buy

The Three Colors of Worldview© tool summarizes three fundamental social values or drivers that combine to motivate buyers across all cultures. These drivers are:

  • Innocence/Guilt
  • Honor/Shame
  • Power/Fear

From an Innocence/Guilt mindset, the most basic consideration is finding the “right” or best-fit option based on my desires and standards. Whatever internal or external standards I have in mind, I generally think of them in terms of a “right choice for me” and “wrong choices.”

But many cultures do not place so much emphasis on “ticking the right boxes.”

Coming from an Honor/Shame mindset, my basic consideration is how this choice will be viewed by people inside my family, group or tribe. Does it follow their advice and opinions? What might it reflect to outsiders about me and my group? Decisions in life are foremost about keeping and gaining honor, and avoiding shame. With honor as the objective, my thought process about what to buy is typically far less “me-oriented” and far more family- or group-oriented.

There is also a third –– Power/Fear. If I am thinking about buying a new phone for instance, the main questions in my head will relate to influence and control. What makes me feel powerful? Which phone will create a powerful impression on people around me? Which phone fits with my hierarchical position of power within my circle of influence at work, in society, or even within my family?

In a Power/Fear oriented context you will hear things like "If you're a director, for sure you wouldn't buy that brand of phone, with those low specs. For somebody of your position it's befitting for you to have this one." Buying decisions have a direct bearing on preserving and enhancing your power.

Listening to the language customers use can be illuminating in figuring out where they are coming from on the Three Colors spectrum. You could throw things into the conversation like, "Did you know that a certain company decided to buy this product for all their managers?" and observe how they respond.

From an Honor/Shame point of view they might think, "Oh wow, they bought that for every manager! The company must believe that this phone gives honor and status. Maybe I should get one too." Or, from a Power/Fear point of view they might think, "Wait a minute, those managers are hierarchically lower than me. I can’t be seen as equal to them, so I will need one with higher specs to fit my title.”

If salespeople get stuck emphasizing a choice and value proposition from only one Three Colors point of view, they may miss a great opportunity to assist someone.

The three worldview colors of Power/Fear, Honor/Shame and Innocence/Guilt are such deep and all-encompassing motivators that we refer to them as worldview drivers. It generally takes a lot of intercultural experience to realize how deeply they run; but a good start is learning to recognize the language that goes along with each.

The Three Colors of Worldview© can be considered the “why” of cultural behaviors, and every individual is influenced by some combination of them. But the “what” of culture gives some additional insights. We call these the aspects the 12 Dimensions of Culture©.

Further Along the Path of Culture

A good example of one of the 12 Dimensions of Culture© has to do with how much Formality or informality is required in an office, home environment, or family gathering. In some business settings the tools you use, the clothes you wear, and the kinds of car you should drive are all dictated by codes of formality, sometimes unwritten, that have evolved over time.

There was an organization in Asia that put performance targets in place for insurance salespeople based on how many policies they could sell and how much revenue they could generate. Far too many insurance sales reps were reaching the bonus level quickly, because they were very good sales people. So they had to create an additional bracket.

The reward for reaching this bracket was receiving a company vehicle. A year went by, and they looked at performance, and lo and behold, nobody reached that bracket! And they started to wonder, what in the world is going on? It did not make any sense.

It turns out that nobody wanted to drive the car that was being offered because it was the kind driven by their manager. There was an unwritten code that this was not the kind of car for a normal sales rep, so they all purposefully underperformed. The cultural dimension of Formality had a very big effect!

The flipside of this dimension - Informality - is also significant. If a person’s context is more informal, they may be able to afford having an unusual kind of computer, or come to the office with a very different phone, or have a cool bag, or wear clothing that is more informal.

Where your customers are coming from in this dimension can have a large bearing on how best to engage with them.

Unlocking Doors

Understanding the “why” of cultural drivers in the Three Colors and being attuned to how these play out in the 12 Dimensions is a powerful combination that can begin to unlock cultural doors in the sales process; doors you may not have even realized were there.

As you come alongside potential buyers, we have found that combining the behavioral style spotlight of the Everything DiSC® Sales Profile with Inter-Cultural Intelligence (highlighted in this article) is both a lot of fun and significantly hikes up your chances of success as a salesperson.

Long-term that will probably mean scoring more sales. But most importantly, it will help you build a relationships with clients where clients say “This salesperson is a trusted advisor who truly wants to help me make the best decision, the most honorable decision, and the most empowering decision.”

How do you learn to adjust interculturally and improve as a decision-making coach?

The best way to start is becoming more familiar with the Three Colors of Worldview©. We highly recommend you start with self-awareness and do your own Three Colors of Worldview© Assessment. You can do that online through the MyKW KnowledgeWorkx website. You could also grab an e-learning piece to go with it, and do some self-study.

The best way by far, however, is through one of our workshops, where you can learn not only from our facilitators, but from the experience and insights of the other workshop participants. Contact us to discuss solutions for your organization.


Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.

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Last modified on Sunday, 03 February 2019 02:51

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