Chapter 8 Sell Like a Local in Emerging Markets

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.

—Robert Louis Stevenson

There is a joke that the head of sales of a multinational apparel company dispatched two salespeople to open a new territory in a predominantly rural country. Three days after arriving in the country and scouting a few villages, the first salesman rang the head office. “I’m returning on the next flight,” he said. “We can’t sell shoes here. Everybody goes barefoot.” Meanwhile, the second salesman was busy e-mailing the head of sales: “The prospects are unlimited. Nobody wears shoes here!”

Emerging markets can be fertile grounds for enormous sales growth. Success, however, requires a keen eye to see where there is real opportunity and where there is not. Each market has its own unique hurdles, but without a deep understanding of the local customer you are likely to trip over those obstacles—or abandon the market prematurely, like our apocryphal salesman above. To break into emerging markets and capture the potential, the best sales leaders have realized they have to think like a local.

Over the past decade, many sales executives have learned tough lessons about getting their sales and channel models right in emerging markets. Multinational corporations often make the mistake of importing approaches that work at home without making the necessary adjustments. Local players can get left behind, too. They often underestimate both the resources ...

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