Do you remember your first trip overseas? I do. My first trip outside the United States to France and the UK was one of excitement and trepidation. Excitement about visiting the Eiffel Tower and Ponte du Hoc in Normandy, France. Trepidation because I didn’t know how the currency worked, how the country operated, or what the culture was like.
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Once I landed in each country, it took a bit of time to adapt and begin to feel comfortable enough to make to make sense of the country and the experience.
So, why did it take time to make sense?
It’s a similar experience that businesses go through when a marketplace is disrupted, new competitors enter the market, or revenues flatten. It can feel disconcerting and uncomfortable, especially when you’re used to hitting your targets. Therefore, something has to change before sensemaking happens.
Eyes, Ears, and Exploring
There are three things I find that work, whether I’m traveling overseas or working with clients:
- Softening your eyes. This is one of the hardest things you can do when you first land in a new
country. You’re so busy comparing the new country to the one you left that it can feel disorienting. The way you’re used to seeing stop signs, mileage, traffic patterns, and transportation methods changes. The smells, sights, sounds, and rhythm of the city, village, our rural areas are different. In a way, you’re feeling like a fish out of water.
The same can be said when a business or market is disrupted. The signs of success change. Loyal customers may make fewer purchases because they no longer hold the same view of your value. Prospects take longer to engage or may not engage at all because your value statements don’t resonate. Sales teams have a harder time making their revenue targets because they’re cutting the price. You know something is different. You can feel that things aren’t working like the well-oiled machine. The question is what’s the underlying reason for this change? How do I figure this out?
- Opening your ears. One of the benefits of traveling overseas is you talk less and listen more. I listen
to the cadence of people talking and look for someone who speaks English while practicing some words in the language of the country I’m in. I also open my ears to different points-of-view. Within a couple of days of being in a country, I start to make sense of the culture, pickup on the cues, and begin to learn how it operates. That helps make the transition to traveling in the country easier.
As the market and customers change, it’s not always as apparent when you travel to a new country. The flow of information changes. You go from everyone speaking the same language to everyone else speaking a different language from you. The opportunities you once heard of are no longer for your ears only. Instead, customers and prospects speak a language that’s clearly for the ears of your competitors and disruptors. Along with a value proposition that’s different, the revenue flows to someone else. What are the new customer needs and market opportunities you need to listen for? How do you learn how to speak the new language of the customers you want?
- Be open to exploring. Whether you’re traveling in another country, looking for a way to understand
the changing environment, or entering a new market, it requires you to be ok with not having the answers. The value of exploring requires us to get comfortable with the unknown and being willing to take a risk to learn. In a new country it can include trying new foods, observing new customs, or experiencing new conversation patterns that are less about work and more about life. It also gives you the time and space to appreciate what you have and the stories that shape our experiences while finding a new way forward.
For a company, exploring means figuring out how you’re going to respond to the changes in the market and with your customers to determine how you’ll adapt your business strategy. It means being skeptical. Question your assumptions to identify the insights that will lead to a new roadmap or strategy for solving your challenges to achieve success.
How did my first overseas experience turn out? I had so much fun on the trip that I overstayed my visit by a day in the UK to see the Queen’s Jewels. Because of my willingness to get comfortable being uncomfortable, France and the UK are the two countries I’ve visited the most. All I need now is a tour book, a metro card, a hotel room, and I’m on my own, navigating the cultural cues with ease.
If you want to navigate business challenges, where you’re faced with increased competition, need to identify new or overlooked opportunities, or seek a fresh perspective to understand your customer’s needs that can generate revenue, we can help.
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Photo Credits: Eiffel Tower, Subway, Ponte du Hoc, and Normandy American Cementery- (c) Carla A. Fleming, All Rights Reserved. Tower of London, Photo Credit: Canva. Two Women and One Man, Photo Credit: iStock.