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Why do European companies have trouble finding good salespeople in the U.S.?

Recruiting the “right” people is one of the most difficult challenges for all entrepreneurs.  When the business manager is in Europe (or has just arrived in the US) and needs to recruit his/her first salespeople and/or  sales management (VP Sales / Commercial Director) in charge of the US market, the task often turns out to be more difficult and stressful than could be imagined.  But why?

Since cofounding DSML Executive Search in 2007, I have been actively involved in hundreds of recruitments and a large portion of these assignments have been commercial/sales positions.  As a French American, who has been living in the US for 18 years, I constantly navigate between two cultures.  This unique position allows me to better anticipate and understand the difficulties and challenges of these key recruitments for the North American development of European companies.

I will summarize some of these the challenges, which often come as quite a surprise, encountered by entrepreneurs during their commercial conquest in the US:

Culture Clash

Cultural differences are particularly strong in the commercial function frequently leading to misunderstandings; It is often necessary to adapt the commercial offering, or even the business model, to the American market, a mission that usually requires a certain acumen of commercial talent.

Sticker Shock

Compensation expectations in the United States (and Canada) are often far removed from company policies and practices in Europe; the balance between the base salary, bonuses and/or commissions is often extremely different and finally the overall compensation is considerably higher in the U.S.  A VP of Sales with an annual compensation of $200,000 surprises more than one newcomer to the U.S. market.

Management Style

Americans are generally very respectful of the hierarchy and expect very clear and well-defined objectives. They are thus more accustomed to working independently, with less micro-management; The management in Europe needs to strike the right balance between accountability, reporting and a good level of autonomy; the natural inclination of the local salesperson will be to minimize the difficulties and challenges and to be positive; that can lead to time wasted and misunderstandings.

The clash of marketing or Investment in Marketing

The expectation of salespeople in the U.S. is to have local marketing support; Those who choose to hold back on local marketing “for later” when “the sales are stronger” are shooting themselves in the foot right from the beginning.

Culture of “time”

The American culture is much more short-term focused, and salespeople are accustomed reaping rewards of their efforts without delay. Many employers in the U.S. adopt practices that provide bonuses or monthly/quarterly commissions based on meeting and/or exceeding targets.

They are also accustomed to receiving prompt responses to queries to internal engineering, production, or other support personnel, whereas in many European countries this “sense of urgency” is not as present.

If “parent organization” decisions or actions take too long, there is a considerable risk of demotivating individuals which will often lead to their seeking an alternate, more American-styled opportunity, elsewhere.

The combination of the factors mentioned above frequently lead to “casting errors” when hiring for the U.S. market.  Being “aware” of possible recruitment difficulties is the first step in avoiding, or at least preparing, for them.  Leveraging the experience of other entrepreneurs (vendors, customers, etc.), who may be further ahead in their development within the U.S. market, is a good practice.  Budgeting “upstream” (for commercial costs, marketing, recruitment,) is an important consideration even if it means delaying the U.S. project if the available budget is insufficient.

At DSML Executive Search, we have been passionately building years of practical experience helping our clients hire their VP/Director of Sales: Feel free to contact us if you have a critical recruitment project you would like to discuss.

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