Role of culture and language in sales

Role of Culture and Language in Sales

Role of Culture and Language in Sales

Due to globalisation the world is becoming more interconnected, but what’s the role of culture and language in sales? Sales is a process we can learn and as we all know ‘forewarned is forearmed’, so if you’re educated in the differences between ‘business protocols’ you’ll have a major advantage over your competition.

Remember some cultures are more sensitive than others and mistakes in sales can be costly. There are hundreds of famous sales and marketing mistakes made over the years, here are just two of them

Wang Cares; Back in the 1970s the US computer giant fashioned the slogan ‘Wang Cares’. Marketing executives were very excited with the new slogan which, in just two words encapsulated everything good about how Wang interacted with its customers. All good, until colleagues in London said aloud “Wang Cares” or Wankers (English slang for people who masturbate).

Pepsi Cola; first entered the Chinese market with the slogan, ‘Pepsi brings you back to life’. Due to a poor translation however, it translated as: “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.

The role of culture and language in sales in the above examples are the more ‘obvious’ ‘foot in mouth’ and once pointed out, they stopped. However sometimes mistakes can be subtle, persistent and more costly in the long run.


Sometimes you can feel misunderstood by ‘foreigners’ or native speakers? Maybe it’s because your speech is unclear. Your cultural and language barrier can affect your communication with your coworkers. So always ask yourself the following question: Did I choose the right words?  Perhaps out of politeness one doesn’t want to say to a colleague “I didn’t understand what you said”. Instead, reword what you thought they meant, say it back to them or better again give a practical example of what you thought they said, just to test your understanding.


Interacting with someone, when either one or both parties are not speaking in their first language, it’s easy to unintentionally ‘hurt someone’s feelings’. So, if you need to ‘test’ your understanding, always consider people’s feelings. ‘People forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel’ (Carl W. Buehner). The skilled communicator must be aware of the emotional impact of their words. Your choice of words can affect thousands of people or just one, however the costs can run into millions.

Portrait Of Multi-Cultural Office Staff Standing In Lobby


Knowing the problem is one thing but to solve it, that’s another. We all should understand the benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace. If one is working overseas, you’ll need to adapt your company to the habits and customs of your host country. A hiring policy which encourages language skills, especially if coupled with experience abroad, will pay back dividends.

To find out more on this topic have a look here HubSpot On Cultural Communications

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David Doyle

David has spent 30 years in sales successfully building business from zero to acquisition. Having studied Electronics and Computer Science at DIT and Enterprise Ireland's Export Sales Development Programme, he has spent most of his time in selling technology. He is founder and Managing Director of B2B Sell and leads a small team of experienced business and technology trained sales professionals.

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