Global Edition

The American way – doing business in the US

12.45am 22nd January 2004 - Management Topics

Some tips on getting the best from prospecting in the US, from Allyson Stewart-Allen, co-writer of a best-selling book about US business culture entitled ‘Working with Americans: How to Build Profitable Business Relationships‘

We may share a common language but the US business culture is quite different to the British. The simplest mistakes can be the most costly, when trying to win business in America and they are usually avoidable with a bit of local knowledge.

Points to bear in mind:

  • When pitching, be bold and confident – Americans are unaccustomed to subtlety and understatement. Use American English and US spellings, quote your prices or fees in US dollars and offer options from which your prospect can assemble their own service or solution. Make sure you respond to queries or expressions of interest promptly, usually within 48 hours.

  • Avoid words not commonly used, like bespoke, fortnight and pear-shaped, and words that have another meaning in America. For example, ‘scheme‘ means an illicit, illegal fundraising activity, ‘turnover‘ usually means staff turnover and ‘tabling an agenda‘ means to put to one side for later discussion.

  • Ask for feedback throughout your meetings. At the end, make sure you know where you stand so you have enough time to correct any misunderstandings or supply supplementary information.

  • Present your business cards at the very start of your meetings, not just so your US prospects can see your job title and establish your status, but to help them avoid embarrassment should they forget your name.

  • If you are planning a PowerPoint presentation, build your business proposition by revealing the detailed data first, briefly, in bullet points. Use your last slide to close the sale with a statement about why they should buy. The deductive approach works best with Americans, rather than the UK inductive method. If you hit them with the big idea at the outset, Americans will be distracted and want to know the logic of your idea. They will want to probe the detail, rather than wait for you to build your logical case, and may seize the agenda and disrupt your planned sequence and flow.

  • Don‘t hesitate to ask for the names of other companies who could be interested in your products/services from your current customers or clients. Asking for referrals to other prospects is common practice in the US. Also consider asking chambers of commerce and trade associations with which you may be involved.

  • Communicate with your prospects regularly and often. Face-to-face visits, reports, newsletters, telephone conversations or any other combination of communications will remind your American prospect that even though you are 3,000 miles away, you‘re still in touch and keen on winning their business. You might even suggest an employee exchange programme or secondment to build a deeper understanding of each other’s business, should you be looking to enter a joint venture or other form of alliance with them.

  • Consider offering added value by sharing your UK or European contact networks, plugging them into infrastructure to which they may not have ready access. Perhaps even act as their local UK office, suggesting they use your office address and contact numbers as their own on a temporary basis.

  • When pitching, make sure to research your US decision makers, knowing what the ‘WIIFM‘ (what’s in it for me?) is for each. Use track records, endorsements and/or testimonials from company or brand names they‘ll know to enhance your credibility. Be quantitative wherever possible as Americans truly believe ‘you can‘t manage what you can‘t measure‘.

So what does this all mean? Pay close attention to the US marketing and business culture, study your American prospects carefully and match your tactics to them.
Further information
Allyson Stewart-Allen has co-written a best-selling book about US business culture entitled ‘Working with Americans: How to Build Profitable Business Relationships‘ published by Prentice Hall. She may be emailed at Visit

This article first appeared in Overseas Trade magazine,
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