Learning to ‘think American’

In October I was very lucky to spend a week at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the USA along with 20 other UK business people, sponsored by UKTI and the Ellis Goodman Foundation. Kellogg has historically been ranked as one of the top business schools in the USA and during our week there were received a massive amount of information about American business practices and culture.

Although we largely speak the same language – with a few often humorous exceptions – explaining some of our businesses to our American hosts was not always easy. One of the highlights of the week was listening to the explanation of what a pork pie is from the UK’s leading pork pie manufacturer to a young American lady working at the British consulate in Chicago. We also learnt that an important reference customer in the UK can also draw many blank looks in the US. Unless your products are endorsed by someone related to the Queen, of course, it’s worth adapting your case studies accordingly.

We also learnt how Americans rarely pay full price for anything – whether it’s fuel, food or clothing. If you ask what today’s promotion is, you are sure to get some kind of discount. One of our number was very happy to get a student discount on her new handbag – well, she was a student that week after all. Within this discount driven culture, keeping a close eye on margins is essential to long term success, especially for consumer-related businesses.

Everyone in the US expects great customer service and wants to feel special. We noticed how many businesses went the extra mile during our short stay. Even at Kellogg the program manager was relentless in taking care of every detail that made our time at the school more enjoyable. I am looking forward to doing more business in the US and I am sure that all our customers around the world will benefit from the lessons we can learn from this highly customer-centric market.

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