Business leaders are often on the hunt for smart ways out to sell their products to more customers. This becomes especially important as markets evolve and grow more competitive.

But as companies work to expand their reach, they quickly learn that winning in new markets isn't always as easy as scaling up with the same messaging and tactics. As the population grows more diverse, teams are tasked with the challenge of figuring out not only how to work with colleagues of different backgrounds, but also how to effectively reach customers with dissimilar experiences.

Notably, companies like H&M, Unilever, and Pepsi have struggled of late in their quest to target more culturally diverse customers.  And they've all issued public apologies as a result. No bueno.

But there have been plenty more businesses that have figured out how to connect with customers around the world more meaningfully, and as a result, their footprint has grown.

One skill separates teams who win diverse customers around the world from those who crash and burn: cultural intelligence.

Marcelo Baudino is the co-founder of Iceberg Cultural Intelligence, a consulting company that helps businesses develop cross-cultural competencies and manage diversity. He told me that teams that are skilled in cultural intelligence embody the following three characteristics.

1. Awareness

The first step in developing your ability to effectively engage with diverse customers is to acknowledge the impact of your differences. Baudino notes that culturally intelligent teams "need to be aware that their perspective and interpretation of life is influenced by their own culture."

As such, when you are trying to effectively connect with someone who has a different background than you, you have to recognize that your worldview is limited, and quite possibly not applicable to theirs.

I am reminded of this truth almost daily as an American living in Argentina. I shared one of those perspective shifting moments on Facebook a while back.

My view on everything has expanded, including how I source groceries, build friendships, and spend my time.

But this is where many businesses get into trouble. They underestimate that there are differences in perspective between them and the new customers they serve. As a result, unfortunate marketing like this surfaces.

To get it right, start by acknowledging that your view isn't the only view. Accept that your way isn't the only way. 

2. Knowledge

Once you recognize that your perspective is shaped and therefore limited by your experiences, you can then work to build a plan that enables you to effectively navigate through those differences.

A smart way to do this is to hire a diverse team. The more you surround yourself with a respected group of people whose backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking are drastically different from yours, you'll be able to expand your thinking and make more informed choices as to the appropriate path forward.

I've delivered a few workshops here in Buenos Aires, and I've always found it helpful to capture insights from the locals as to how to present material and deliver experiences that will be well received and remembered by the Latin-American audience.

In addition, simple activities done consistently, such as conducting market research, talking to your ideal customers, and working to immerse yourself in their culture are great ways to uncover useful information that give you a view into their plight.

3. Adaptability 

You can't consider yourself culturally intelligent if you don't adapt your behavior based upon who you are interacting with. Baudino explained that this requires a fundamental shift in the way you operate.

You need to be able to consciously adapt your communication style, your leadership style, your business style in order to be effective, depending on the culture you are working with...I anticipate the challenges I may face, and then develop a strategy to be successful with those cultures.

While adapting your approach may feel like a lot of work, it pays dividends in building an inclusive culture where both your customers and your team feel like they belong with you.

Rihanna's cosmetics company, Fenty Beauty spent a considerable amount of time adapting their makeup line prior to launch to make it inclusive for women of different complexions around the world. The choice to address the makeup needs of women of all colors resulted in the brand earning $72 million in their first month.

You can expand your reach so you can win more customers, including ones who have backgrounds and cultures that are different from your own. But first you have to choose to intentionally become more culturally intelligent.

Your worldview will expand. Your revenues will expand. Your impact will expand. All upside.

Published on: Jan 31, 2018