Professionalism is a somewhat vague benchmark, denoting a competence or skill usually of high standard. 

Evident across sectors and geographies, standards of professionalism vary according to a country, a sector or, a community.  It can reflect attitude, that people give themselves credit for or, a perception by a customer, employee or colleague.

It tends to be more subjective than objective.

In this article, Linda Middleton Jones examines how the elements of what it means to be “professional” in business can have a powerful effect in overseas markets…

Within the world of international trading, professionalism is important as it defines the businessman/woman as a person of integrity, one who can be trusted to behave in a non-emotional or erratic manner. Someone who behaves professionally is more likely to be trusted in the same way as some countries are trusted because of their jurisdiction, governance or historical legacy.

Undertaking a career in international trade where professionalism underpins relationships; qualifications and experience have always been seen as multifaceted and somewhat complex.  Taking time to undertake trainings and personal development has, I think, reinforced the perception that traders are special in their view of the world economies, customs and policies.  Generally, knowledge is gained and shared between members of this discreet group of professional traders.

Professionalism is seen as a soft skill to enhance those tangible, technical skills defined above.  When used with the additional soft skill of emotional intelligence, professionals can bring added value to both national and international customers and employees. This of course can be difficult across different cultures and that is why market research is so very important. Getting to know the professional norms in another country will provide enormous benefits to accessing that new market and meeting potential customers.  Understanding the way that sales are conducted, who should be shown the greatest respect and how your product will be delivered and/or supported in a country are all key aspects that should be considered.

Being aware of surroundings and of contacts to assist in times of concern shows a predisposition to being professionally prepared.

Many traders research markets, countries, tradeshows or exhibitions before they travel for this very reason.  Being well prepared allows them to gauge their responses or actions with relevance to what is happening on the ground – being able to respond and react in an agile and appropriate manner will certainly enhance a professional image in an overseas territory.  Being aware of surroundings and of contacts to assist in times of concern shows a predisposition to being professionally prepared.

It is a truism that people see what they want to see, and indeed most traders will use politeness, firmness, dress, punctuality, listening skills and patience to convey their professionalism.  However, in visiting overseas markets, it may be that adopting a reserved, patient or quiet attitude would work well.  In others, traders need to adapt to very early meetings or even those held very late in the day.   Making sure the marketing language is correct for a particular campaign in any particular market shows a professional respect for both the customer and the country.

Understanding the verbal and non-verbal signals could make the difference between success and failure. 

Traders, when active in different cultures will rightly become ambassadors and advocates for their trade and for their countries, it is an important responsibility.  It is clear then that adopting a style of trading appropriate to the market through being prepared illustrates an understated professionalism that most traders leverage to their benefit.  That it can reflect upon a wider population than the single trader, is important to understand.  Professionalism is key!


Linda and the International Trade Matters team have decades of experience from doing business all over the world across borders and cultures for UK and overseas companies. Speak to the team today and find out how our experts can help you to access new markets and develop relationships with overseas customers and suppliers.

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