“Swedes are very approachable. It’s easy to build good relationships. But it’s also easy to get loose”, says Alexander Rydberg, who has more than 15 years of experience driving sales organisations to excel in the B2B market in Sweden.
We have already talked about why the Nordics should be a pivotal target for B2B companies, even more for those who sell tech. The first reason why this strategy is worth pursuing is that there’s a great ecosystem of Scandinavian start-ups and scale-ups looking for solutions to grow. Second, because the Nordics are known for their heavy reliance on technology and innovation.
It is very true that there are a lot of commonalities among Scandinavian countries ‒Alexander, who is originally from Staffanstorp, Sweden, agrees on this‒, and most of them are related to politics and economics. But there are defining peculiarities of the different Nordic personalities, typical organisational structures and cultural foundations that make it crucial to adopt a specific approach to B2B sales depending on the location of the target company.
Our experience at VAEKST working every day with Nordic companies and Alexander’s insight have served to elaborate a series of considerations you need to bear in mind if you’re planning on expanding your business to the Nordics. Let’s start with Sweden.
Swedish organisations don’t really have a hierarchy, which allows a very nice and laid-back work environment. This can be great but to a point, because it can cause unclarity and confusion when trying to make a deal.
Alexander’s experience shows that, in Sweden, it is not common to sell just to one person in an organisation, and this is due to their ‘better together’ mentality. A flat structure makes people less prone to make decisions on their own. Instead, they would rather make the move as a team.
During the sales conversation, Swedes will bring up aspects of your solution that concern someone else in their team. So, if you talk to someone and eventually get them on board, you should expect them to say that they’ll come back to you. In the meantime, they’ll resell your solution to their colleagues.
Alexander is quite clear: your approach has to be for dummies because your words are going to travel from mouth to mouth and you don’t want to create confusion getting into technicalities many people on the team might not be familiar with.
Flat structures make it more difficult to get the right person wrong. Sales managers are usually well disposed towards a conversation, so it won't be too difficult for you if this is your target audience. Otherwise, Swedish CEOs or any other CxO responsible for major decisions in the organisation will be probably open to listening to your pitch, even in those cases when they know it’s going nowhere.
Regardless of their position, Swedes want to be approached in the same way, and it has a lot to do with emotions.
The first and most important part of the sales conversation is the emotional one. Alexander estimates that 80% of your pitch has to be based on the reasons why you care about your prospect’s business and why you want to help them. That is ethos and pathos. By doing this, first, you establish a personal connection and get them to trust you (ethos); second, you inspire an emotional response (pathos).
The remaining 20% is about being rational. You need to use logic ‒or, as Aristotle would say, logos‒ to make them think about why the solution you offer is the right one, and for that, you need to use evidence, data and facts.
On the other hand, the first meeting shouldn’t revolve around numbers. According to Alexander, it’s not even necessary to mention them, basically, because your Swedish prospects don’t care. They are interested in getting to know each other and building the foundation of a relationship.
Alexander makes it quite clear that the Nordic myths are not actually true, at least, not all of them. Swedes are very open and they love chatting with someone that has and shows interest in what they do. Why could this be tricky? Because you cannot fake it.
Use the first conversation as a consultancy meeting to see what you can bring to the table. Presenting yourself as an advisor will make it easier to gain their trust, so try to figure out how the organisation is structured and works and find out what they are in need of. Then, you are ready to get to the second stage, where you get the answers you are looking for.
Don't bother trying to appear nice or forcing a Swede to like you. Swedes appreciate very different personalities, but not the complacent or those who try to force false trust by bringing up too serious topics ‒such as religion or politics‒ early in the relationship. That could make them very uncomfortable.
Just be natural, don’t force a connection and don’t make Swedes uncomfortable by making them talk about issues that require taking a particular position. Something you should know: they appreciate political correctness a lot.
What is very true about Swedish prospects is that they have very clear opinions about what their problem is and they stick to it. The best thing you can do to keep the conversation going and increase the success rate is to let them talk about it and engage in the conversation.
Relationships with Swedes, once again, need to be built upon trust. Bringing out the points you both have in common, paying attention to details and showing interest in issues your prospect deals with on a day-to-day basis is of great help. Alexander, who had a great meeting with a client with whom he seemed to have nothing in common, agrees that this works. It all started with a compliment he made on the prospect’s trousers, which led to a nice conversation about fashion. Nailed it!
Alexander assures that, again, the biggest challenge is to establish a personal connection. But he’s quite positive about it: “There is a wall to Swedes. But it’s breakable”.
Swedes are very analytical, so they’ll probably see from the first second you start talking to them that you have an agenda and you are going to do what you have to do. To avoid being seen as just a business person, you need to be socially competent and show that, actually, your agenda includes the customer’s priorities. Only when they trust you, they’ll believe that, if you have a solution for them, you’re going to try to help them.
It’s time to say that it’s fairly difficult to build trust on the phone. This has nothing to do with being Swedish, but with the difficulties of creating emotional relationships over distance.
To spark the customer’s interest on the phone, you need to be very quick at creating a good atmosphere, says Alexander.
The vast majority of people love talking about themselves, even more, if they’re managers. If you were to strip Swedish managers of their politeness and manners and put them in a context where it is not necessary to be politically correct, they would say: “Hey, hear me out. Solve my problem. And don't waste my time. That's when you put the facts on the table and say: “I hear you. We've done this, and we've done it with these people”.
Indeed, you don’t want to waste their time. You have a whopping 2 seconds to make them want to listen to you and 30 to tell them why what you are about to say is important for them.
One thing that always works, and which comes out of Alexander's bag of tricks, is to be silent for a few seconds when you want to get your prospect to say something. Swedes can't stand silence, so a very effective method is to ask them direct and blunt questions. We know it is very difficult to keep your mouth shut, but it is worth it.
“You need to find a balance between trust and directness”, says Alexander. Quite clear, isn’t it? A formula that usually works: “I finally reached you! Is it okay to take some of your time?”.
You can gain some advantage by saying that you know they are busy. That way, they are less likely to respond using their lack of time as an excuse, because they understand that you are aware of it. After that, go straight to the point. They want and are ready to be heard. At the end of the day, they don’t care what you’re talking to them about, but about why they’re talking to you.
The rules of the game change when it comes to emails. Even though it’s far from simple and fairly more complicated than using the phone, contacting customers by email is still a very valid and useful process in B2B sales.
Something you should never miss is a referral from a customer you have already worked with in the past. It's a great way to open a dialogue based on something valuable. The second thing you shouldn’t miss is a CTA because you need to get them to act. We have a complete and detailed playbook that you can always refer to on how to write B2B emails that do get responses.
We all know that English is not the Nordic countries’ unfinished business and that using it in the business world is perfectly normal. However, it is fair to say that language can still be a barrier, also in Scandinavia.
“It’s extremely important to do first meetings in Swedish”, says Alexander, and our experience at VAEKST confirms this. Even though you can always resort to English, it is much appreciated by Nordic people to speak in their native languages, and this has a notable impact on your success rate.
How does it sound to hire a B2B sales team of Nordic natives?
Again, the decisive factor is trust. But there is more than just being nice that you can do to achieve this. And it is to show confidence and competence.
Creating content is a great way to find engaged customers. When you are ready to spread the word about your services, remember that targeting not just one buyer but their team, as well as the different departments of the company, can be of great help. If you want to know more about this, take a look at our post on the jobs-to-be-done theory. It's a perfect start!
The typical Swede is not afraid to say no, so your best bet is to be honest and try to come to an agreement. Get your prospect to move in the same direction as you by explaining what your agenda is. Ask questions: “do we agree on this”. Don't be afraid to say what you're looking for: “I want to set up a meeting, that's why I'm calling you, so give me ten minutes to explain, we might be a great match”. In short, use a clear and transparent approach.
According to Alexander, roughly 20% of calls made end up by booking a meeting, 20% are not interested leads in moving forward and the remaining 60% are a “maybe”.
Alexander believes that the “maybe’s” are closer to a ‘no’ than to a ‘yes’, and sometimes it’s due to a fear to sound rude by saying ‘no’ or because their decision is blocked from within the company. In order not to risk losing them, you should keep the dialogue open and warm.
In these follow-up emails and calls, try not to persuade or pressure them. Your aim should be to find out if they are currently achieving their objectives and, if not, show them how you could solve it.
Talk to them more and put into words the value you can bring to their processes and their business, but avoid focusing on the pricing of your solution. Again, remember the emotional talk. Ask them if they are stressed and how that stress could be relieved. Ask: “How does your pain interact with other pain in the business?”. Talk about involving other people in their team and departments.
If you see that they are so hesitant that it would be impossible to reach an agreement, don't be afraid to acknowledge that it won't work. Such a move on your part might even arouse their interest some more.