July 2009

Sure, many people around the world speak English – it has become the language of business. Does that make doing business across borders easy? Simple things can be difficult. Even native English speakers across the globe can have misunderstandings due to language! Be diligent about product naming, translation of instructions, advertising and more.

History provides many examples on this topic:

– The American introduction of the ‘Nova’ car in South America did not “go” very well
– ‘Snapshot’ is slang for ‘butt’ in German and Dutch
– Japanese hotel notice to guests ‘You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid’
– A Hong Kong dentist claims to extract teeth ‘by the latest Methodists’
– In Copenhagen, an airline once promised to ‘take your bags and send them in all directions’

A personal example: I was attending a conference in a large hotel in a country where I didn’t speak the language. After a full day of meetings a large group of people rented a small bus to visit a local science and technology museum. I decided to join them at the museum later, and asked the Porter to get me a taxi to take me to the museum to meet the bus. Imagine my surprise when my taxi driver sped down narrow streets, informing me that “we will catch the bus”. I tried to explain, but he drove on, forcing the bus to pull over so I could join the group, and calmly announced to me “Madame, your bus”. What could I do? I paid the driver and got on the bus.

“Sell! Sell! Sell!!!!” There are a lot of reasons to expand into another market, and of course increasing revenue is usually at the top of the list. If you are currently based in a culture where sales professionals are primarily motivated by money, it might seem counter-intuitive to spend time building relationships with your new sales channel. So why do it? It will pay off in both the short-term and the long-term, over and over!

I recently heard a story about a guy who worked at a company that had a huge banner hanging in the foyer where employees entered the building. The message: “You are working here to make money.” The company survived; the employee turnover was high. That single focus resulted in an employer/employee relationship that lacked trust, respect and communication. It worked ok in good times. It was a disaster in bad times.

Building good relationships with your representatives in new markets will allow you both to build understanding and knowledge of each other and your respective businesses; your values, expectations, and objectives will become clearly known and understood. Trust, respect and mutual support will grow as you partner over time to build market share, grow revenue, and enjoy sustainable profitability. Find what your partners are good at and leverage it. Fill in the blanks and support them where they are weak. Good relationships result in a good customer experience. Everyone is happy.

Focus only on the money, and you are likely to go to the bottom of the list in terms of attention given to your products. Others may look for opportunities to jump ship – maybe to your competitors. It’s just not worth it. Take the time – build the relationship.