Although it’s estimated that only 5% of the world’s population speak English, it certainly is an important language in business. Over 50% of content on the web is in English and many expect that the dominance of English in global business will only increase. You would therefore be forgiven, as a native English speaker, for thinking that there is no need to learn another language in order to export abroad.
However, we believe when it comes to exporting abroad a little language can go a long way.
Stand out from the crowd
Perhaps you are going on a trade mission and have been invited to give a presentation about your company and product. Imagine if you can introduce yourself and open your presentation in the language of the audience. Immediately you show that as a company you go the extra mile, you have prepared for the visit with the audience in mind and you have the audience’s attention. Alternatively, maybe as part of your trip you will be attending a trade fair. Being able to chat to any visitors to your stand in their own language would make an impact and begin to build a relationship instantly, making you stand out from the crowd.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)
We all know the value of building relationships when looking to do business with someone. If you are visiting a potential customer you may be invited for dinner, or to meet other colleagues. In these situations language skills are invaluable. However, when you learn a language it is also important to learn the culture. For example, alcohol has different roles in different cultures and it is essential to understand these differences. You may not be face to face with your customers, perhaps instead you communicate more regularly on the phone or via email. I once had a client whose main customer was in France. Any business had always been carried out in English so when he took over this customers account, he couldn’t understand why he was struggling to build a relationship with this customer and why sales were beginning to suffer. After chatting to a colleague it seemed that his predecessor spoke French and whilst business was in English, their relationship was built on the friendly conversations they had in French beforehand. My client began learning French and soon reaped the benefits with the relationship with his main customer and the subsequent sales!
It’s not just when you are speaking to someone that languages can be helpful. In fact you may be relying on your website or brochures to make the first impression for you. Therefore it is important that these are in the languages of the countries that you are trying to attract. Make sure any written communication is translated professionally as once again the cultural knowledge will be invaluable. For example what you consider your important keywords for your website in English might not be the case abroad.
In summary, don’t overlook those language skills, they could be the key to expanding to markets abroad.