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Part 2: How to Successfully Enable Sales Teams to Perform Internationally: Language

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Wed Oct 09 2013

Part 2: How to Successfully Enable Sales Teams to Perform Internationally: Language
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Being English, I quickly learned that not everybody around the world speaks MY language. And no, I’m not just talking about the English language!

In part one of this blog series, I discussed how enabling teams for effective and efficient sales efforts internationally starts with acknowledging and respecting the people—both in your team and those with whom your organization conducts business. This starts with addressing and understanding the work ethic. This second post looks at how language is an important factor to consider in international sales enablement.

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Addressing language to aid sales enablement

To be sure, the way in which modern technology brings people closer together and aids communication makes it difficult to remember that we don’t all speak the same language.

However, when I was managing a sales team in Latin America, I quickly realized that language was an issue.

One of my team members one day in a rather defeated manner said to me: “The reason you’re more successful than us (in sales outreach) is because you have an accent.” It’s true; I have an accent. However, they also had accents.

We were all targeting large technology companies in the United States. What I realized was that as a company we hadn’t given them the tools, resources, and knowledge to prospect these companies effectively by “speaking” their language.  

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It wasn’t just us. I spoke with the marketing director of a target company that had recently executed an email campaign into a few South American countries with a view to raise awareness and generate leads for the sales team. The results? Low open rates and next to no action. Why? They sent the email in English and, perhaps worse, it was full of American phrases.

Language tips for effective sales enablement

Use fewer local phrases. Even if, for example, your team is mostly American, incorporate more mainstream language and fewer colloquialisms. Removing these from your internal communication and client facing materials will help transition your sales team from a local to international (or country- and region-specific) mindset and enable them to have more effective sales conversations. You would be surprised how many “stories” or communications of benefits are riddled with colloquialisms until you think about it objectively.

Create local language guides or “cheat sheets.” Sure, it is optimal to have members of the team fluent in the languages spoken in the target markets. However, for various reasons this is not always a reality. We need to enable our teams through providing the resources that will help them. Chances are that some people in the target company, and more than likely the decision maker, will speak English. However, being able to communicate to some degree in the local language can make a world of difference. After all, first impressions count.

Use a translator service. For any internal documents, training manuals, or client-facing materials hire a translator to do a transcription. This will not only enable greater results from any outreach, but it will also empower your team as they shift their mindset towards being an international sales person.

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Research the local business language. Even if you are targeting countries with the same primary language as your own this is important. (Trust me. The business language in America is very different from that of England.) Provide your team with the training to understand local dialects, local practices, and industry-specific language. A good source for increasing knowledge and awareness is local publications.

Be concise. Effective sales enablement occurs partially through teaching team members to “keep it simple.” This is truer for language-related issues than at any other time. When speaking with someone in their second language (even if they are fluent), you will be doing yourself a great service by keeping your communication concise, simple, and to the point. Aid your team by helping them to craft simple written communications (it is sometimes easier to speak a language than to read it) and deliver value led conversations.

Doing business internationally is an ongoing learning experience. I have been active in it for several years and still find myself being less than optimal at times. For example, it wasn’t until I physically moved to the United States that I realized my Microsoft Office was still set to English, not English US. More importantly, it wasn’t until this point that people I was in contact with mentioned it was a “nice gesture” of me to make the shift.

Bottom line: courtesy counts.

That’s it for this time, next time I’ll speak about culture. Until then, happy sales enabling!

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