With the internet making it easier than ever to sell to new customers, savvy brands are expanding into international and multilingual markets. But capturing significant growth in new markets takes more than just showing up.
Thoughtfully expanding into these markets takes a lot of work. Successfully establishing a brand’s presence and credibility often requires four key components:
- Understanding the market and researching the customer
- Defining your “walk, crawl, run” strategy for multilingual markets
- Establishing sales teams in new markets if necessary
- Determining your in-market messaging, and if it should leverage standardization, customization or a combination of both
All require research. Brands that study new markets and get to know their customers are better positioned to set strategies that drive growth.
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the processes of understanding the market, researching the customer, and determining your expansion and messaging strategies. We’ll unpack the complexities of each and provide a clear road map that can help you expand your company safely and smartly. We’ll cover topics such as:
Investigating & Making Decisions Based on Data: Thoughtful, successful market expansion is built on a foundation of rock-solid data. We’ll cover some of the most important questions to consider, from the practical (in which multilingual markets do you already have an existing customer base) to the strategic (targeting several potential markets with a shared language to reduce overall translation costs).
Aligning Efforts Between Marketing and Sales: Making moves in multilingual markets requires a shared vision between marketing and sales, and a tight integration of processes and practices. We’ll reveal several important steps for both departments to consider, including researching competitors, in-market customer expectations, order fulfillment, cost analysis of operating in the market, and more.
Evaluation of Demand and Brand Identity: You’ll want to understand a market’s existing demand for your products or services. What are in-market customers saying about your brand? Are competitors controlling the in-market narrative? Does your brand require a unique value proposition or other messaging for the market? We’ve got you covered.
Understanding Your Customers: As we’ve said in previous sections, it’s not enough to simply translate your website. For the site to truly jibe with locals, it should reflect—and in many cases celebrate—the unique aspects of the region and culture. Are there customs or holidays that deserve special attention? Could the buyer/customer journey be different for buyers in this region? Are there legal requirements to be aware of?
Successfully Establishing Sales Teams in New Markets: If you’re thinking about growing your sales organization to accommodate new market growth, this resource can help. We’ll challenge you to consider key questions (such as Do locals even want to work with salespeople? and Can you find skilled salespeople in local markets?) and address practical needs including the need to hire new staff vs. transferring staff, and more.
Examining Crawl, Walk, Run: When it comes to website translation, we’ve found that a slower-paced expansion strategy can actually generate more (and better) brand awareness in multilingual markets, eliminate needless translation costs and ensure responsive, reliable fulfillment. We’ll share some insights to get you thinking about your own multilingual Crawl, Walk, Run strategy.
Standardization vs. Customization for International Markets: Finally, we’ll wrap up with a deep dive into the concepts of the standardization and customization of brand and product marketing, and offer some tips on how to find the best approach for your company. You’ll get an actionable list of questions to ask and best practices to embrace, including: the customization of products/services for specific markets, the adaptation of your content-marketing strategy, catering to unique cultural norms and more.
Understand New Markets Before Translating Your Website
When entering new markets, many businesses make the critical error of assuming that strategies and tactics they’ve used in their domestic market will work everywhere. But no two markets are exactly alike. Local laws and regulations, cultural expectations, and regional preferences vary—often greatly.
But that doesn’t mean you should be intimidated by new markets. Understanding markets simply requires thoughtful investigation, which in turn will empower you to forge your brand’s path with confidence and success.
Investigate Market Data for Insights
Many businesses approach brand expansion as if it’s a simple matter of translating existing slogans and tweaking ad campaign imagery. But converting prospects into loyal customers doesn’t happen by accident.
Research consistently shows that today’s customers want more than effective products and services—they want connection. They want to be understood.
Brands that bridge this vital connection between what they offer and how they make customers feel about what they offer can win big globally. To build that bridge, successful companies study the market they’re seeking to enter. They analyze what customers in a given market actually want and respond to, and what turns them away.
And then they use the insights to set clear, measurable strategies.
Make Decisions Based on Data
Many companies make decisions based on past strategies, assumptions about customers, and even emotions. But savvy brands ground their multilingual marketing strategies in current, verified data.
There are numerous benefits to performing thorough, ongoing market research and using the results to drive strategies and inform pivots. This research:
- Suggests areas where brands should focus efforts
- Helps marketers develop talk tracks and battle cards against competitors
- Guides the allocation of resources
- Reveals how to address your product in-market
Here are some questions that can efficiently direct your research:
Where do you already have an existing customer base?
Examine your origin website’s transaction and conversion metrics to determine if you’re already serving multilingual/international customers with your domestic website. Identify the markets that are generating the most conversions. Consider localizing the site for customers living in those markets, in their preferred languages.
Which languages do your visitors prefer?
Your website analytics can list visits filtered by your users’ language preference settings. This data can confirm the need to localize your website for a specific language or suggest possible markets to serve.
Where is there potential business?
Use your analytics to examine the geographic sources of your website traffic. High traffic from a region, combined with high bounce rates and low engagement, indicates global visitors are interested in your brand or offering, but leave when they can’t consume your content in their preferred languages.
Are there potential markets with a shared language?
You can smartly serve several international markets at once, if they all speak the same language. Consider Spanish. Localizing your site in this language can attract and serve customers in the U.S., Latin America and Europe.
Align Website Translation Efforts Between Marketing and Sales
Of course, brand strategies produce better results when all teams are making a coordinated effort—for instance, when marketing and sales divisions are working together to set up a recipe for success.
As brands seek insights into new markets, it’s important to go beyond sending a local sales team to work. To complete the picture, deploy the marketing team to build a foundation that equips salespeople to convert leads.
To create in-market strategies that drive growth, marketing teams should analyze the market to determine the following:
Ideal Customer Profiles
- Create Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) for each specific market your brand is entering
- Focus on how local customers behave, and their unique needs
- Use market data to develop talk tracks, ads and other materials that sales teams can use to convert customers
In-Depth Competitive Studies
- Look for ways that your brand can stand out against the crowd
- Remember, competitors you’ve already faced in one market may use a different strategy in different markets, requiring you to adapt to counter them
- Pay attention to new players, too. Each new market may have competitors you’ve never faced before
Existing In-Market Expectations
Consider the education the market already has received regarding your niche. What do they expect from your products/services?
- Consider your current offerings, especially as they relate to new markets
- Look for ways to address perceived weaknesses and turn strengths into hooks that draw in customers
Payment and fulfillment
Research what payment methods are commonly used in the multilingual markets you wish to serve and determine which ones you can readily accept. Also evaluate your company’s ability to meet fulfillment needs , such as shipping, warehouses, technologies and other infrastructure.
Ease and affordability to enter and operate in the market
Carefully evaluate the investments required to establish business in the potential market, as well as time needed to accommodate licensing, laws and other requirements. You may also need to establish relationships with a local partner, as well as local tax, payroll and banking providers.
Evaluating Markets for Website Translation
As you enter new markets, evaluate the following areas to gather real-world data and develop actionable market insights:
- How are competitors marketing products/services to this market?
- What language and tone do they use to speak to their clients?
- What is their strategy in-market?
- How does their strategy differ from other markets they’re in? How is it the same?
- How is the culture, the media and other industries reacting to your product?
- How have similar products been received?
Assess the Demand
- How are your products/services likely to perform?
Evaluate Brand Identity
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your brand identity in this new market?
- How can you emphasize strengths and support—or pivot—weaknesses?
Research Local Customer Behavior
Today’s customers—be they B2B or B2C—increasingly prefer to buy from companies that understand them. So when your business is looking to grow its customer base or expand into new markets, your brand’s messaging must be nuanced and localized.
The key to a successfully engaging multilingual markets is this three-word mantra: Know your customer. It’s a simple idea, yet takes a well-planned strategy, based on real data, to execute successfully. Brands that do so stand to gain significant market share.
What data should you look for? And how can you use it to direct your marketing? Here’s the need-to-know strategy to get you started.
How to Understand Your Target Marketplace
Each local market has its own flavor that brands can leverage to create relevant messaging and campaigns. Learn these nuances. Not knowing a market’s laws, preferences and cultural expectations can impede your marketing success, as well as damage your brand reputation.
To gain a thorough understanding of your target market, research several key areas, including:
Local Customs and Practices
Find out how local customers prefer to communicate, what beliefs and values they hold, and what they consider appealing or offensive.
Market traits can vary by region, not just country. Customers in Africa, for example, are often more mobile-first (or mobile-only) than customers in the U.S.
Brands doing business in Europe must comply with GDPR privacy laws, for example, while those marketing in Quebec must comply with French-language marketing regulations.
The way customers connect with your brand may be similar from market to market or very different. Consider questions such as:
- Does your product solve the exact same need in every market? Or does it solve different problems in different markets?
- What unique concerns do local customers have?
- What technologies do customers use as they search online?
- What social media channels do they use most often?
Understanding these differentiators can equip your brand to make insightful decisions about all your outbound marketing strategies—from high-level sales approaches and strategies to granular details like the design of your website and what tone to use in email campaigns and social media.
Gain Insights from Existing Customers, Too
While a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in today’s digital marketplace, you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Your existing customers can provide valuable insights into how your product solves their pain points and what keeps them connected to your brand.
To gain an understanding of how your customers are really behaving, mine website analytics data and customer feedback for your:
- Origin website
- Subsidiary or localized websites
- Blogs and other web-based content
- Social media channels
- Anything else relevant to your marketing efforts
Old-school methods such as focus groups, customer audits, and concept testing are useful—but don’t neglect today’s technology tools and techniques like Google Analytics, Buzzsumo, and others.
Research your options and choose the approach that best fits your team, bandwidth and budget. And then test customer response with low-budget, high-impact tactics like PPC to maximize results at a reasonable cost.
Successfully Establishing Sales Teams in New Markets
When companies expand internationally, their to-do lists often start with creating a local sales presence. This makes sense since most market expansion efforts aim to drive sales—and revenue—in new geographies as quickly as possible.
But rushing into this process can easily backfire, unless you carefully consider a host of factors, including:
- The business practices and culture of your new market
- Your company’s needs
- Customer preferences
- Available resources
We’ll guide you through the factors that can impact development of sales teams in foreign markets. It’s divided into three parts:
- Conducting in-depth research on multiple aspects of the new country or region
- Making important decisions about office location, team structure, cultural nuances, selling approaches and more
- Implementing your chosen sales strategy with the greatest flexibility, efficiency and cost-effectiveness
Let’s get started.
Do Your Homework
Before you make any decisions about how to build your sales team, it’s vital to learn as much as you can about the country or region into which you’re expanding. It’s particularly important to study local business practices, customer expectations and preferences, and helpful resources that might be available (such as sales talent, potential partners and consultants).
As you consult these resources, dig for valuable insights that can inform the sales function in your new market. For instance:
What is the Typical Decision-Making Process for Customers in This Market?
To determine the number of sales staff and support people you’ll need, try to estimate the typical sales process for a customer in the region, including the length of the sales cycle and what stages a buyer tends to go through. This can vary widely, depending on the complexity of your offering and the business practices of the country or region.
How Do Customers Prefer to Work with Salespeople?
Buyers in some cultures prefer face- to-face meetings throughout the sales process, while others may be fine with efficient emails and phone calls. The level of in-person contact will influence how many in-country salespeople you’ll need.
You may need to conduct a demonstration or even set up a pilot, which will require engineers or technical experts. Customers—especially buyers in large organizations—may expect involvement by company executives to close the deal.
For instance, you may be able to supplement local account representatives with remote staff— sales development reps, engineers or product experts—who can travel on-site as needed.
Or you might be able to leverage corporate sales staff for initial online or phone outreach until a strong lead is generated, and then leverage a local account person to handle the prospect.
What Language(s) Should the Salespeople Speak?
In some countries, speaking the local language is essential to a good business relationship, while in others, English is widely accepted.
If your sales team will be covering several countries in a region—say, Europe—you may need multilingual staff to accommodate them.
In some cases, multilingual customers may be comfortable being approached by a sales development rep who speaks English, but once the deal progresses, may expect the account executive to communicate in the local language.
How Easily Can You Find Potential Sales Employees?
Once you’ve determined which languages your salespeople should speak, you need to think about how and where to find candidates in that new geography. Availability of talent is a key factor in deciding where your sales office should be located.
As part of your research, identify universities and trade schools in your market whose graduates could be great additions to your team. Competitors with experienced staff can also be great sources of talent who might be looking to make a change.
Based on your research and improved understanding of your new market, you should now be able to make some key decisions about your new sales organization, starting with where to open your sales office.
Proximity to Customers
If you’ve learned that most potential customers prefer face-to-face interactions and fast responses, you’ll need an office close to them. However, if they’re satisfied with remote interactions (at least in the early stages of the sales cycle), you could choose a major city in the region and have salespeople travel locally as needed.
Easy access to airports, railway and subway stations, major highways and other transportation routes is important to ensure your sales team can get to customer sites—and to corporate headquarters for meetings—without wasting time. Of course, convenient access often comes with a higher price tag for office space, but the advantages of convenience and speed may be worth it.
Whether you decide to purchase or lease space will undoubtedly depend on cost and availability. At first, it will probably make more sense to lease until you determine that the new location works—and that the market can deliver on its potential for your business. In this case, look for short-term leases or consider co-locating with a partner or agent in the area.
While basing employees in a major city and having them travel throughout a region may seem efficient, real estate costs in large urban areas can be astronomical. (Think Tokyo or London.) It may be less expensive in the long run to choose a smaller city or town in each country and open separate offices with their own staffs.
Also consider how you will distribute or deliver your products in the new market. If you intend to set up local manufacturing capabilities, you should find a location with good railroad or truck infrastructures. If distribution is handled by headquarters using shipping services like FedEx, or if your product is virtual, you’ll naturally have more flexibility.
Hiring vs. Transferring Staff
On one hand, hiring local sales staff means training them in corporate processes, products and services. On the other, transferring employees from headquarters or another location will probably require training in the local culture, business practices and customer landscape.
Local employees may not demand salaries and benefits as generous as those for transferees—or they could expect even more. European benefits are typically more generous than U.S. benefits, but salaries can be much lower. Relying on remote staff to handle some or all sales functions still requires outlays for travel when face-to-face meetings are expected by your customers.
If you use a recruiter, be sure to choose one that knows both your industry and the local market. In time, you can switch to an internal hiring process, especially if you also need to establish connections with local universities where you may have good luck finding sales development representatives.
New vs. Existing Processes
A new sales office presents a great opportunity to experiment with new business processes in general, and to tailor them to the local culture. A smaller, nimbler local team may make it easier to implement new practices.
You need to decide how much variation from corporate practices is acceptable in local offices. In some cases, certain changes may be required by local regulations or laws.
Hiring someone away from a local competitor can be priceless, thanks to their knowledge of both the market and the industry.
It can help to study other organizations in the new market to see how they operate.
It’s a good idea to hire or contract with local experts in law, regulations, accounting and finance—even if you have a strong corporate team.
The ‘Crawl, Walk, Run’ Approach to Website Translation
So you’ve identified a few multilingual markets that are primed for your expansion. What comes next?
We’ve sometimes found that brands want to invest an inordinate amount of effort and resources into an “all in” or “bet the farm” approach to launching translated websites to serve new customers. Keen to master the market long before entering it, this approach usually results in a pricey pursuit of a “perfect” on-site experience.
This approach makes a kind of sense, particularly for brands that are accustomed to having authoritative knowledge and a commanding position in their home markets.
But there are several risks to this aggressive online expansion approach, particularly its costly nature—and the fact that, as many executives and managers know, there’s no such thing as a “perfect” shopping experience when a website debuts.
These mismanaged expectations often lead to misjudgments about a multilingual market’s viability, which can lead to abandoning the market too hastily—long before its global website had a chance to prove profitable.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
It takes time and patience to establish a brand in a new market.
Indeed, a more incremental, profits-driven approach is the smart play when expanding online. With this approach, a company’s ultimate goal remains to be successful in-market … but it embraces a methodology of iteration and investment (such as in-market digital marketing or localized PPC) only as quickly as in-market results will justify.
Put another way: Investment is certainly necessary to get the ball rolling in a new market. But key investments are better made once your brand has had the time to establish a presence, identify authentic in-market messaging opportunities, adapt to the market’s unique conditions, and recalibrate your business case with actual results.
We call this profit-driven approach the “Crawl, Walk, Run” method of engaging new markets.
Step 1: Crawl
Our experience indicates that before brands invest in optimizing the traffic and conversion on their multilingual sites—or perhaps even investing in a translated site at all—they should start slowly and determine their capability to complete far simpler tasks.
Worry-Free Order Fulfillment
This might include fulfilling orders to customers in these markets. In the early days serving a new market, companies can lean on third-party logistics solutions to handle distribution and fulfillment. These solutions can accommodate warehousing and shipping from overseas markets or can handle international shipping from U.S.-based businesses.
Supporting Local Currencies and Costs
Displaying prices in a market’s local currency is also critical, as is providing a crystal-clear landed cost. This is the total price of the product once it has been delivered. It includes the original price of the product, all transportation fee, customs, duties, taxes, insurance, currency conversion, crating, handling and payment fees.
Once an expanding company can accommodate these must-haves, it’s ready to embrace more robust strategies to boost awareness and sales in their new global markets.
Step #2: Walk
Here’s where things get interesting. The “walk” phase of a company’s new-market engagement includes such powerful approaches as translating its website, and:
Supporting Local Payment Types
Overseas markets often have locally preferred payment types ranging from local bank cards to e-wallet platforms and more. Companies that fail to support these market-specific platforms often experience reduced traffic, engagement and conversion on their global sites.
Customers simply won’t transact on sites that don’t cater to their preferred payment types. In South Korea, a company can lose up to 80% of the revenue it’d otherwise generate, simply by not supporting local platforms.
In contrast, sales skyrocket when companies integrate these platforms. Take one of our retail clients, which offered the popular e-wallet platform Alipay as a payment option on its Chinese site. Days after its debut, conversions grew nearly 220%. Basket size grew by 33%. Revenue grew by 210%.
When another client supported the locally preferred iDeal payment platform in the Netherlands, sales increased dramatically. The Dutch site generated 377% higher sales on iDeal than on MasterCard and Visa combined.
Other Local Solutions
This stage in your market maturity might provide a good opportunity to examine in-market support solutions such as warehouses, viability for brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Step #3: Run
We’ve found that the “Run” stage of a company’s new-market journey is where the overwhelming value of a translated site really shines.
No longer encumbered by implementing the mission-critical tasks of speaking the market’s language or integrating preferred payment methods, companies can now optimize the user experience for their multilingual sites—which maximizes engagement and conversions.
The “Run” stage of global online expansion is often overlooked by businesses, mostly because they focus their attention of the obvious needs of translation and order fulfillment. But multilingual sites require the same kind of optimizations that a company’s origin website supports: intuitive navigation, sitemaps, on-site promotional campaigns, geo-based customized content and more.
Taking the Plunge
After making key decisions about location, staffing and organization, you can begin implementing them.
One important question to answer is: What comes first? Should you assemble or hire the sales staff and start them on customer outreach while you set up the new office space, or vice versa?
If you plan to hit the ground running by having sales staff work out of temporary spaces while the office is being set up, be sure they have:
- Assistance with administration, either locally from a vendor support, again either from a local vendor or over the network
- Technical access to high-speed Internet and wireless connections or remotely from headquarters
However, if you want to equip and open the office before transferring corporate staff or hiring locals, you can still establish a presence ahead of time. The best way to do this is by creating a multilingual website for the new market. A translated website will:
- Provide an informational resource that is ready when the new sales team starts working
- Establish your brand in the local area or raise existing awareness the way for sales activities
- Help attract partners if you wish to use the channel in addition to direct sales
Expanding your company through international marketing efforts and sales operations shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it can be a valuable investment in your global expansion efforts. To avoid costly mistakes:
- Start small
- Conduct due diligence
- Be flexible
- Try new things
Above all, be persistent yet practical when problems come up, stay nimble and expect the unexpected. International expansion is an adventure but can be one of the most exciting decisions your business will ever make.
Read more about website translation in our ultimate guide to website translation.
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