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When Your Business Prospects are in Rome, Do as the Romans Do

(FeatureSource) For many people, globalization equates to Americanization. But according to the statistics, if businesses want to be successful in international markets, they’re going to have to start catering to the language and cultural needs of their potential clients. Donald DePalma, author of “Business Without Borders” ($29.95, Wiley) talks about globalization, and the essentials of success on the international market.

Q. What do you think about the claim that globalization equates to Americanization?

A. I think that’s too narrow a definition—globalization means good business wherever you happen to want to sell. Not to say that there aren’t companies on the Web right now who only enforce the ‘Americanization’ stereotype by supporting trade if—and only if—the customer is willing to speak English, pay U.S. dollars, and accept delivery from Federal Express. But the Web also draws business users and consumers for whom English is not the preferred language or who do not carry the ‘right’ kind of credit cards. Multinational U.S. firms such as General Electric and Land’s End now sell their products and services in the language, currency, and business practices of their target markets in Europe and Asia.

Q. Do you think other companies are catching on to the approach that G.E. and Land’s End have taken?

A. Fortunately, all signs point to yes. A study of about a billion documents on the Web in early 2000 found that about 87 percent were in English. More recent research puts English at just under 70 percent. But just as importantly, globally aware companies are offering interfaces tailored exactly to the needs of their international customers.

Q. Is it generally true that a company who caters to its international markets’ language and cultural needs will be more successful in those markets than a company who does not?

A. Definitely. Ask yourself: would you sign a document without being able to read it? Would you buy something if you weren’t even sure what it was? I’m guessing the answer is no. A market study showed that customers online are three to four times more likely to buy if they are addressed in their own language—which makes sense. Doing an interaction in your native language feels safer and more controllable than doing it in even a second language that you feel comfortable in. Another study showed that nearly half of the international visitors at English-only U.S. business sites abandon their transactions due to language, currency, or business issues. Basically, you have a far better chance of generating leads, building trust, and creating buyers if you adapt your approach to the language, ways of thinking, and market realities of your international prospects.

Q. So trying to sell a fur-trimmed parka to a non-English speaking man in Brazil--in English, might not work?

A. Probably not.

“Business Without Borders” is considered the first resource dedicated solely to the increasingly relevant topic of ‘globalization.’ This book explains the size of different global opportunities, how to go after them, and what it means for your business to address a global audience.

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