Can Smaller Companies Do Business Globally?
Updated: Sep 23
Two factors that you have to have to address first
Note: This article is part of an ongoing series for 2019 on entering global markets. You can find the articles as they are published under the category Going Global Series.
Entering a new language market* requires the ability to communicate and distribute in that market. Communication drives product information, marketing, sales, and customer support. Distribution means setting up distribution channels, either by opening a company presence in the market or by partnering with resellers, specifically value-added resellers (VARs) in the target market.
* For our purposes a ‘language market’ is a market unified by a shared principal language. For example the Brazilian Portuguese language market would consist of Brazil (208 million people and Portugal (10.3 million) plus a few smaller areas. This is a useful distinct from a translation perspective because, even if your principal target market is Brazil, you’ll be doing much of the work to enter Portugal in the future.
Setting up the infrastructure to sell and support products and services in a new language market can be a daunting task, especially for smaller firms. And, it isn’t just a matter of hiring some native speakers- you have to able to communicate with them and give them information resources that have been translated and localized: website(s), sales materials, documentation, market research, training, and more. Ideally, whomever you have in-country should be bilingual in your source language and their native language. That’s one route. However opening a branch in a new country can be a very challenging and costly process. There is another option.
Distribute: In-country partners (VARs)
The other option is to partner with a distributor already doing business in the market you’re addressing. They will still require all the marketing, sales and support information mentioned above. Some may offer to translate this content themselves, but be careful- there are a lot of things that can go seriously wrong, particularly if you don’t have resources to review the translation for accuracy, brand alignment, tone, and quality. Having these translations done by a full service language service provider (LSP) helps eliminate these potential problems. Though it may appear to be more costly, poor or inaccurate translations can do damage to your image and brand, damage that could be difficult to fix. An experienced LSP has dealt with these issues multiple times in many language markets.
What a strong partner does bring to the table is their understanding of regulatory and cultural issues, and their physical ability to distribute and support the products after the sale. The price you pay for this is giving up margin compared to selling direct, however, if you already use distribution partners in your country of origin, you’re already accounting for this.
Scaling up: start small
Another entry-level approach to entering a new market is to initially offer a limited product set, one that might be tailored to the specific needs of the market. That set could be optimized to avoid regulatory complications and for cultural acceptance. This is where doing some basic market research, via surveys and meetings with potential partners, is critical. A little money and time spent here can also ensure a profitable entry.
Match your product offerings to the economy and culture
Limiting your product offerings requires research and planning. For example, in a largely rural and less-connected market, you may limit products to those that require less energy or less technical expertise. Taking things further, you might consider developing products that can help lift these economies on a basic level. Think about examples of simple tech that help conserve or transport water or produce cheap electricity.
Competition as a research tool
Having competitors selling in your target market is an indicator that the market is likely viable for you. Those competitors can show you what works and what didn’t. Researching their marketing, support, product lines, and distribution processes can give you a roadmap. If a competitor has had a successful presence in a country for a long time, they may have an advantage in local brand acceptance. Your research should look into whether this is in fact the case. This may mean surveying their likely customers for satisfaction levels, product preferences, and gaps in their offerings. Those gaps may represent opportunities for you to do better. Remember the old joke about pioneers: they’re the ones with arrows in their backs. You can learn from their missteps. And a reminder: a lack of competition is an indicator that the market may not be viable.
Cost control: plan ahead
All of this involves planning, research, translation, and visits to the countries involved. The model for this is to assign a globalization team with a lead (necessarily bilingual) who has done it before. They can assess costs and work with your CFO to determine the viability of the market entry before you commit.
The power of language diversity
Your markets are changing and they are becoming more language diverse. As the myth of Global English as the universal language of business fades, the path to opening new markets is becoming more language-driven. To put it directly, we prefer to buy when we can do product and service research in our own language. This is not unique to English speakers, it is human nature.
We have translated content into over 100 languages, which represent the languages of 90% of the planet. And if you’re looking for that 101st language we can make that happen. But it only takes a handful of languages to open up new markets and those markets represent a majority of the world’s population- and many do not speak English.
(this not only a global opportunity- read about language diversity in the US).