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Are you talking their language? asktheexpert.

Byline: ISABELLA MOORE

ENGLISH is often regarded as the universal business language - but while it may be acceptable to use English if you are buying from another country, it won't be appreciated when trying to sell to international customers.

In fact, customers are three times more likely to buy when addressed in their native language, and once on board, using their native tongue will build deeper relationships and advocacy.

It's a myth that everyone speaks English - three quarters of the world's population speak no English at all and 94 per cent of English speakers only speak it as a second language. In today's climate, talking to customers and suppliers in their own language provides you with a commercial edge.

So where do you start? The first thing to do is to actually create a language strategy. Recent research has shown that only 48 per cent of companies even have a language strategy in place. Having a language strategy affects your whole company; it can lead to higher levels of productivity, and make your company more open to innovation because it can change its whole ethos.

Research indicates that exporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are more productive than those which do not export and that there is often a hidden bonus through exposure to increased technical know how, market-awareness and cost or efficiency savings.

Given that SMEs account for more than 50 per cent of employment within the European Union, it would appear that, if a greater number of SMEs were to become successful exporters, and if those currently exporting were to expand their markets, there would be a significant impact on the European economy. There could also be considerable additional benefits in terms of greater innovation and market awareness, which in turn could impact on productivity within national economies.

Take an audit of the language skills you already have in your company - it might surprise you as to how many languages are used by your staff. There are many language skills lying dormant within companies which could assist you in making that crucial first contact with a client.

Once you have made contact it is essential to recruit expert help from companies such as Comtec for assistance with marketing and sales materials, website translations, technical specifications and contract negotiations.

Appointing native speakers, whose first language isn't English, or bilingual speakers can make a huge difference in building relations with your customers - not only will they be able to converse with ease, they will have shared traditions and an understanding of a country's culture and ethos.

Only 40 per cent of companies actually recruit staff with language skills so it is essential that this is built into your recruitment policy.

Define the language skills you need and ensure they are specified in the job description and in all advertising. French, German and Spanish are still the most common languages required by UK exporters but you may be looking further afield and require other languages such as Chinese and Russian.

For professional sales and marketing materials it is essential that a professional translator is employed. All literature should be translated - don't just consider the sales and marketing process, consider the documents your clients use once they are on board - such as operating, technical and training manuals and, of course, your website.

Potential customers are six times more likely to buy from you if he or she can access your website in their own language.

To further develop your language strategy, you should also consider providing work experience to foreign students or employees, or becoming involved in international business to business exchanges.

With an effectual language strategy your company is equipped to fully exploit the benefits of exporting.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jul 28, 2009
Words:616
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