5 Mistakes to Avoid When Entering a Foreign Market

Willy Brandt, the former German chancellor, gave the best advice anyone selling to foreign markets can possibly get: “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen.”

It’s true. If you want to do business internationally, you’ve got to communicate in the language of your target market. And no matter how small you are, you can be successful in foreign markets if you plan well and avoid five common mistakes.

Mistake 1: Translation Errors
It’s amazing how many businesses that want to operate abroad will skimp on translation (or even not do it at all). Translation should be a priority from the outset. Potential customers who can’t understand a product or service simply won’t buy it.

But translation in and of itself isn’t enough. Be sure to use professional translators, not someone you know who majored in languages in college. Unless you engage a professional translator who understands your specific industry, you’re more likely to communicate a lack of understanding than the benefits you bring to a foreign market.

Mistake #2: Failure to Localize
Beyond translating product spec sheets, user manuals and other marketing material into foreign languages, it’s critical to understand the cultural norms of a foreign market as well. Language professionals refer to this stage of the process as market “localization.”

A simple example of how localization differs from translation can be made by considering the differences in paper sizes from one market to another. In the United States, most letters, brochures and a host of other materials are printed on a standard 8.5×11-inch paper size. But the normal size in Europe is A4, which is vertically longer than what is typical in the United States. If you print a French brochure on standard-sized U.S. paper, the difference will visually communicate your status as a foreign marketer.

All materials should be seamlessly localized. That way, potential buyers will view your product or service as coming from a local provider who can deliver what’s promised.

Mistake #3: Cookie-Cutter Marketing Strategies
Effective marketing strategies aren’t always the same from one country to the next. An approach that works in one country may speak disaster in another.

Direct selling, for example, is often the primary way to market in Europe, and mass-marketing options are viewed as optional. But in the United States, strategies like advertising and PR are more prevalent because they’re more cost-effective in a market of over 300 million people.

In Europe, advertising and PR require customized campaigns in a dozen or more countries with different languages and diverse cultural norms. Know what’s right for the region you’re targeting. Don’t just duplicate your existing tactics.

Mistake #4: No Local Sales Representation
Would-be buyers simply don’t want to call or speak to someone on another continent when they have a local option. They want next-door service, and the number of local contacts you need depends on the country’s size.

A German company with one or two sales reps in New York may think it has a sales footprint in the United States, but the U.S. is a massive geographical region. With just a couple of sales reps in the Northeast, you don’t have enough manpower to cover the entire country if you need to make in-person presentations.

But if you’re in Belgium, a sales team of two people, one for the Flemish and one for the French speaking-regions, may be enough to cover the market. On-the-ground representation is critical, so consider the specific needs of the foreign market you want to serve.

Mistake #5: No Market Entry Plan
There is always a difference between what a new market requires and what a market needs when you already have an established presence. That’s why it’s essential to establish a country-specific plan when you want to enter a new market.

Don’t assume your existing program is perfect for your new territory. It isn’t. In most cases, you can build upon the program you already have in place, but it’s never a good idea to expand into a new area without engaging someone who understands how the campaign should be adapted to local marketing norms.

The good news is that global markets are now open to companies of every size, and qualified translators, marketers, globalization consultants and sales experts are readily available to help you succeed. With the right team on your side, you can speak the language of success anywhere in the world.

Renato Beninatto is Chief Marketing Officer of Moravia, one of the world’s leading providers of language and globalization services. Moravia helps some of most recognized brands in the world market their products and services in over 120 languages.


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