Asking companies if they want to translate their marketing materials or websites into foreign languages often gets the response that it would be too expensive and, anyway, if a foreign client contacted them they would be unable to respond effectively in their language.
As most businesses focus on their products, processes and their local marketing strategy, many feel uncomfortable with or unprepared for the linguistic or cultural issues that are bound to arise when dealing with overseas clients or suppliers.
The role of a Language Consultant is crucial in helping companies develop a controlled and positive approach to international business. They can provide guidance, advice and even specific training in key areas, suggesting to them a few easy steps to devise their translation strategy that is aligned with and supports their export strategy.
Developing a Communication or Language Strategy entails identifying the type and volume of communication they might need to have with any non-English speaking customers. Language Consultants advise on how to deal with this communication. Contrary to what many businesses think, to export successfully does not require having every single document, webpage or leaflet translated into hundreds of languages. Nor does it mean recruiting dozens of expert linguists to work alongside their existing staff. Once they identify what communication may take place they advise whether it needs to be translated or not.
Options they might suggest:
Basic correspondence could be handled by existing staff who already have some knowledge of a foreign language.
Undertake a simple language audit among staff. It often surprises employers how many of their staff know different languages. Even if someone only has GCSE German from 10 years previously this may be enough to let them understand the gist of an e-mail, a letter or phone call in German. If it then seems really important then they should have it fully translated. If not, then perhaps a response in English might be acceptable.
Some parts of a company website might be translated for the markets they target.
Microsites linked to their main website but containing key information to prospective foreign clients. The information may be limited to key selling points, product specifications and pre-sales service.
Order forms in dual languages (English and the "target" language) they will be easy for the client to complete but also easy for the company to respond to.
Hiring staff with specific language abilities,
Training key existing staff in appropriate languages
Producing a fully translated and localised microsite
Generating multilingual company style guides, glossaries and translation memories.
A translation manager will help to provide consistency across the corporate communications.
The message to foreign clients from a well-conceived language strategy is that you value their business, you recognise their difference and respond to it, you adapt to their needs and you make it easy for them to buy from you. Definitely significant competitive advantage.
A lot of anecdotal evidence and, increasingly, empirical evidence, suggests that both corporate and individual clients buy from who they feel comfortable with. So it is with international clients. All other factors being equal, it will be "ease of use" which leads a client to choose a particular supplier.
Any investment made in developing a comprehensive and responsive communication strategy involving translation, interpreting or language learning can be turned into a very real competitive advantage that will bring very real returns.