Tips for successful internationalization: how to succeed in international sales

Angela Krolo, Sales Manager at oneword, has already reported on why professional localisation is extremely important, even for small companies. Here are her tips!

From the oneQuestion series: oneAnswer

Be precise when choosing your corporate language, address your customers individually and determine quality standards and levels!

Many companies today have 4 to 5 standard languages in their portfolio so that they can create communication materials for more than 15 countries and distribute them in their target markets. But that’s not enough. Particularly in the B2C sector, a growing number of consumers and users today expect to be approached in their native language. The more complex the product or service, the more this number of consumers increases. So this is the rule of thumb: for almost 60 percent of buyers, it’s more important that product information, customer service and subsequent support are available in their native language than the price being low. And if the goods are highly complex and require explanation, this percentage is even greater.

It’s also important that live communication via support chats on a company’s website or user communication and reviews on social media channels are in the customers’ native language. Our tip: with 12 languages, you can reach 80 percent of the economically-relevant online global population. So, if you invest more budget in translating your product communication, you will be winning over more of your target audience right from the start. Create quality levels: For official, long-lasting materials, translations should be produced using ISO 17100-certified workflows. For short-lived, follow-up communications, individual customer communication or simple customer reviews, you can accept (slightly) lower quality levels. For example, a much shorter-lived communication can also be machine-translated and then subsequently undergo light post-editing.

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Localise your marketing and sales content. Create less content, but tailor it to your target audience: this is often much more effective than broad-ranging but standardized communication!

Respect the linguistic identity of the target country, but also remain true to your distinctive corporate language!

In Scandinavia, and often in Great Britain, companies usually communicate on a more personal level and with a direct approach: They switch to first name terms quickly. Instead of greeting somebody with “Dear Mrs. Schmitt”, they simply say “Hej Annika!”. Follow these traditional communication rules, but also adhere to your own communication principles and maintain the writing style that your brand specifies as part of your corporate identity. For example, as a quality leader and reputable brand for financial products, you have to use a fundamentally different communication style than a hip ice cream brand. In this respect, do not “disguise” yourself. Record your distinctive communication principles in a style guide. Your texts can then be localised using these rules as a starting point.

Furthermore, languages change and continuously adapt to current social developments. This is so in some countries (e.g. Germany, England or the Netherlands) more than in others (e.g. Italy, France and Sweden). In Germany, we no longer speak of Hagestolz (bachelor), Buttervogel (butterfly) or Pläsanterie (amusement); it’s also rare for something to be honett (righteous), kommod (comfortable) or zuvörderst (first and foremost). Language changes with the society that speaks it. You should therefore have your translations done by professional translators who are familiar with the current market.

Be aware of the meaning of colours, behaviours and current trends in the target market.

While white is the colour of innocence, cleanliness and peace in western countries, in Asian countries it stands for mourning and death. The colour red also has very different meanings: in western countries, it’s usually equated with fire, anger and danger, but in China, for example, it means joy, happiness and fame.

But there are also differences among European cultures: while blue stands for loyalty, quality and coldness in Northern European countries and Germany, it signifies anger, fear and jealousy in Southern European countries like Italy, Portugal and France.

In Germany, white is the colour of the bride. In China it is red. As culture, tradition and social norms change, so does the use of colour as a symbolic force

Stay up to date:

What interests your market-specific target groups when you communicate with them? If that country has just been unexpectedly knocked out of the World Cup, using a storytelling campaign about football for your product placement may be problematic. Communication campaigns with a political slant should also be treated with the greatest sensitivity. But the risk can be worth the effort: If you can incorporate current cultural phenomena and social trends into your communication, you show that you are at home in the target market, that you are well informed and that you are aware of current developments in society. But be careful: here, too, you should operate in line with your corporate identity and brand.

Celebrate holidays when they happen… in the target market:

Germany’s Christmas celebration on 24 December is celebrated in Spain, Greece and Russia on 6 or 7 January. The most important holiday in the USA is Thanksgiving and in China it’s New Year’s Day, when the country is in a week-long celebratory mood and it’s a public holiday. Please also be aware of seasonal differences and holiday periods.

Purchasing behaviour itself can also vary greatly from country to country:

While German online shoppers are very price-conscious, trust in the retailer plays a major role in the UK. In France, on the other hand, online shoppers are very brand-conscious and are particularly attracted by a valuable brand. There, “sale” would not be a particularly good catchword either: after all, it means “dirty” in French.

Only offer live communication channels if you have the appropriate resources.

Of course, as part of an international communication strategy, it’s also important to analyse the feasibility of individual projects. As well as having a presumably expensive call centre including an online support chat and customer hotline, many companies today resort to chatbots, which are supposed to take care of (initial) live communication with the customer. At first glance, this appears to be an important touchpoint that is essential for success and can actually be a good way to complement live communication. However, chatbots will not replace human communication for the time being: Be aware that many consumers are not satisfied if you only offer a chatbot. They may become impatient and break off communication when they realise that they’re only going to get standardised answers that barely respond to their specific needs in a personalised way, no matter how high-quality the language in the answers is. In such cases, it’s more appropriate to have the customer write an e-mail and respond to it as soon as possible.

Be visible online!

A company’s online presence is often the first touchpoint for the customer. To be visible, your website must be SEO-optimized for each language. But Google is not everything. On a global scale, Bing and Yahoo should also not be forgotten. Yandex is also the undisputed leader among search engines in Russia; in China, it’s Baidu. Bring the search volume in the individual search engines and the average click prices into the equation to make an initial rough budget and to analyse the competition. Professional language service providers can help you transfer your SEO strategy from the domestic market to other countries: After all, the best SEO presence in your own market is no guarantee that your SEO will be successful abroad. It does not make sense to just translate the keywords and the website. International consumers do not all search for products on the Internet in the same way. Preferences, search behaviour and the like change from culture to culture. Consequently, keywords have to be identified according to search volumes and local usage behaviour and then added to an appealing text.

Don’t just think in languages! Think in regions as well

Many companies today believe translating content into Spanish, English or French is sufficient to cover the entire Spanish-, English- and French-speaking world. The Spanish spoken in Mexico is different to that of Spain, the English spoken in England is different to that of North America, and France speaks significantly different French to Canada or Switzerland. The same is true for Portuguese or German. Both languages have special expressions, idioms, vocabulary and colloquial language depending on the country they are spoken in.

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, for example, can be used as an initial way of analysing culture and society in certain regions. This provides some basic conditions for which communication should be fostered as a priority in the target market and can give you an initial idea of how to approach the topic.

Power distance

Countries with a large power distance live in a culture with more rigid hierarchies and greater power inequalities, which also strongly influences language. For marketing materials, this means having a stronger focus on older people, since in such countries they are usually accorded greater respect and have a higher status in society than in countries with less power distance. The power distance tends to decrease with a higher level of education.


The way a country communicates is decisively influenced by whether the culture is more orientated towards individualism or collectivism. Does “we” count more than the individual “I”?

While individualistic cultures are low-context cultures, collective societies tend to belong to a high-context culture. The terms high-context and low-context describe to what extent a message is interpreted based on contextual clues (high-context) or directly, openly and honestly pronounced “calling a spade a spade” (low-context).

Did you know that about 75 percent of the world’s population is more collectivist? (Source: Global marketing and advertising: Understanding Cultural Paradoxes, p.77)


The dimension masculinity/femininity describes how much society is oriented towards the traditional distribution of roles. This also has an enormous impact on communication.

In a culture with a high degree of masculinity, people are more likely to act in a determined and competitive manner. Feminine values include caring, cooperation and modesty. Target market-oriented language also takes this cultural dimension into account.

Uncertainty avoidance

Cultures with a high level of “uncertainty avoidance” tend to be sceptical about new products and innovations. They need to be introduced to new products slowly and the companies must have more convincing arguments than in cultures that have a low level of uncertainty avoidance. Also, compared with risk-taking cultures, societies afflicted by more uncertainty are much more regulated, with stricter rules and guidelines, which is designed to limit uncertainty. This should also be considered when addressing the target group.

Long-term/short-term orientation

Long-term orientated cultures have a lot of respect for traditions and loyalty. Commitment to the community is also very important here. In contrast, short-term orientated cultures are dominated by creativity and individualism: An individual’s self-fulfilment takes centre stage. The focus is on the present; quick, short-term plans and successes are desired.

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