Chances are if you are a public-facing, enterprise-class company, you have at least some international customers. The U.S. may be a large market, but it’s subject to economic cycles just like any other, and a presence in multiple foreign markets not only provides a hedge against cyclical economic downturns in the U.S. and other world economies, it can provide a way to expand your presence and your revenue. But it takes more than desire to move your business into other countries. Companies that successfully transition to world markets understand the cultural, legal, and linguistic differences across these different markets. Further, they build technology and content infrastructure to support a global presence.
Don DePalma, president at Common Sense Advisory, a firm that helps companies make the transition to world markets, says when you begin to think about moving your business into different countries, it’s more than just a translation issue (although that’s part of the job). It’s also about getting potential customers to notice you whether for branding purposes or for concrete sales opportunities. “It’s got to be a wider view. When you initially engage with somebody, it’s about translation. It’s giving [visitors] the sense that here is some information available to them in their language. If you call Verizon, you’ll get, ‘Press 1 for English and 2 for Spanish.’ Similarly when you go to a website, if you are looking at the global links and you see your country, you are going to click and if there is information in your native language, it’s going to encourage you to go deeper into the site.”
However, DePalma explains that drawing the customer in is only part of the equation. If you are selling, you need to have currency converters. If you are collecting information, you have to make sure the form is in the appropriate language and that you have the proper format for postal codes and other country-specific address and phone number information. Beyond that, you have to know the laws about selling to a particular country and if there are export controls. Finally, he says you need to understand the privacy laws of a given country, especially when gathering customer information or maintaining employee information across multiple locations.
Beyond these practical problems, there is also the matter of your technology infrastructure, and he says that includes the technology the public sees and what’s not visible behind the scenes. DePalma uses an iceberg graphic to illustrate this.
“There’s stuff that’s very visible to a visitor to a website or to a portal, or for that matter, anyone who calls. You are going to see certain things about the company, but behind the obvious interactive voice response or website homepage, there is a boatload of underlying technology like CRM and transaction databases that allow the site or call center to work correctly,” DePalma explains. He adds that a company must create not only the technology infrastructure to support these activities, it must also develop a content architecture that ties all these elements together.
The remainder of this article looks at three real-world companies that were faced with these types of issues and presents the story of how these organizations handled the range of issues related to being a global company.