This is an expanded version of parts of a talk I'm giving at the Fall John Marshall Law School/Chicago Bar Association Law Conference "Online Transactions, Finance and Commerce" on October 28. If you're interested in attending, please contact Henry Meier, Jr. Esq. at
for further information.
About 20 of my 25 years consulting have included overseas clients, starting with Japan (still there!), then various European countries and also China. Here are some things I have learned from my business experiences across more than one shining sea. This may appear pretty basic for large organizations and veteran exporters, so for these subscribers, please bear with me We'll start with:
These two technologies are at the opposite ends of the high- low tech spectrum I've come to rely upon in marketing, client communications and service, research, administration (including billing) and even "product" (i.e. report) delivery:
As a small service company, we aren't using heavy-duty software for data mining, extensive telecom networks or even video conferencing. (This is not so say these aren't important. They are...VITALLY important to large, multi- national corporations.) We'll be covering some software issues in a future issue.
For me, the Internet comes in two distinct flavors: E-mail and the World Wide Web. In this section, we'll cover leveraging your own Web site; we've covered Web-based research in a number of previous issues. You may find these and other related articles at our Web site by typing in the word "research" in the search engine found on every page.
Communications. We covered this in our January newsletter. Basically, you can keep in far closer, non-intrusive, contact with your overseas customers and prospects and they can avoid the dreaded voice mail telephone-tag and late- night return calls, than with any other communications medium.
Contracts. Far faster and cheaper than wasting fancy letterhead and international postage or faxes for drafts. Cover the basics, approve the language and then send out the original. I have also used ordinary, unsecured e-mail as virtual purchase orders and even contracts for long-term existing clients. DON'T do this, however, unless you understand the risks.
Collaboration. The REAL work starts once a business relationship takes place. Here is where you'll find real efficiency and cost-effectiveness in satisfying your overseas customers. We routinely exchange attached files with our international clients on research and analytical information. (We'll talk about software compatibility later)
Surveys. For high-return responses to a targeted audience, they can't be beat. E-mail surveys can be quite lengthy and allow for open-ended replies because they are easy for the respondents. All they need to do is hit the "reply" button and place X's in boxes and type in comments...as much as they wish. An inexpensive alternative to Web-based surveys, but not suited to large numbers of responses because of the extra steps needed to transfer them to a spreadsheet or database for analysis.
Marketing. Prospects usually become customers after multiple contacts...three, four, or perhaps as many as two-dozen. This newsletter is an example. And it allows us to share information with prospects and friends alike (none of you are enemies, are you?) with minimal distribution costs. The cost of fax or mail would be absolutely prohibitive, especially for global circulation!
Accessible to the general public worldwide. Using an e-mail link or a Guest Book, you can attract inquiries from international prospects who might be reluctant to send a fax or letter.
As an Extranet or Intranet. Via passwords and other security mechanisms, you can make portions of your site accessible to customers worldwide to simplify ordering, or to your suppliers, wherever they are, to check your inventory levels. Using Lotus Notes or other message sharing systems, you can collaborate with colleagues
The next Best Thing to Being There The multi-media approach to international communications works to everyone's advantage. For example, I'll send an e- mail with a suggested time that I'll call to discuss matters in detail. It's both a matter of courtesy as well as convenience and efficiency. Your overseas contact then has the option of being available when you call or let you know via e-mail of a preferred time.
Direct Line, Rather than Corporate Number Giving your overseas contacts your direct line demonstrates respect and your availability to them and enhances the personal aspect of your business relationships. It conveys a sensitivity to their costs and time delays in getting through your corporate switchboard to your personal number or voice mail.
Your direct number is particularly important if your organization's main number is a series of menu options. Have you ever struggled to decide which number to press? I certainly have! Think of the difficulties this presents to people whose primary language is other than English. What's worse is when your international caller cannot get out of a loop to get to a human being. This has happened to me several times when I've reached someone's voice mail only to discover that I couldn't get back to the main menu without re-dialing. Falling in love with the siren song of technology can lure you right onto the rocks of global market failure.
This is the philosophy of giving away (or pricing very low) an "entrance" product to increase your income. There have been many variations on this particular theme, from the classic story of Gillette's promoting their razors just so they could sell lots of high-profit razor blades and pen makers who want to sell you their brand of refills.
Today's savvy software companies let you download their software for a free 30-day trial in the hopes you'll buy it (and keep upgrading). Giving away your technology, even if it's for a limited-trial offer. How many CD-ROMS have YOU received from AOL?
Technology companies realize that the best way to gets their technology standardized faster is to distribute it far and wide. Sun's strategy for opening its Java source code to programmers and Netscape's giving away its browser both focus on the building loyalty for their far more profitable products.
Now I don't know this for sure, but it seems logical to me that the farther away a potential customer is located, the more likely it is that the prospect would take you up on a free offer to see what you're all about, rather than risking plunking down even a modest payment for a competing product that may or may not be suitable.
Consulting firms do this routinely by posting white papers and links to targeted external sites, offering e-mailed newsletters and updates on their activities. We do too.
A long time ago I needed to replace some hosiery in Japan and wanted to purchase a U.S. brand because I stood taller than probably 95% of the Japanese women (no longer the case with the subsequent generation) and their domestic, non-stretch brands simply would not fit. Not finding any western labels, I approached the sales clerk and asked for the only brand I could thing of, L'Eggs, which I translated as "tamago pantystocking" or literally "egg pantyhose". Well, what a curious look I got! Then, using probably the only egg-related English word she knew, asked, "scramble?"
Things went from bad to worse when I tried to explain that the egg was the package in which the pantyhose were encased. Oh well. ;-)
When words fail, try pantomime and creative gestures. I once had a Portugese client in, and his interpreter needed to excuse himself for about 15 minutes to make an important telephone call. What to do? We probably had a dozen words in common between us, and I certainly didn't relish the thought of us staring at each other across the conference table. Leaving him alone to look at the pictures in Business Week didn't appeal to me either.
Aha! The world map on the wall. I got up and pointed to Chicago and then moved my finger to Portugal with a quizzical look. He got the idea and pointed to his city. I nodded in appreciation and moved back to the United States, where I pointed to our Rocky Mountains (fortunately the map showed a lot of topographical detail) and made skiing motions, and clasping my hands to my chest, indicating my enjoyment of the sport. He nodded, pointed to the Portugese shoreline and made swimming motions. We were having such a great time, I was almost sorry that the interpreter returned so quickly. (He was mighty relieved, I might add, that we were NOT staring at each other across the table!)
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