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The importance of language in early sales stages

Language isn’t necessarily a big deal for Americans. They grow up speaking English and maybe one or two other languages kinda sorta well through either schooling or a family connection. It’s a much different situation than, say, central Europe — where kids might grow up learning four or more languages.

Because language isn’t necessarily a top of mind issue for Americans (and because they oftentimes have a belief that everything can be done in English), there are actually implications for language on the sales process when American companies are trying to gain a foothold in DACH.

What have we found?

The big takeaway

Language is very important in the very early sales funnel stages. It becomes less important as you move down the funnel. We’ve seen this in hundreds of deals.

This is what tends to happen:

Very early stage: we already see a big difference in the response rate with email prospecting. Translating a well-working sales message from German into English results in a much lower response rate within the same German speaking audience. Don’t get me wrong — they all still speak English (VP level in large enterprises).

Prospects in the early stages are not patient enough to listen to a presentation in a foreign language they might not even speak that well. Doing this over GoToMeeting or Skype — with potential bad voice quality — doesn’t improve your situation. They lose you at Hello.

As a result, they don’t ask the same questions they would in German. A real discussion doesn’t happen. Now the bond is lessened. The relationship is already off on the wrong foot.

And after the first demo, they immediately consider “language barrier” as one of the top issues, no matter how good your product is. (It’s actually amazing how much power people assign to early calls and demos — we knew another situation where a sales rep was walking outside on a prospect call, and said prospect ended it because “it sounded like he was in a wind tunnel,” even though the client fit was really strong.)

Typically, if we can do the first product demo or presentation on our own in German, the overall results are much better than if we need the client in the first call doing it in English. I’ve seen several times that although the demo was performed in English by our client the prospect asked questions in German, our German speaking sales agent had to translate and suddenly we didn’t share an aligned discussion at that table. The prospect sees “language barriers” and the client thinks that was a useless meeting and the prospect acts respectless.

So what does that mean for your DACH expansion?

If you want to do business in Germany (no matter if SME or LE) get a local native German speaker to cover the top third of your sales funnel. This includes prospecting (cold calling and email prospecting), discovery and qualification calls, the first value based presentation/demo and the nurturing it takes to get a technical product demo. This will help reduce issues around any perception of language barrier and make it easier to advance down the funnel with prospects. Doing it right means nobody shall ask the prospector where — in the middle of nowhere in a sales discussion — the vendor has its headquarters.

As always, though, make sure the German speaker you work with understands your unique value and isn’t just a strict relationship-builder or seller. While that can be advantageous, it won’t scale. Ultimately this needs to be about the product or the service. The top third of funnel language help is about overcoming as many initial roadblocks as possible.

Ted Bauer
About the author

I help companies to market their content in the most effective way.

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