The Olive Way E-Newsletter 

May 2009


The Power of Speaking Your Customer’s Language


At a small roadside restaurant in a northern Vietnamese village, we were enjoying our supper.  A girl about 12 years of age came by.  She must know that these foreigners were bound to do some sightseeing and she wanted our business.  She had some maps in her hand and started her sales pitch vigorously. 


She started speaking English.  We smiled and on hearing “nous ne comprenons

pas”, the girl immediately switched to her beautiful French.  Now that really put many of us from a “bilingual” country to shame.  Then spotting the only Oriental face in the group, she came closer and talked to me in fluent Chinese. 


A quad-lingual 12-year-old, speaking three of the six United Nations official languages. Enthusiastic, fearless, observant and diplomatic.  With accumulated and strong sales experience, excellent communication skills and sound judgment!  How does this resume look?  Any employer not acting quickly to lure someone like her on board stands to lose in the global competition. 


In today’s global business environment, linguistic skills are critical to open doors, to win friends and customers, and to smooth communication.  Companies engaging in international or cross-cultural business need to take a good hard look at their marketing teams and sales forces.  Do they speak their customers’ language/s, or do they have any knowledge of their customers’ language/s?  Besides the interpreter, who else on the negotiating team understands the party across the table the moment someone starts speaking his/her own language?


The story above is a reminder to reevaluate your company’s hiring policy and language training policy.  Very often companies stress communication skills, but rarely do employers include foreign language proficiency as a prerequisite for taking on those critical global positions.  And when bilingual skill is at all mentioned in some places, it often strictly refers to English and French.  How many people are really bilingual even in that narrow sense after years of investment in their French language training?  Is it the language of their target market?  


Why is it important for global marketing and sales professionals to understand the language of their target markets? 


· Knowing a language allows one to better appreciate the deeper cultural nuances. 

· It helps minimizing misunderstanding.

· It is a statement of respect and it shows your interest.  It makes it easier to close the distance and to build trust. 

· It helps you better understand the perspectives of the other side. 

· When you know the mindset of the people you do business with, you would have more meaningful and effective communication.  It also helps you formulate appropriate strategies and tactics for negotiation. 

· At a negotiation table, it is a huge advantage to be able to understand the other party right away.  You gain yourself more time to prepare your response, and to adapt your tactics accordingly while your interpreter is doing his/her job. 

· If and when your interpreter or/and translator makes a mistake, you can catch it before it is too late.  


The list of benefits goes on.  Do not underestimate the power of speaking a foreign  language.  Take action.  Pick up or brush up the language of your target market.  It is never too late.  The next time you speak to your customer, use his/her language and see what difference that makes. 



Have a comment?  Want to share your thoughts and stories with me or our readers?  Please send your email to us.  We look forward to hearing from you!


© 2009  Jacqueline Wu & Olive Kan Global.  All rights reserved.

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