Why go global with your customer reference program? Because sales and marketing teams—not to mention customers—expect relevant information immediately. Sales and marketing materials, including references and reviews, don’t just need to be business-appropriate. They also need to be culturally and linguistically appropriate.
Businesses can increase sales and accelerate the sales cycle by influencing current and future customers through the use of third-party validation. No matter where a customer is within the buying cycle, you need to have a variety of references available for the different stages and different personas in each step.
Direct marketers need to be educated about cultural taboos in branding, naming, advertising and marketing to avoid mishaps. These tips can be applied across the continuum of marketing channels, including social, email, websites, applications, reference programs and sales programs to help brands to successfully connect with customers around the world with a consistent, positive and targeted message. Here are a few additional examples of why local insight for global campaigns can be so important:
- Email: Direct marketers need to understand local cultures and traditions so that they can properly time their communications. For example, customers in the U.K. can receive communications on July 4th, and customers in India won’t open communications delivered during the Cricket World Cup.
- Social: Consider the impact of location-based marketing and social media. Centrally managed global marketing campaigns must consider the additional context that location provides and should deliver content that is locally authentic.
- Content: All English is not created the same. For instance, consider American English vs. British English.
- Mobile: Direct marketers need to remember that not everyone has a smartphone. They need to use the right mobile technology to reach their audiences. Text messaging is still a very important part of mobile marketing.
There are three approaches to building a globalized marketing program:
A centralized approach can be simpler to deploy. Metrics, branding, legal drafts, mission and vision, pipeline management and resources are all managed by a geographically connected team. However, there are downsides—it can be difficult to overcome language barriers, local customs and laws might be misunderstood, and it is more difficult to build trust and rapport with global customers.
With a decentralized approach, your team may be closer to their customers and will be able to present your products and services in a culturally and linguistically relevant format. Your team will be familiar with the territory and market landscape and can use those insights to more effectively manage sales and clients. It can be difficult to control the brand and messaging in a decentralized approach and coordinating a relatively seamless organizational culture can be problematic.
Running a flexible blended program with a global focus and local execution can bring together the best of both worlds. The centralized team can focus on brand and messaging management, tools, infrastructure and communication, while the decentralized team can work in the field to realize those goals and work hand-in-hand with customers and prospects. The blended approach enables companies to achieve economies of scale, while still building customer relationships that are rooted in local cultures, customs and practices.
Regardless of your approach, there are five tips that will set your program up for success.
1. Relationships take time to build. Companies that want to develop strong customer advocates in other parts of the world should be prepared to invest time to build long-lasting relationships. In some countries, establishing rapport can take several months; in others, it can take several years.
2. Respect cultural formalities. Titles and forms of address are very important in some cultures. For example, in Japan, you show respect by adding the honorific “san” to the person’s name. “Koji-san” is a respectful form of address to Mr. Koji.
In Asia and the Middle East, efforts to engage a particular contact at a customer company may depend on whether you can arrange an introduction from someone who is either higher in the chain of command or someone whom the desired contact admires. Yet in more egalitarian societies, like Scandinavia, you are better off simply contacting a person directly, because invoking the name of someone else may be seen as unwelcome “name-dropping.”
Humor should be used sparingly, however. What’s perceived as funny varies wildly between locales and regions, and even between individuals.
3. Simple gestures can make a big difference. Small talk can be nice—and in some cultures, it’s essential. Choose topics carefully and avoid politics. For example, in Arab countries, it’s okay to ask, “How is your family?” But avoid specifically asking about a person’s daughter.
In Asia, a business card is seen as an extension of the person. Present your business card to the person you meet, text-side out, with both hands—and never with the left hand alone. Likewise, take the card that is offered to you with both hands, looking at the card and then at the person, acknowledging him or her. Keep the card on the table in front of you during the meeting.
4. Group and social hierarchies. In individualistic cultures like those in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Northern Europe, it is acceptable for individuals to promote their own reputations and social status. In some other cultures, however, people often prioritize their colleagues’ reputations over their own.
5. Regional privacy laws. Be aware of local privacy requirements when collecting data for customer references. For example, actions that are acceptable in the United States, such as scanning trade show badges, may violate the law in other countries.
Further, be cautious about incentivizing customers. In some countries, including the U.K., employees are forbidden to accept gifts. In other countries, gifts are expected and customary.
Be aware of cultural differences, assume nothing and take time to find out what is expected within a given culture.