Companies who wish to grow business overseas are faced with a difficult path. In 2011, 78% of people in North America, 58% in Europe and only 11% of people in Africa have internet access. Europe and Africa both have large populations who are not currently online but will be in the coming decade. It is clear that with the majority of future internet users emanating from somewhere other than the United States, finding ways to service these new customers is paramount. 

Establishing a rapport and being persuasive with overseas markets is not simply a matter of offering one's products in the new market.  In the European Union, 42% of internet users state that they will not buy a product in anything but their native language, and another 38% of them do so only occasionally. With e-commerce sales projected to hit US$ 820.5 billion in 2012 and growing at a staggering 19% per year, the potential rewards available to companies who take the necessary steps to meet the needs of overseas customers are unquestionable.

Communication and Growth Barrier

The primary problem that prevents companies from communicating effectively with potential new customers overseas is the translation of marketing and other customer-facing materials. Companies who do not find a way to communicate in the native language of an overseas market will, simply put, fail to thrive in the environment.

From the customer perspective, being able to learn about products and engage with sales in a native language makes for a much more comfortable experience. Seeing that a company has invested the time and resources in localized content also sends a clear message that the company is interested in creating a lasting relationship. Both having a comfortable sales experience and seeing that the company is investing time and money into communicating in a native language can't help but make a customer more likely to do business with a company who is new to the overseas market.

An Unconventional Solution

The cost to demonstrate this kind of long-term commitment to your overseas community can, over time, become sizable.  With e-commerce sales approaching a trillion dollars, it is hard to argue that expanding online business isn't worth the investment, yet keeping the costs of expanding into foreign territories at manageable levels is an obvious key to success. There is one available source of translation work that has the potential to dramatically decrease these costs and that has the added value of increasing the speed to a finished product and to forging a better relationship with the customers in the new country. Since each new market has its own distinct set of needs, it makes sense to use the potential and current customers in that market to do the actual translation for you.

It may seem counter-intuitive to approach the audience to help you in crafting the sales pitch itself, but there is real value in doing so. After all, your customers clearly have the native language abilities you would want in a translator. They also have a unique understanding of the particulars of the local market. Having current customers translate your message will ensure that it appeals to potential customers in their country and is a powerful way to guarantee that your marketing reaches the intended audience. This also has the added benefit of engaging your current customers in the messaging effort, which in turn can increase their loyalty to your business. To further engage your customer translators, adding elements of gamification, like a leader board can potentially take an expensive line item and turn it into a customer retention and recruitment tool.

In short, engaging new customers in a foreign market to assist you in your localization efforts has the potential to grant you access to enhanced business growth, increase market awareness of your brand, and help you engage with and thus retain your customers in a very unique way. It also puts you in good company, since organizations like Facebook, Twitter and Hootsuite have already turned to crowdsourcing to help grow their international business. And, in leveraging the power of your customer base to handle translation, you can also get a share of that 19% per annum growth in online business without ever leaving your chair.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: