The language barrier is the second biggest reason British firms are reluctant to export, the first being Brexit.
But while political issues like Brexit come and go, the language problem is more long term.
Translation specialists Comtec and e-commerce software solution b2b.store are on a mission to help UK wholesalers to sell abroad.
Sophie Howe, director of Comtec, and Rob Mannion, founder and CEO of b2b.store, tell Wholesale Manager if the famously language-phobic Brits can ever truly learn to speak the lingo and boost exports as a result. “It’s a common rule of business that you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy. If there’s a language barrier in the way then that’s not making it as easy as possible.”
Sophie Howe is describing a situation many British business people will have encountered themselves. Whether it’s buying an ice cream on the Spanish costa or asking for directions whilst driving through France, the fact that 62% of us cannot speak a second language means we understand the nature of a language barrier all too well.
But in the work Sophie does with Rob Mannion, founder of ecommerce provider b2b.store, the nature of the language barrier is often reversed. Rather than needing to communicate in a second language to acquire something we need, British businesses increasingly need foreign language skills in order to sell.
“If you ask a British business what the major issue with exporting is then the number one answer at the moment will be Brexit”, Rob says. “But the number two answer is language and the language problem has existed and will continue to exist, no matter what the political or regulatory landscape looks like.”
Rob’s business, b2b.store, specialises in working with wholesale businesses to create ecommerce solutions. The online stores b2b.store creates are developed quickly, often allowing customers to sell online within a matter of days. But for those businesses who see exporting as a potential route to expansion and growth, it was clear language was going to be both a sticking point and potentially the difference between success and failure.
“There are plenty of stats to show that customers will spend more if they are communicated with in their own language”, says Sophie. “People want to be spoken to in their own language and doing so makes them stay on websites for longer and makes them more likely to purchase. A recent client saw a 36% rise in the number of pages viewed per visitor, following a successful translation and localisation project.”
The idea that communicating with people in their own language is a benefit to businesses is nothing new, but new research has begun to shed light on exactly what difference a successful translation can make and the opportunity available to UK businesses.
Comtec and b2b.store are both involved with research by Aston Business School into the impact of language on business, which in part predates Brexit. The recently published findings include the headline that SMEs embracing language capabilities are 30% more successful in exporting than those who do not.
There is also a suggestion that businesses don’t always consider exporting as a route to growth, potentially because of a lack of in-house language skills. A somewhat dated report by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills claimed in 2016 that just 10% of registered UK SMEs export.
Rob is bullish on the opportunities available for fledgling UK exporters, particularly in the wholesale sector, when supported by the right level of translation.
“It’s not as hard as it might sound and if you partner with the right translation service then you heavily de-risk your expansion plans. In the B2B environment you must have the perfect translation, with all of the nuances of the location – it’s the crucial ingredient to whether we’re successful or not.”
Sophie agrees and Comtec’s existing client base also tends to recognise the importance of language. Now backed by the Aston Business School findings, Sophie sees more businesses trending in that direction.
“When we need to convince a client that they should be speaking in their audience’s language we know they may not be the right client for us. There are so many stats to support what we do as a process. The work we do with b2b.store is a very typical example of the type of work where businesses really see the opportunity language presents to their growth.”
Meanwhile, Rob also has b2b.store’s own international expansion on his radar.
“Every time we build a language for a client to help them to export to that market we then also gain the ability to sell to wholesalers in that location as well, so we are also expanding internationally. We’ve just completed a project in Mexico City for a Mexican wholesaler who concluded that his client base would be better served by a Mexican Spanish translation, rather than offering an English language store.”
In the post-Brexit world communication protocols for many businesses have changed. But the opportunity to export, for UK wholesalers in particular, still exists as a viable route to expansion and growth. Successful businesses entering the export marketplace will already ‘walk the walk’ in their area of expertise. In order to be successful they will also need to follow Rob and Sophie’s advice and learn to ‘talk the talk’.