By Helen Tong

Sales lead generation is an important aspect of every business. However, when it’s taken on a global scale, the matter is much more complicated.

Whether a company is trying to generate sales leads domestically or internationally, there are a few basic issues it needs to keep in mind such as what are the product or service features and benefits and who is the target market. Once the target market has been established, then the company must find ways to reach this particular audience and convey its features and benefits to that market. Reaching a domestic market is simpler than reaching a global market. Issues such as language as well as customs can become a barrier. What works in one country doesn’t necessarily work in another.

There are, of course, some fundamental principles and ways of generating leads on a global scale. It’s up to the company to come up with creative ways to implement these principles.

Print advertising
Print advertisements exist almost everywhere in the world. Whether an ad in a print magazine or on billboards, the theory is to promote through words and images the features and benefits of your company’s product or service. The key is to find the appropriate medium. Billboards work better for consumer-type products, whereas trade magazines would be the preferred medium for business-to-business products and services. There’s one item that every company must remember to include—contact information. Without this crucial piece of information, prospects aren’t able to reach your company causing it to lose leads.

Traditionally, direct mail campaigns are also used to generate sales leads. Most direct mail pieces require an action from the receiver. Whether it’s filling out a form to request more information or to put in an order, responses from this type of campaign normally come from highly qualified leads. Other tools used to generate responses through direct mail campaign are either the inclusion or the promise of a premium. However, monetary premiums aren’t as effective internationally because the different currencies make the offer less appealing.

Another option would be to send out mass fax broadcast to lists of prospects. However, because the audience is international, differences in telephone number formats and country codes—not to mention language—make it difficult to reach prospects. Fax broadcasts are normally a quick way to disseminate information. A reply form can also be included on the fax asking for a reply via fax or to ask the prospect to call for more information. This method can be expensive due to the cost of long distance phone calls, whereas the cost for print advertising would depend on individual publications. As for direct mail, the cost can be kept to a minimum if it’s a very simple piece. However, the more creative a direct mail piece, the higher the cost, particularly if premiums are included.

Electronic advertising
In recent years, other forms of advertising have emerged to help generate sales leads. Mainly, it’s the advent of the Internet. In the United States, the Internet has become part of most people’s lives. Nearly every business has at least access to the Internet if they don’t already have their own website. The advantage of the Internet is it can be accessed from any part of the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s only limited to those who have access to the World Wide Web.

One of the forms of electronic advertising is called banner ads. These are normally images in a bar that appear on a web page and, when clicked on, bring the user to the company’s website. It’s a tool that’s commonly used for branding rather than sales lead generation. However, once you bring a user to your site, the user can request information about your products and services, therefore generating new sales leads. You can also post your catalogs online, which will enable a prospect to see immediately all the products and services the company offers.

In an effort to reach a global market, some companies are offering their websites in various languages enabling the user to view a website in the language they’re most comfortable with. This will minimize the chance of losing leads that are in a foreign language. A visitor to a multilingual web site can assume they can request information or ask questions in the language in which they’re viewing the website. Many companies have multilingual staff to support these situations. Chances are a prospect would rather deal with a company that can communicate in his or her native language.

There are a number of ways a website can generate sales leads, even on a global scale. Some methods have been listed above. There is also the option of posting testimonials or various trade tools on the website. Testimonials offer the viewer a chance to see what other people have to say about your products and services. These little tidbits of information from a third party give the company credibility. It would be even better if you have various testimonials in different languages. Prospects around the world would feel comfortable contacting your company. As for trade tools such as conversion calculators, these are effective in bringing a prospect or customer back to the website. The more interest you generate, the more leads you produce.

Another item to keep in mind regarding your website if you want to reach the global market is to make your website is search engine friendly—even the foreign language ones. This can be a tedious and complicated task and better left to experts. However, if a webpage is search engine friendly, it allows for people around the world to find your company. When prospects enter keywords or phrases in one of the search engines such as Infoseek or Yahoo and your company comes up at the top of the results list, you have a better chance of being contacted by potential customers around the world, thus more international sales leads!

Other lead generation tools
Besides advertising, there are other options to generate sales leads on a global scale.

One of these methods is trade shows. A company can either exhibit or attend a trade show. Since there are thousands around the world, it’s necessary to find the ones that best apply to the market you cover. Exhibiting at trade shows allows a company to demonstrate its products and explain its services. It also provides excellent networking opportunities enabling companies to speak to prospects face-to-face. On the other hand, attending a trade show is less expensive. It does provide excellent networking opportunities as exchanging business cards normally occurs at these events where people from all over the world participate.

Also, there are many instances where prospects around the world would contact embassies and chambers of commerce to find alternative sources for the products and services they require. Therefore, it’s important to establish contacts with various embassies and chambers of commerce. These offices can refer good sales leads from all over the world.

Another variation to establishing contacts with embassies and Chambers of Commerce is to join various professional organizations. These organizations could be related to the products and services the company specializes in or they can be related to your job function. It’s another form of networking opportunity. It’s basically creating opportunities for word-of-mouth referrals.

Language and customs
No matter which medium is used to generate international sales leads, it’s important to keep in mind the language and customs of other countries. A word in English may have a different meaning once translated into another language. Or the use of the same word in a campaign may mean different things in different countries. A classic example of this situation is when years ago, Chevrolet tried to promote the Nova in Spain. Unfortunately, it failed. The reason is because Nova means “no go” in Spanish and who would want to buy a car that doesn’t go!

Other things to consider are customs in different countries. For example, different colors have different meanings in various cultures. The same theory would apply to images. Certain images or icons may have religious or cultural meanings that may not be obvious to you.

When you’re dealing with an international market, it’s very important to understand the habits, language and culture of each individual country, so as not to offend anyone. You won’t be able to generate any type of sales leads from a group in a particular country if you offend the entire group.

Conclusion
Generating sales leads is a challenging task for anyone in any particular country. Taking this task to a global level is even more difficult. Understand your target market and tailor your message to them. This is a general theory that applies to anyone in any country.

About the author
Helen Tong is marketing director for American Export Group (AEG) of New York. It publishes the American Export Register, the most comprehensive directory of 45,000 U.S. exporting companies listed under 5,500 product and service categories. It’s cross-indexed in several languages and distributed in nearly 200 countries. AEG also publishes the American Export Products, a magazine of brochures and catalogs from American companies. She can be reached at (212) 629-1181, (212) 629-1140 (fax) or email: htong@aernet.com

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