Commanding a strong online presence isn’t just about ensuring brand awareness and seizing new revenue. It’s essential for maintaining existing customer relationships, and offering all site visitors a world-class user experience.

Craig Witt

Companies must be ready to adapt to foreign-market changes and quickly update their digital experiences to reflect their customers’ demands.

But things get complicated when a brand expands into new global markets. Regional customer expectations morph and grow, impacting key areas of the business like sales, support, product inventory and marketing. Companies must be ready to adapt to these changes and quickly update their digital experiences to reflect their customers’ demands.

Preparing or improving an online presence for use in new foreign markets can be an enormous task. But life for marketers can become a lot easier if they ask themselves two important questions as their businesses expand globally:

♦Is our brand accessible to these new consumers?

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♦Is our website relevant to their needs?

Answering these questions honestly can mean the difference between a company winning big or falling short of more culturally relevant competitors. Here’s what business-to-business marketers should focus on as their brands expand globally and online:

♦ Are we accessible to global customers?

If marketers are not serving global markets in each region’s preferred languages, they’ve already blown it. Nearly 60% of online buyers who can read English still prefer to spend time on sites in their own language. That rises to more than 80% if the buyer has limited fluency   in English. More than half of these buyers boycott English-language websites altogether, even if they’re proficient in the language. Ouch.

Speaking the preferred local language on-site, therefore, is a must. But it’s not the only best practice that online sellers should embrace. Global sites must be useful. They must feel like they’re designed for local buyers. That means making small but significant user-centric improvements for locals. These can make the difference between making or losing a sale.Here are a few tips to get started:

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Localize payments: 59% of B2B organizations say that one third of their customers transact online. With that much revenue on the line, it’s critical to make the conversion funnel as intuitive as possible. One of the most powerful—and often overlooked—ways to streamline these global shopping experiences is to support local payment platforms.

Western companies are sometimes surprised to learn that international customers don’t use the same payment platforms that sellers do. Sure, credit cards and PayPal thrive in many overseas markets, but most countries have unique platforms and preferences. Companies that don’t support these preferences often lose big. Customers bolt when they realize their preferred payment method isn’t available at checkout. Take South Korea: There, global brands usually generate only 20% of what they’d otherwise earn, simply because they didn’t support local payment types.

Make them feel at home: 64% of B2B organizations claim that their customers resist change, and that this is a barrier to driving more online sales. This resistance can be combatted by presenting a shopping experience that feels authentic and welcoming to all customers. Optimize on-site experiences with region-relevant marketing campaigns, content, localized inventory and support.

Even adding locally formatted phone numbers for customer support can boost trust—and lead to more conversions.

Help them find you: Marketers can localize other website elements to drive organic traffic to their global sites. This includes translating URLs, site maps and search tags. Cleverly greeting first-time site visitors in the language they’re most likely to speak—and remembering that preference via an opt-in request—also moves the needle.

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These tactics may seem small on their own, but combined, they can lead to significant increases in traffic and new business leads.

♦ Is our site relevant to our customers’ needs?

Multilingual websites aren’t just a “set it and forget it” marketing tactic. If these mission-critical experiences become stale with old messaging and outdated products and services, it can sink a company’s chances in global markets.

Global sites must be refreshed in real time with the latest information about offerings, including their availability, descriptions and inventory across all necessary markets (and languages). Each change made to a company’s primary-market website must be reflected on all global pages. And it should be done in a way that’s culturally fluent and relevant to the local market.

To make this content truly resonate with local customers, this means translating and localizing all image and graphics text, product specifications and other often overlooked content like videos. This nuanced focus on global markets transcends translation, and is key to building trust and brand loyalty in these new regions.

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Brass tacks: When it comes to succeeding in online global markets, marketing teams must imagine life in their global customers’ shoes, closely examine their digital needs and wants—and then create a smart plan to engage them. Only then can online sellers avoid cultural stumbling blocks and achieve global growth.

Craig Witt is executive vice president of worldwide sales at MotionPoint, a provider of technology and services designed to help business sell online to international markets. Follow him and MotionPoint on Twitter @motionpoint.

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