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Found in Translation


By Judy Bradt

Savvy companies selling internationally always focus on translation. The kinds of translation that you might think of most often include language translation – both during the marketing phase as well as right through to contract documents, delivery of goods or services, and the invoice itself. And, speaking of invoices, business owners certainly pay attention to the procedures they set up for currency translation when being paid by foreign buyers.

But especially when we’re marketing to our American neighbours, and everyone is speaking English, it’s all too easy to overlook the most important kind of translation: something I’ll call problem translation. If your marketing team is talking “features” and your prospect is listening for solutions to his problems, your presentation of cutting edge technology and innovative approaches will roll right past him.

How do you get into your customer’s groove? You can live it, buy it, or learn it.

This isn’t a problem unique to exporters; it affects all of us, whether we’re selling at home or abroad. However, consider the challenge of marketing to America’s largest buyer and toughest customer – the US government. Many small Canadian firms offer highly specialized niche technologies that represent considerable improvement in price, performance, and value, over what the US government is buying right now.

They know the solution won’t sell itself, but the company’s bench strength is in the lab. They have few resources beyond their development teams to make calls on prospects. The most articulate engineer who can manage to dress presentably gets sent out to do a marketing job. That’s not always a disaster, especially when the product or solution requires a technical sell, and engineers need to talk to engineers.

Sometimes, that’s a job for the company founder. John Maris, President of Marinvent from St. Bruno, Quebec met recently with representatives of some of the US military’s top prime contractors. His company provides human factors engineering and simulation services for aerospace, and has won awards for their alliance with Jeppesen, a Boeing company, for producing the electronic aviation charts used by airlines around the world.

John has a low key style and the kind of calm, cool, laser-sharp focus that is unsurprising for a former commander of one of Canada’s CP-140 Aurora squadrons – aircraft that hunt for submarines. He was nervous about his marketing abilities, and had invited me to observe the meeting and offer comments on how he might improve his efforts.

The business development professionals from the world’s biggest names in the defence industry were expecting a marketing pitch, and not much of one, from this small Canadian company they had never heard of. But early in the meeting, when John mentioned his background in military aviation, his interlocutors brightened to find themselves talking to a fellow pilot who had flown the same type of aircraft as they had. I watched the Americans hunch up close and heard the discussion move into high technical gear.
John relaxed and was soon impressing his new friends with a demonstration of capabilities that addressed requirements he knew they had been unable to meet. The meeting launched excellent relationships, not least because everyone spoke the same language – not only of technology and problems, but also, better yet, of mutual respect for a common background in military service.

Marinvent’s experience is unusual. Few Canadian companies selling to US government employ or are run by former customers of military or homeland security solutions. The search for these talented employees pays off.

Cartenav, a small company in Bedford, Nova Scotia, markets vessel monitoring systems to the US government. “Our sales agent, a retired Canadian navy captain, has US military contacts that he develops into leads for us,” explains Michel Lechman, Vice President of Operations.

As Canada’s home labour market has relatively few military veterans with both an engineering background and marketing savvy, how else can you find “industrial translators” to bridge the language gap between your development team and your client? Canadian companies also carefully interview and hire retired US military officers who genuinely enjoy marketing and whose successful military careers leave them well-connected with former colleagues in both US industry and government. Some are advisors who open doors and make introductions for the Canadian firm’s marketing team; others handle business development and sales.

If your advisors and marketing team don’t include former military officers, don’t despair. Take a lesson from NGrain, now a75-person military training company headquartered in Vancouver. Founded in 2000, the company was recently named one of the top 20 Canadian defence companies, and is counted among the top 100 military training suppliers to the United States.

How did they do it? Great technology wasn’t enough. “We also had to learn to talk in their language, not ours,” explains Gabe Batstone, Vice President, Business Development & Professional Services. He recounts describing their solution to a senior US military officer as offering “improved comprehension.”

“He said ‘Son, what’s that mean?’ We put away our marketing brains, asked our clients what they wanted to hear, and shut up and listened. We had to turn our language and solutions into solving their problems with their metrics.”

So how well do you walk your talk? I wondered. “Tell me in one sentence what NGrain does,” I asked Gabe. His answer was immediate.

“Our interactive 3D maintenance training aids allow people who maintain and repair military equipment to accelerate learning in complex equipment and enable first-time-right repairs and optimize operational readiness at a lower cost.”

Got it.

Live it, buy it, or learn it, but find a way to speak your customer’s language.

 

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Copyright 2006 SOHO Business Report
a Dream Launchers Partner






SOHO Business report magazine, a Dream Launchers project publication, helps Small Office / Home Office Entrepreneurs succeed. We help home-based business and small business with free articles, multimedia (audio, video & interactive), tools and tips. Topics for home business and small business include business planning (e.g. business plan and marketing templates), strategy, guerrilla marketing, Internet marketing, publicity, project management, importing, exporting, taxes, finance, trade shows, technology, negotiation, consulting, sales techniques and tactics, work life balance, growth management, profit optimization, team work, leadership, human resources (recruiting, hiring, training & firing) and network marketing (referrals and contact building). SBR can help you start your home business or small business and give you the management tools and resources to succeed by making a business plan or marketing plan with expert input. All of that without getting an MBA, going through training or school. Start increasing your profits, improving your cash flow and building the business your entrepreneurial aspirations demand.