Going Global: Do Your Homework or ‘Come a Cropper’

by Jan Knight

Global“Come a cropper is a mostly British phrase meaning “fail at some venture. While it’s not likely to come up in a face-to-face business meeting with a new potential British client, it may well come up in a casual conversation at the corner pub after you leave that face-to-face meeting.

Language, whether it be professional, casual or idiomatic, is just one small, sometimes fun, potentially disastrous piece of the puzzle in international business and part of the concept of “Cultural Intelligence.” You DO need to understand the cultural background and behavior of people you need to deal with as partners, customers or vendors.

Tips for Researching International Markets

Business Intelligence is also crucial to determine if there even is a market overseas, let alone who they might be, how they buy and, in many cases, who do they currently buy from (i.e., your potential competition). Researching markets, industries and competitors is a must whether you’re just exploring or writing a full-fledged business plan. Here are a few tips for international research.

What do “they” call that thing?

Purse vs Handbag vs Wallet. Imagine you’re attempting to identify the market size for a new type of women’s purse in the UK? Make sure to search on the term handbag, or some variant, because in the UK a purse is what money is carried in (aka U.S. wallet) and this in turn is often carried INSIDE a handbag (aka U.S. purse).

Bespoke. Many of us may relate this term to the clothing and tailoring industry and it’s roughly equated to “made-to-measure” versus “off-the-rack.” Certain international audiences now use the term to refer to almost anything custom. Some see it as a differentiator in consulting and, in fact, if you Google™ “bespoke consulting” dentists UK (presumably you’re looking for a consultant who works specifically with dentists!) you would find people who do just that.


Most are familiar with color in the U.S. vs colour in the UK, but some differences could really trip up a researcher looking at international markets. A Google™ search for Aluminum shutters market size (note the lack of the “i”) results in about 106,000 results. The same search spelling it the Australian or UK way as aluminium shutters brings up half that amount but with some focusing on markets other than the U.S.

Don’t just “dot.com” it!

I tell clients, “Don’t Just Google™ it,” and, usually, I’m encouraging the use of tools rather than search engines. However, for international research, I encourage not using just the U.S. version of the ubiquitous search engine. There are not only country-specific Google™ search engines such as google.co.au (Australia), google.co.uk (UK), google.co.jp (Japan) etc., but many countries have their own specific search engines in their own language.

Admittedly, language can sometimes be a problem, but maybe you need to hire someone who speaks Czech to search Seznam.cz or Russian to search Yandex.ru, a company that once boasted having a 60-percent market share in search. However, in this case, Yandex also has an English language version, yandex.com, so there’s no excuse.

Once your homework has shown a potential market opportunity, it’s also critical to understand how to market specifically to that local region or country. Ensure your website and marketing materials and messages are “bespoke” to that market one could say!

Bottom line: Don’t “come a cropper” in your attempts in international business. Do your homework.

by Jan Knight is with Bancroft Information Services  

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