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Preparing Your Web Site Strategy for Global Business

By Bill Dunlap

The Internet has done much for eliminating the issue of distance and geography, and we can use it to extend our business to most anywhere in the world. How can we best maximize the implications of the globalization of business by harnessing the power of the Internet?

Diminishing the Importance of the "Middleman"

Doing business with other countries has always required someone at your company (or on hire) who can translate prospective customer inquiries and orders into English, and reply in their language. Often this intermediary position is taken by a local distributor in each country, who stocks product or represents a vendor's services, and provides the local interface between vendor and client. Often this distributor/representative will even have a reseller network in his country. However, as the Internet is capable of eliminating intermediaries, the vendor will have to figure out how to replace some of the functions that his distributor used to fulfill, if he wants to be successful in Internet marketing.

An important consequence of eliminating distributors is that the total margin between vendor and customer is "squeezed down", so that the final price overseas is considerably less than it would have been by going through a distributor. Simultaneously, the vendor's margin can increase and the company become more efficient, producing better financial results. Whereas in traditional business, he might have had to give up to 60% off retail price (or more), a direct approach to electronic commerce gives far less lost margin, even after considering the extra costs of doing business directly with the customer.

This article covers the various aspects of internalizing the distributor's (or company representive's) functions, covering four aspects of international business.

  • Where to target your marketing?

  • Communication by email (marketing, ordering and support)

  • Overseas email communications

  • Virtual overseas offices

  • Payment and delivery mechanisms

  • Language issues on a Web site

  • Promotion and Advertise of the Web site

  • Internet marketing off the WWW

  • Some examples

Where to Target Your Marketing?

As you start using the Web to present your company's products or services, your analysis needs to keep in mind two factors:

  • which countries you already sell to

  • which countries are sufficiently online to attract clients

If your company does not have much experience in international sales, then you might as well target the markets with the highest concentration of online population:

  • Japan (7 million) and

  • Germany (3-4 million).

As of early 1997, there were approximately:

  • 3 million Finns online (60% of the population),

  • 2.5 million French-speakers (Quebec, France, Switzerland and Belgium),

  • 2.2 million Swedes (one Swede out of four),

  • 1.5 million Spanish-speakers (U.S. Hispanic, Spain, and Latin America),

  • 1 million Brazilians (Portuguese language).

The most recent figures are available on Web page

Communication By Email

How do you deal with direct inquiries by email when your prospects come to your Web site in other languages? After all, English is not written well by most potential overseas online customers, and your Web site should make it clear that they can inquire in their own language. The idea here, of course, is to gather as many leads as possible.

The best and most economical solution is to use an automatic translator software. The resulting text isn't perfect, but you can understand what is being asked, and you can respond easily. Starting in May, 1997, there will be a direct email translation service for those who prefer not to purchase translation software. It will cost around $2 per message translated (around 200-300 words length). Contact author for more details.

Virtual Overseas Offices

When you sell internationally, it is best to give the customers the choice of how they want to contact you. Besides email (which is not so widespread outside the U.S./Canada), there are other basic means to attract more prospects and customers. A local phone and fax number in the countries that you target can be useful for prospects and customers contacting you, and not as expensive as you think. There is a lot to be said for the concept of "virtual offices" abroad, whereby your company has a phone number in important cities that doubles as a voicemail/fax contact point local to the prospect/customer. (For more information, send a blank email to Another option, if you are outside the U.S./Canada, you can have an U.S. "800" toll-free number that terminates in your office, for American/Canadian customers to call you.

Payment and Delivery Mechanisms

Once the prospect is convinced to place an order, there are several mechanisms that exist for payment. For all amounts over $10, it is simply necessary to take a credit card number -- either by email (from a secure page on your Web site), by fax, or over the phone.

If you are not set up to accept credit cards, First Virtual ( can provide this service at a reasonable charge. You then have a choice for making the bank transaction: either manually (using special software and calling a U.S. 800 number, if you are a U.S. company), or automatically (using Cybercash software [], if you are a U.S. company, or Kleline [] if you are a European company). Thomas Cook, the leader in international currencies exchange, has just opened an online service:

International delivery is probably the most difficult problem to tackle for most products, as it needs to be reasonable in both price and delivery time. International delivery is too expensive to consider top services such as Federal Express, UPS, DHL, etc. You need to research this area well for your city and analyze what options exist. These vary from city to city, and there is no general solution. It all depends on the size, weight and target markets (which countries) for your product. (Services do not present this difficulty, of course.)

Language of your Web site

While it is not necessary to translate your entire Web site into a number of languages, you really should consider translating at least the most important pages. Yes, it is true that many people overseas read English (but far fewer feel comfortable to write you email in English). However, if you are selling to Europe, do keep in mind that only 28% of the half a billion total European population can read English. For South America, this fraction is probably less.

When you market to countries where English is spoken well (Holland and Scandinavia), remember that people in these countries don't particularly read English sites, just because they can read English. They read their local news and Websites in their local language. If English comes up, it's no problem as it would be in Southern Europe, but advertisers in their local magazines certainly do not market to them in English. The local language is used. So do not think that you don't have to make an effort to localize in these countries, just because they read English!

Click here to see the indexes used in other countries

In deciding which languages in which to market your company, take into consideration where your company is already selling, where the logistics of delivery is not much of a hurdle, and how many people are online there. The combination of these factors should point the way to spending your international marketing budget.

Remember that you can "fold in" languages over time, so that you start with, say, two languages, gradually develop those, while planting the seeds of other languages. You can work with a content provider who writes these pages, and each language section of your Web site will start taking on a life of its own, as well as the characteristics (even visually) of that culture. Hence, there is no reason for shrink away from localizing your Web site because it costs too much. Instead, do part of it at a time, and increase the marketing efforts on the language sections that you feel most confident with. This is where your first overseas sales will probably start: where you have put in the necessary work to make your localized Web site credible in that country. As in the offline world, a business needs to be credible before customers start spending money there.

Ready? Set? Fire... Promote and Advertise Your Web Site

Now that you have established the beginnings of your non-English Web pages, how do you attract visitors from other countries to them? The techniques are actually similar to how you would promote your Web site in English-speaking countries, except that you need to perform the actions in other languages now:

  • index registration
  • press releases
  • working the local Newsgroups and forums
  • mutual links
  • banner Advertise

To register a Web site in another country, indexes frequently ask for a local address, phone number, and sometimes even a local host computer. This is easy if you have a distributor you can work with in a given country, but if you are trying to work the world through one main office, it is quite a challenge. Another issue is that you will need to register a "jump page" in the local language, which will serve as your localized Home Page until the rest of your site fills out in that particular language. This should not cost more than $50-75 to translate and put into HTML per language. Indexes in other countries do not exist to register English Web sites: they are interested in the languages spoken in their own country.

Press releases. It helps to have someone local in the countries you are targeting send the press release, as they can act as your interface if the press wants more information. They also most likely have contact with the press already.

Working Newsgroups and forums in the countries you are targeting. Again, there is no substitute for having someone local represent your company in Newsgroups and forums in that language, and tactfully bring attention to your Web site.

Mutual links. Although there are not as many indexes and searches engines outside English-speaking countries, there are a good deal of private lists of links about certain subjects. It is your job to get on these lists and point people to your Web site. And again, you will need someone who speaks the language well to do this work.

Banner Advertise. This deserves an entire paper itself, the subject is so big. This is perhaps the most effective way of Advertise your Web site, since the reaction is immediate and emotional for someone online to find you. They see your banner, and something triggers them to click on it, and bang! they're on your Web site. Working this technique in many countries means having several banners, the text of each in local languages of the targeted countries.

If you are interested in these techniques of Website promotion and finding out what they cost to implement for your Web site, go to the Global Reach Web site at, which seems to be the only service that is comprehensive in offering all European languages (wherever they are spoken) and Japanese.

Internet Marketing off the WWW

Don't think that it is only on the Web where you can market your company. According to Netscape's 1996 statistics, only one-quarter of the online world is on the Web, and there are many techniques of finding clients that do not involve the Web.

Autoresponders Most everyone knows about autoresponders these days. It's like fax-on-demand for email. Send a blank email and you get a document back. Your company documentation and sales material should have a text form that can be retrieved by autoresponders. In fact, many autoresponders can reflect the content and structure of your Web site, with the only difference that your visitor is getting the information by email, not by the Web. Naturally, if you intend to use the Internet for international marketing, you will need to have the most important pages of your Web site represented in autoresponder form, in the languages of the countries you wish to target. For more information about autoresponders, send a blank email to .

Mailing lists (forums). There are many mailing lists available to those in other countries, and this can be an excellent way of generating leads. Of course, all the action happens in the language of those countries you are targeting, so you will need someone who knows your company and can represent it in an online discussion.

Chat groups. Chat, once the province of the online services where it generates up to 70% of revenues, is beginning to really heat up on the Web. There is no question that Chat will present new marketing, promotion and Advertise opportunities and smart marketers will experiment early while costs are relatively low. Online history has proven that early entrants "lock up" key positions.

Examples of Successful Global Business by Using the Web

WorldCom uses the Web to generate sales: WorldCom Communications Corp. is using advanced Internet technology and pure entertainment value to generate sales leads for advanced business-communications solutions through its new "That's How" Web site.

Borland ditches Print for Web Ads: Borland International Inc. CEO Delbert Yocam says he is "shocked" at the traffic generated by Borland's Web site. So much so, in fact, that the company will quickly replace much of its print Advertise with a Web-based marketing plan.

Dell Computer said sales at its Web site are increasing 20% per month and are generating revenues of more than $1 million per day. The site is visited by more than 225,000 customers per week. The company reports that purchases through its Web site are increasing 20% each month! And that's on a base of $1 million a day.

Followup: Less than six months after the previous story was published, Dell passes the $2 M/day mark in Internet sales:

Study: $1.5 Trillion in Web Revenues by 2002 ActivMedia, Inc. reports today its latest projections for Web sales through 2002 total around $1.5 trillion, or approximately 3% of combined GDP for all countries worldwide.

Full Story: iWorld:
Cisco Systems Inc. is transforming its commerce site on the World Wide Web into a truly global operation. Cisco, which last year estimated it generated $1 billion in sales from its Web site, said today [25 Mar 97] it is translating its site into 14 different languages and adding country-specific content for 49 nations. 70% of Cisco's customer support now takes place on its Web site. That's 70% of the 500,000 customer-support inquiries Cisco gets each month. The customer gets faster service, and Cisco saves money.

Story: and
Wal-Mart, America's largest retail company, will more than double the number of items (to about 80,000) that will be available to persons who shop on the Internet, making it possible for online shoppers to find as many items as they would find in any of Wal-Mart's 2,000 out-of-town discount stores. (Financial Times 27 Mar 97)

Encylopedia Britannica showed similar stats of saving by selling on the web vs walking salesperson and abandoned their entire North American Sales force when they set up their Web site (

"During its first month of operation in May 1996, Preview Travel sold 4,000 airline tickets. In January 1997 the service sold approximately 21,000 airline tickets."

Source: Preview Travel and

WorldCom uses the Web to generate sales: WorldCom Communications Corp. is using advanced Internet technology and pure entertainment value to generate sales leads for advanced business-communications solutions through its new That's How World Wide Web site.

Source: Interactive Age Digital

One company that had experimented with 800- (toll-free) vs. web commerce had saved dramatically. They found that it cost them something like $8.00 per minute for telephone 800- service (labor included, presumably) and that by doing the same transactions over the web the cost dropped to $.08 per minute. Pretty astounding! As a result, they discontinued their 800 service. Their sales staff squawked initially, but the company put extra effort into creating good sales materials for the sales staff and customers and noticed no significant change in the level of commerce.


The Internet as marketing medium is still quite young. Even in the U.S., there was very little marketing done on the Internet before 1995, and in Europe and Asia the Internet is just starting to be known as a marketing medium in 1997. So don't think that you have missed the boat. However, with the ever-rapid growth of the online population, you should not wait: online history has proven that early entrants "lock up" key positions in their market. The sooner you take your company marketing online, the sooner you will move up the learning curve and your online marketing will start turning into sales. Start now... before your competition does.

Internet marketing is not static, it is an ongoing process. Putting your site on the Web is not the end of your journey, it is the beginning.

N.B. New ideas have been added to this paper since it was written, and you might also enjoy the later article, Thinking International? Here is a 5-point checklist before you launch your Website in other countries.

Reprinted with permission from the Euro-Marketing Associates. Written by Bill Dunlap, Managing Director, Euro-Marketing Associates,

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