Forrest Gump or The Wolf of Wall Street? Which one would you pick for your international sales and marketing team?
Over the years, Hollywood has provided us with some interesting models that could be used in developing successful training techniques for use overseas in non-English speaking countries. In the hit movie, “Forrest Gump,” the main character sits on a park bench by a bus stop in a small town in the American South and starts talking to whoever is sitting next to him. He speaks slowly and deliberately, his vocabulary limited by his admittedly low IQ, yet he holds his random audience rapt by the sheer force of the telling of his story – simple, straightforward, almost devoid of emotion, yet fascinating. So captivated did some listeners become that they passed up their bus to continue listening to his him.
The story of Forrest Gump is one of an amazing success made by a simple man in an honest, simple way. Contrast this with any number of other characters from movies such as “Tucker” from a few years ago, or the more recent Jordan Belfort from “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Brash, slick, fast-talking, almost larger than life. With their swagger, they were convincing at first to a certain type of audience, but in the end, they failed.
For a marketing specialist or support engineer sent overseas to meet with customers, train distributors, or give seminars, or for any manager trying to close a deal with an international account, you want to have a Forrest Gump. Here’s why…
The chances are that whoever goes abroad to introduce a new product to distributors and/or customers, give technical training, represent the company at an international exhibition or other marketing and technical support functions, or try to win new business, will not be a fluent speaker of the target audience’s language and will have to do it in English. That’s usually a problem in most international markets, since English is, obviously, not the common working language. Don’t conveniently deceive yourself: “every one does not speak English.” And certainly not to the extent you need to conduct business. It’s usually easy to deal with shopkeepers and hotel concierges in tourist areas whose job requires them to understand English. But it is quite another thing to try to communicate information to sales and marketing people, engineers, technicians or potential customers whose job on a daily basis has nothing to do with English, but who have to rely on you to get important information or training to do their job or make a decision about whether to purchase your product.
These people will be listening to you in English as a second (or possibly third) language. Many of them studied English in junior high school, high school and college – enough to pass the tests on grammar and vocabulary as an academic subject but certainly not with any proficiency in oral comprehension and communication with native speakers. How many of us would venture forth to Spain and plan to do an important presentation relying on just our high school Spanish to train a sales force on our company’s new product line, or try to close an important deal with a potential customer? Yet, that is essentially what we usually require of our audiences: “listen to me using your high school English and learn this important material or make a decision to buy my product…”
The success of your presentation, the effectiveness of your materials, and ultimately winning and keeping business, will hinge almost entirely on how well you communicate using international English. Remember the golden rule of sales: all things being reasonably the same, customers buy from people they like and trust. If your customers can’t understand you well, how will they come to like and trust you? And if they don’t like or trust you, they’ll buy from someone else who can communicate with them better.
To be revisited…