How to put sales first when English is your second language

Here at Templar, we are communication specialists. We understand the challenges our international clients face and that’s why we employ multi-lingual consultants who understand the specific problems of financial services selling in a second language.

How to put sales first when English is your second language

In particular, our most recent hire, Kirsty Reynolds, holds an MA in Modern and Medieval Foreign Languages from Oxford University and also studied at Pavia University in Italy. She is certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and has a particular interest in communicating in English as a foreign language in a professional setting.

Before joining Templar, Kirsty worked in credit sales for six years and has first-hand experience of the value of building trusted client relationships for sales, as well as the challenges associated with communicating in pressured situations on the trading floor.

‘Ready or not, English is now the global language of business,’ declared the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2012. It’s no wonder when you consider 1.75 billion people speak English to a useful level – that’s one in four of us.

This means that there are thousands of people around the world conducting sales in English, despite it being their second language. And that requires a skill set all of its own.

Even within the UK, there are thousands who have to sell in a second language. In fact, there are branches or subsidiaries of 251 foreign banks, which employ around 160,000 people, 40,000 of whom have a foreign passport.

So we’ve come up with five ways to put sales first in a second language.

5 techniques for sales success in a second language

Build a strong team

Many may feel at a disadvantage if their English isn’t as good as others’, team dynamics and performance can suffer, and national pride can get in the way. – HBR

Don’t ignore the challenge that multi-lingual colleagues face. Make sure your whole team communicates clearly and effectively, ensure advanced language training is available for those who need it and reward people for their selling talents, rather than just their grammar skills.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Preparation is essential to sales no matter what your mother tongue is. But when you’re not so confident about specific technical language or the nuance of negotiation-speak, you need to prepare that little bit more.

What you need to prepare is the same for any pitch:

  • Know your product inside out
  • Decide on – and practice – your key message
  • And find out as much as you can about your counterparty

Localise your pitch

Beyond translating product spec sheets, user manuals and other marketing material into foreign languages, it’s critical to understand the cultural norms of a foreign market as well. – Renato Beninatto, Chief Marketing Officer, Moravia

Get to know the style of business that your counterparty prefers. You might be selling in English, but your client might be Spanish. If so, don’t follow the UK norm of cutting to the chase – take some time for small talk first.

Accept mistakes and express emotion

No one is perfect. Even native speakers make mistakes and stumble over faux pas. The important skill is how you react to, and recover, from a mistake.

Don’t make a big fuss over it. Apologise if necessary or laugh it off if the context is right. But above all, don’t stop talking. Sales is about building relationships, so be yourself, act naturally and keep conversing.

And on that point, don’t forget to express emotion. As Aaron Carlino says,

‘It’s hard to express emotion in your second language when your brain is so busy just trying to keep up with the demand for real-time translations’.

It might be hard to be assertive with a client or reveal vulnerability when you’re unsure of the right expression to use, but it’s key to getting your message across and building trust.

Make the most of body language

While body language isn’t universal, it can be much easier to understand than the subtle hints hidden in a second language.

Posture, hand gestures and eye contact can all communicate your intentions, openness and attitude. Similarly, these signs can tell you if your counterparty is losing interest or doesn’t trust your pitch.

Get the right help

‘Companies need to contract with language vendors who…[are] intimately familiar with the company context so that they can guide employees’ learning,’ says the HBR.

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