B2B SaaS Sales in English: Where Can You Sell in 2023
It’s planning time. In fact it always is, isn’t it? To the growth-focused company there’s always new efforts going on to expand. Where Can You do B2B SaaS Sales in English seems like a frequent question.
Sure, it’s not always phrased precisely like that. Typically, it’s really a resources question: Can we do with the people and language capabilities we have on board right now? Do we need to hire more people to aid our risky expansion into Germany, France, the United States, Spain, etc.?
In this post we’ll be going through:
- Where can you sell in English ?
- Which countries are you interested in selling into ?
- Even if you can sell in English, what else do you need to be aware of ?
- What about the countries where you can’t sell in English ?
The answer to the question is significantly more complex than just looking at the most recent English Proficiency Index from Education First. It should on the other hand certainly not be neglected.
The English Proficiency Index – How it Impacts Sales
The English Proficiency Index (EPI) is an annual publication, which ranks English capabilities of countries, which do not speak English natively. The most interesting markets NOT included in the EPI are: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), and of course the United States.
2.1 Million adults across 111 countries have contributed to the report by taking EF Standard English Test (EF SET) or one of their English placement tests in 2021. The EF SET is available to any Internet user for free.
Now, the test doesn’t give a perfect picture. As EF puts it:
“The test-taking population represented in this Index is self-selected and not guaranteed to be representative. Only those who want to learn English or are curious about their English skills will participate in one of these tests. This could skew scores lower or higher than those of the general population. “
There are alternatives, of course. Or rather, there will be. The OECD is working on its PISA 2025 Foreign Language Assessment Framework, but at the moment the EPI is the best international study available.
Where Can You do B2B SaaS Sales in English
Let’s get this out of the way straight away. The EPI categorises countries into Very High Proficiency, High Proficiency, Moderate Proficiency, Low Proficiency, and (you guessed it) Very Low Proficiency. Here are the countries in the Very High Proficiency category:
We only recommend considering English as a selling language in at MOST the top 10 of the Very High Proficiency category*.
* The asterisk is there for a reason: Even in countries in the Very High Proficiency category there are a bunch of extra points to carefully consider before you know where you can do B2B SaaS sales in English. Read on.
Which Countries Would You Like to Sell To in English?
It’s not only about where you CAN sell. It’s also about where you WANT to sell. Over the past decade, 95% of companies we’ve been in touch with at YourSales have wanted to sell in Europe or in North America. Taking countries from our list, this means you can try to use English in the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, and Portugal.
Your specific offering may be in competition with strong local players. This could well deter you from entering any of the home markets of those players, taking those countries off the table.
In addition, you could use the Portulans Institute’s Network Readiness Index to help assess, which countries are ready for the kind of technology you provide.
Maybe you’re selling to a specific industry. Does it have special requirements in a country – requirements, which you can or can’t accommodate? All these factors will play a part in your decision about the countries you’d like to target first.
Can You Do B2B SaaS Sales in English in Germany?
There are several reasons to not have Germany on our list of countries to sell to in English. The sheer size of the market means it’s one you definitely don’t want to get wrong.
It’s the largest country in Europe in terms of population as well as by Gross Domestic Product. In addition you need to consider and potentially be able to operate within the business culture of the target country.
This together more than justifies a very targeted operation for Germany.
In the case of Germany, despite their high score in the EPI, it’s advisable to deploy a sales force with native-level German language and culture capabilities. This increases win-rates significantly.
For SaaS companies it’s furthermore advisable to think this into the entire value chain and also have German-speakers in Customer Success and other customer-facing functions through the company. For inspiration here’s a set of definitions for customer facing roles in SaaS.
Can You Do B2B SaaS Sales in English in Austria?
It’s debatable. If you’re interested in Austria as a market for your SaaS offering, you’re probably also interested in Germany. Given our explanation in the previous paragraph, you’re likely to be on a path to build a German-language sales force – or simply wait with German-speaking sales activities.
With roughly 98% of the population in Austria capable of speaking German and Austria being relatively small compared to its Northern neighbour, we would recommend to use the same sales force for Germany as for Austria.
Can You Do B2B SaaS Sales in English in Switzerland?
While we’re at it, Germany (D), Austria (A) and Switzerland (CH) is often referred to as the DACH region. What about SaaS sales in Switzerland?
Well, this article is English-sales-centric. Switzerland barely makes it into the High Proficiency category and has even experienced a slight decrease since last year’s EPI.
In addition the language mix in Switzerland is more complex with mainly their own special brand of German and additionally French and some Italian. You’ll be able to mostly cover Switzerland in German, but both French and Italian will definitely be required to sell throughout the entire country.
This all means that Switzerland often gets bundled in with Germany and Austria from a sales perspective. Either way, English is not going to bring much success in Switzerland.
Can You Do B2B SaaS Sales in English in the Netherlands?
On to the next country on our quest to find out where you can do B2B SaaS Sales in English. The Netherlands is the number one country in the World at non-native English.
Does that mean that selling in English is an easy decision? Not quite.
The Netherlands is a top 10 country in Europe both in terms of population and GDP. In addition, the Portulans Institute’s Network Readiness Index recently ranked the Netherlands 4th most tech enabled country in the world. Definitely a country you want to go to for SaaS customers.
Potentially worth considering a localised effort. And there’s more reason for that – just south of the border.
Can You Do B2B SaaS Sales in English in Belgium?
Belgium has landed a 6th place in the Very High Proficiency category in the EPI. This is one of those special cases where you want to carefully consider where those numbers may have come from.
Flanders in the North (bordering the Netherlands is significantly more English-ready than Wallonia in the South (bordering with France).
If the Wallonia region had taken the EPI on their own, it’s unlikely they would have landed in the same category, and debatable if they would have made the next category down. So, for your go-to-market to include Belgium, you have two options:
- Be Belgium-specific with a Flemish-French sales force: This is rather tricky to hire for.
- Bundle Flanders with the Netherlands and bundle Wallonia with France. In Flanders the main language is Flemish, which is similar to (but not the same as) Dutch. In Wallonia the main language is French, which is also spoken in… well, you get the idea.
What’s better for you will depend on your situation. It’s worth mentioning that together Flanders and the Netherlands represent almost a population of 25M. That’s significant. Also very much keep in mind that cultures differ. What works in the Netherlands may quite possibly not work at all in Flanders.
Can You Do B2B SaaS Sales in English in the Nordics?
Yes, you can sell in English in both Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Going local works better, and the countries may not be large enough markets to justify that investment.
That said, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden are all in the top 10 of aforementioned Network Readiness Index. These countries are now themselves in the habit of churning out unicorns at a fairly rapid rate. They’re their weight, from 2005 to 2014 turning in “almost 10% of all global BUSD tech exits, trailing only US and China (on an absolute level), while only representing around 2% of GDP. While the US dominates the total number of BUSD exits Nordics has the highest ratio of BUSD to GDP indicating an efficient eco-system in creating really valuable companies” according to venture capitalist firm Creandum.
These countries are incredibly SaaS-ready, so show up, homework done, cause you’re likely to face tough local competition. When the competition is strong, sometimes it’s the margins that win it. Including being able to converse in the national language rather than English.
So, how bad do you want the Nordics?
Can You Do B2B SaaS Sales in English in Portugal?
Our final contestant in the top 9 is Portugal. While the country does score lower in terms of both GDP and Network Readiness it does also undeniably call itself home to some fairly sizable companies.
Portugal’s proximity to Spain – both geographically and at least perceived linguistically – means the sunny country often gets bundled in “Iberian Peninsula” sales effort. Building a bilingual Portuguese-Spanish sales force with strong command of English does indeed seem doable. It probably is the best course of action too, since you’re undoubtedly going to want to enter Spain as well.
Spain, as well as any other country on the lower rungs of the EPI ranking, is however a story for another day.
With Languages Covered, What Else Needs Attention?
Language capabilities often simply test the ability to read, listen, write, and speak a foreign language. There’s a lot more to sales communication in any country, though.
Beware of how you meet people. The top end of your sales funnel is likely to be slightly different from country to country. Just think for a moment about what low adoption of a technology could do to your outreach campaign, if it uses that technology.
Also consider formal language vs informal language, do you shake hands (and which one) or not, the timing and general use (or not) of jokes, the speed of the deal, the number of people around the table and whether they can make decisions or not.
Go-to-market in any country is a puzzle, which requires attention to detail. There’s always enough to analyze and plenty of pitfalls.
Sometimes you just don’t have the resources. Sometimes, what’s required is a sales effort where you use the capabilities currently available in your team, and take your best shot.
We wish you good luck. Want to have a talk about international sales?
Set a time with us that works for you. Happy selling!