James Kantor is a little embarrassed. The CEO of Eastern Avionics International, a $6 million company that markets navigation and communications equipment to private pilots, admits that he used to delete E-mail from overseas prospects, for the simple reason that he can only read English.
The company, based in Punta Gorda, Fla., often receives E-mail in foreign languages. So when Kantor would find such an E-mail, he'd either ignore it or send a standard reply asking for an English translation. He'd often never hear from the prospect again. He considered hiring bilingual salespeople, but the pickings in southwestern Florida were slim.
Then his Web site developer introduced him to Comprende, an Internet-based service that translates E-mail, Web pages, and online chats and newsgroups into French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese (Globalink, www.comprende.globalink.com, $250 set-up plus $100 a month for a corporate account). Now when Kantor gets a foreign E-mail, he copies the message into a box on the Comprende Web site, types Eastern Avionics' E-mail address into the "sender" and "receiver" lines, selects the language to translate, and submits it. Within a minute or so, Kantor receives an E-mail from Comprende's server with an English translation.
Comprende is not without its flaws. Translations of idiomatic phrases can be humorously literal, and words that the software doesn't understand remain in the original language. Kantor, however, discovered what his company had been missing by not reading all its E-mail. In the first 10 weeks he used Comprende, international sales increased by 60%. "Our average sale ticket is well over $1,000," Kantor says.