BITS and Pieces

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Jessica Rathke, Sales strategist and consultant for the language industry

It is common knowledge that the language industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world; it is demanding, competitive and incredibly innovative in terms of its technologies and processes. BITS and Pieces has regularly discussed with industry experts how these changes would come to affect the industry and how businesses could prepare for this tectonic shift. But along with making great technological strides, the industry must also evolve in its approach towards sales. “In becoming all things to all people, LSPs end up becoming nothing to no one,” says Sales Strategist and Consultant, Jessica Rathke, our guest for the month. Join us for a Localisation sales and strategy 101.

What would you say are the top selling mistakes that the language industry is making?

One of the most common mistakes that customers often complain about is the messaging of LSPs. The reason customers say this is that much of what the business owners and sales people of LSPs say sounds the same. They normally have a generic message and almost everyone says that they have high quality and on-time delivery at a good price. So how is a customer supposed to distinguish one from another if that is the message? So I would say that a lot of LSPs don’t communicate in a way their customers want to hear. Customers want to know what’s in it for them. Why should I buy from you? No one is out there selling bad quality, you know? (laughs) If we can say how we can solve a problem for them or help them do something better in their use of translation, that might be a bit more compelling than the typical quality statements.

Secondly, many LSPs have historically not valued sales and are rather afraid of sales. They are all about investing in production and technology but many of them in my experience haven’t invested enough in sales technology or in finding the right sales people. Moreover, many business owners don’t give their sales people a lot of direction. Selling seems to be very ill-defined in terms of what kind of projects the company wants, whom to speak to, etc. There are a lot of sales people out there who can’t articulate the LSP’s messaging but I think a lot of LSPs themselves can’t articulate why customers should buy from them. When markets are becoming so frightfully competitive, the people who are winning are those who can really articulate the benefits are of using their services.

You have spoken about and conducted trainings on selling skills for translation project managers. Could you tell us more about this?

The training course was in fact suggested to me by an LSP. They perhaps felt that their project managers weren’t servicing their clients as well as they could and they were probably losing business opportunities as a result. Especially today, the role of translation project managers is changing quite a bit because technology is taking care of a lot of tasks that they previously took care of. This frees up time which means they can build deeper relationships with their clients. But project managers are not trained in recognizing a sales opportunity. Customers share a lot of information with project managers which they may not share with sales people. So they should be able to pick up on these bits of information whether or not they act on them themselves or pass them on to the sales team.

Especially in large companies, there are many pockets of business and anybody can be a potential buyer of language services. But there is a general lack in knowing what companies look like inside and how we can leverage our relationships with the people we know. I am not saying project managers should have a complete sales role. That is not what I propose at all. They should just have a more rounded set of skills that go beyond customer service and assume a multi-dimensional leadership role.

Do you believe social media such LinkedIn and Twitter play a sales role in the context of the language industry?

I think they have a huge role. It’s really important for LSPs to have a reasonable presence on social media. People’s opinions vary on this but I would say LinkedIn is a must. Maybe Twitter as well, depending on the bandwidth of the LSP. It also depends on where their customers are. Many industries such as Life Sciences and IT have a lot of presence of LinkedIn which may not necessarily be the case for traditional industries. But if their current vendor messes up, they are probably going to do some research and you have to make it easy for people to find you. And a good way to do this is to have a presence on social media.

A couple of my clients in the US and Europe say that LinkedIn is the first place their inbound customers come from. In my view it does increase your chances of being visible. Customers have a lot of power to do a lot of pre-qualification. They are going to narrow their list down to three or four vendors anyway. So if you are not visible, you are not going to make it onto that list.

Are markets difficult or strategies bad?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I have already kind of said it in a way. Markets are very competitive. But I also know that global business is growing and that trend is only going to continue. Markets such as India, South-East Asia and Africa are offering a lot of opportunity in addition to the conventional markets. And I see opportunity in terms of different businesses. For example, Netflix or international SEO didn’t exist as they do now. But markets are indeed demanding and very complex and the inherently fragmented nature of the industry also makes it difficult.

Having said that, some companies have pretty amazing strategies. But strategies tend fall apart when LSPs try to be all things to all people. This just makes them nothing to no one. But it’s really hard to generalize in this industry. I would just say that there are glimmers of hope on both sides. People are waking up to the fact that they have to have better marketing and sales and the market is prospering.

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Sonali Kulkarni Editor in Chief - BITS and Pieces | Professional French-English Translator A novice at adulthood with a persistent travel bug, Sonali is a language professional by day and a pathological bookworm by night. She is an aspiring hyperpolyglot and is conversant in six languages so far. A fresh graduate with a degree in English, she is currently living life one flight ticket at a time. When not translating at her desk, she is normally found immersed in a new language, planning her travel itineraries or already on a faraway exotic land.