What Localization Leaders Wish More Translation Companies Understood

If you lead localization at any company, then you’ve surely received this type of email from more translation companies than you can count:

“Need translation? We offer every language in the world! We have the best quality at the lowest prices! We are ISO certified. We help companies like you who are expanding internationally! When can I book a time to talk with you and tell you more about our services?”

It’s kind-of like receiving an email that says this:

“Need food? We offer every food you’d ever want to eat! We have the best quality at the lowest prices! We are FDA approved. We help people like you who also eat food! When can I book a time to talk with you and tell you more about our food?”

Are you going to ever buy what the sender is selling based on this email? No. Your reaction is going to be to quickly hit “delete.” What’s wrong with the typical cold email (beyond the fact that it’s a cold email)? There are many things wrong with it, but the basics are:

  1. Misunderstanding of buyer’s journey stage. This buyer is already eating (or localizing). They address that very basic need already, some other way. They don’t need more of the same.
  2. Lack of differentiation. There is nothing in this email that would indicate why your food (or translation) is different from that of any other vendor’s.
  3. Not specific enough. Buyers who already purchase food (translation) don’t need more of it. They might need specific things, like vegetarian food (transcreation), quick-to-prepare (machine translation with post-editing), or something highly specialized that is perfectly suited to their needs and tastes.
  4. No clear value proposition. The buyer needs to know what value you’re offering, especially if you’re going to ask for their time. Time is their most precious resources, and it’s in very short supply. They can’t take an hour to sit and shoot the breeze with every vendor that emails them, or they would do nothing else, and probably be fired!
  5. No problem-solving. You need to explain what problem you actually solve. “Quality” is not proven by an ISO certification. If anything, that makes you sound pretty old-school. “Cheaper” does not mean it will be faster or better. And “all the languages” is likely to raise eyebrows. They don’t need “all the food” or “all the languages. They have much more specific needs for you to solve more specific problems than this.

Now, imagine receiving this email instead:

“It’s almost time for your coffee break. Did you know we can deliver your favorite coffee creation straight to your office door, just in time for your pick-me-up? Download our app here and give it a try. You’ll get free delivery on your first order, on us.”

This email is so specific, explains how it will save me time, and already offers me something of value. The sender understands that I’m busy and what my specific needs are likely to be. It’s not generic but specific and targeted. I feel like they know me. Clear value! Clear benefit! Clear differentiator!

The equivalent, for the translation buyer, might be something like this:

“Struggling to localize image files for your web content? We ran our localized image detection tool on yourwebsite.com. We identified 45 pages on your non-English websites that have images with embedded text in English. Here are two sample images we’ve already recreated in French for you, along with the URLs of where they are located, so you can easily send along to your web development team. If you’d like us to do a deeper analysis on what it would take to fix all of them and improve the user experience globally, let me know. Happy to send you an estimate for costs and timeframe.”

This kind of email, unlike the first version selling “food” (translation) actually makes the buyer think:

  • Wow, this agency took the time to truly think about what I need and do a deep analysis of my content in other languages.
  • Cool, this vendor has some technology that could be really interesting.
  • Awesome, this agency zeroed in and already gave me some value that I can use today by passing this along to my web team.
  • Great, this vendor understands that my priority is solving for the customer experience.
  • Hallelujah, this agency isn’t trying to just sell me random “translation services” I could get from 30,000 other translation agencies out there, not to mention freelancers.

In other words, the buyer can understand at a glance that the agency is… different. They stand out. They really get it. They’re not your average vendor!

Importantly, they’re not asking for time from the localization leader before they have solved a problem. They deliver value and then make it easy to engage with them, without requesting a phone call (does anyone do these anymore?) or a video call, or worst of all, an in-person meeting. They’ll provide at least a basic estimate without asking for time from the buyer.

(By the way, it’s not that localization leaders think they are “too good” to talk to vendors or anything. They just barely have enough time to meet with all their internal stakeholders and team members and existing vendors as it is, let alone unproven ones with nothing special to offer.)

What Translation Companies Can Do to Prevent Making a “Generic” Impression

My advice to all translation companies sending out emails like this? Just don’t send them. Or at least stop sending them to companies that already clearly purchase translation. Is their website in any other language? Does someone at the company have “localization” in their title? If so, they’re a more sophisticated buyer and they simply don’t need undifferentiated services that they could purchase from thousands of similar translation agencies.

Also, they probably rarely change vendors anyway (maybe every 3-5 years or so). So if all you have to offer is “translation” in its various forms, your chances of breaking in are pretty slim unless you happen to catch them right when they’re issuing a call for new vendors.

To catch their attention off-cycle, you’ll need a deep understanding of their needs and problems, a clear understanding of their business, and tech-driven solutions that can actually help them by saving them time and solving for their end customer.

Here’s the catch… you’re not going to get a clear understanding of their needs very easily, because they don’t have hours of free time to spend talking with every vendor that wants to know more about them. So, it’s not your buyer you should ask to invest the time. Don’t ask for them to give their time to you before you’ve given something to them. Invest a little more of yours instead.

Instead of just paying salespeople to send emails and ask for people’s time to talk about the same old generic problems, get specific. Take that same budget and invest more up front in research and technology. Take marketing budget and build a tool that actually solves a problem for your target customer in an automated way.

Retrain your salespeople to be far more consultative and technical, to uncover hidden opportunities on localized sites, to do secret shopping in other languages to uncover gaps in your target customer’s non-English customer experience, and so on. Find problems they aren’t even aware of and propose solutions, if that’s really the type of buyer you want to sell into.

Or, instead of focusing on mature buyers, devote your time to other types of buyers that are not as far along in their journey.

Bottom line, if you want to stand out among the buyers who already know quite a bit about translation companies, you’ll need to do plenty of your own homework, figure out what they need, bring them solutions and options that save them time, show that you’re different, and require minimal work for them to see what value you can offer.

If you do all of these things, your rate of success will no doubt improve.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly Kelly is an award-winning global marketing executive and cross-functional leader in B2B SaaS, with experience at both startups and large public companies. The author of three books, her latest is "Take Your Company Global" (Berrett-Koehler). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly is based in New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.


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