The Most Important Language a Localization Manager Can Speak: Growth

Localization managers tend to be pretty adept with languages. Every localization manager I’ve ever met speaks at least one other human language. They often have a good high-level understanding of computer programming languages too. But if you want your localization team to have true business impact at your company, there’s another language you’ll need to quickly learn and master — the language of growth.

Why Every Localization Manager Needs to Gain Fluency in the Language of Growth

Localization managers understand that their work has significant business impact. Success with global growth at scale simply can’t happen without localization. But it can be hard to make a clear link between the key business metrics that matter and the work of localization teams. For this reason, localization leaders often have trouble getting a seat at the table, a foot in the door, a voice in the broader growth discussion.

Ironically, one of the biggest reasons localization managers are not always part of the key growth and expansion discussions that happen at many companies is that they never really learned to speak the language of growth. However, this is the language that matters most to the internal “target audience” that can make the biggest difference when expanding a business internationally — the executives who are leading the overall business!

Why should “we” have to speak “their” language, you ask? Three reasons:

  1. You’re the ones asking for a seat at the table. You might not get invited if they don’t even know you can speak the language. What would they talk with you about?
  2. Transferring concepts across languages and cultures is something you’re supposed to be pretty good at. 😉
  3. You’re part of the same team. A big part of making sure localization team members align with growth is quite simply, to see yourselves through that lens.

Before you can speak their language, you have to change your way of thinking about you can support growth goals as a localization manager, and realizing that you’ll need to align with all teams at your company that are measured on their growth contributions.

Lessons to Borrow from Growth Marketing Colleagues

One thing I’ve observed over nearly a decade working in the software space is that localization folks and digital marketers actually have a lot in common. Digital marketers have great deal of complicated lingo, techie domain-specific acronyms, and rely more and more on technology and a variety of tools to do their work, just like localization professionals have always had to do. One stark difference is that localization technology is a lot older than marketing tech is.

Marketers Work in Growth-Driving Technology

The concept of digital marketing only began to appear in the 1990s. Localization technology pre-dates digital marketing by around two decades, with the first computer-assisted translation tools being developed in the 1970s, and Alpnet coming onto the scene in the 1980s. But “older” is not always “better,” and in some cases, the older technologies simply need to give way to the newer. In fact, development of the marketing tech stack is outpacing development of the localization tech stack in recent years, even though localization tech had a “head start” of nearly two decades on marketing tech.

If you go back a decade or two, the average localization team used far more technology in their daily work than the average marketing team did. But the polarity has completely flipped in recent years. As an example, see my HubSpot colleague Scott Brinker‘s eye-popping infographic of marketing technologies here. I’ve watched with interest as this gets bigger each year. It now contains nearly 8000 different tools! A proliferation, to say the least.

Martech Landscape 2020 - Martech 5000

The equivalent infographic for Locatech maintained by Renato Beninatto and team over at Nimdzi, is now about 500 tools. Not too shabby, but Locatech just isn’t growing as fast as Martech is.

Nimdzi Technology Atlas - What technology is used in localization today

Marketers Align Quickly with Growth and the Flywheel Concept

In addition to having access to a much faster-growing tech landscape, our marketing counterparts also have the advantage of being one step closer to the sales process than we usually are in localization. There’s a concept known as “smarketing,” or sales and marketing alignment, that ensures that these two important functional drivers of business growth are well connected and aligned.

Increasingly, there’s also the notion that the traditional marketing funnel is dead, and that instead companies should align around the concept of a business “flywheel,” which includes customer success alignment as well. The stages are “attract,” “engage,” and “delight,” and we live and breathe them at HubSpot.

Funnel vs Flywheel | Is marketing funnel dead? | A Complete ...

“Full Flywheel” Marketers Need Counterparts in Localization

As marketers embrace the flywheel concept, they can no longer limit their thinking to distinct and separate parts of a funnel. Along with the notion of the funnel went the notion of the full-funnel marketer. Instead, marketers today have to think of these flywheel parts as highly connected — integral in fact — to each other, and support all three areas. Otherwise, the flywheel stops spinning and the growth trajectory loses momentum.

Similarly, localization teams can’t support just one section of the flywheel. They need to be embedded in every part of it, as one of the strategic levers that keeps it moving. This is especially true when that flywheel depends on international markets. The faster a localization manager can master this aspect of their work, the sooner they can make an impact on growth!

5 Quick Tips to Help You Learn to “Speak Growth” Faster

Here’s the good news. Learning to speak the language of your colleagues so you can help drive your business forward really isn’t that difficult. Especially if you apply the same principles you use when you learn any other language:

  1. Work on comprehension first. Start learning about growth by listening closely and developing your ear for it. I recommend that you start with the most “local dialect” of the language of growth. Start listening closely to the C-level executives at your company. They set the tone in every company for what language is used and what topics are prioritized. Study the language they use in their company updates, all-hands meetings, earnings calls, and in casual conversations.
  2. Take notes of key terms. Start noting the key growth terms at your company and writing them down until you understand how they are used in context and can feel comfortable using them yourself. These will vary depending on your type of company. If you’re at a SaaS company, for example, you’ll need to master the terms used at the biggest SaaS companies such as ARR, MRR, LTV:CAC, IB growth, net new ARR, churn rate, revenue retention, customer dollar retention, and many other key terms related to growth and your company’s core business metrics and unit economics.
  3. Look for immersion opportunities. We all know that immersion is the fastest way to gain fluency in a new language. Where can you fully immerse yourself? Can you sit in as a silent observers on a few meetings where sales and marketing discuss core growth topics, even if just at a regional level? Ask some of your allies working on international growth, and you might be surprised by how fast they welcome you in and how happy they are to see you take an interest.
  4. Find people to practice with. Who are the people who can help you gain access to the meetings where key decisions affecting localization take place? These are your best alliances, and the people you’ll need to get closer to. Ask them questions with genuine curiosity about what their most critical goals are and how you can support them. Each time you do, you’ll learn more and improve your fluency.
  5. Duolingo. Just kidding, sorta. The app itself won’t help you master growth lingo, but understanding how this tech company has pivoted their business model and monetization strategy over time just might! Duolingo is currently valued at $1.5 billion. They definitely know how to speak the language of growth.

How are you trying to “speak growth” at your company? No matter where you’re at in terms of “growth fluency” today, I hope this article will help you to keep this topic on your radar, so you eventually get a seat for localization at the table, and can be part of future strategic discussions to help your company out with going global.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, product development, and localization. She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and business. Nataly grew up in rural Illinois, lived in Ecuador, and resides in Boston (for now).

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