Why Localization Velocity Matters More Than Ever Before

Most localization practitioners believe that quality is what matters most. It’s true that quality matters, but there are gradients of quality, and a lot of linguistic quality work is highly subjective. Translation quality is important up to a certain point — when it creates a perceivable and measurable difference on the user experience. In this post, I’ll argue that if you’ve already reached a certain level of quality, speed is what matters even more, in order for localization to make a real impact on a company’s success.

I shared recently in this presentation that on my team at HubSpot, we’re developing a high-availability localization (HAL) system and measuring localization velocity in terms of number of words rendered per hour. You might be wondering if this diverts attention away from quality and shifts people toward speed instead.

Nah. Quality in localization is usually seen as a given. Delivering the right levels of quality that enables the right customer experience, at an ever-increasing velocity, is the sweet spot.

In localization, quality vs. speed is a false trade-off. You can have both.

Working at a high-growth SaaS company, I’m convinced that localization velocity is the way of the future. At HubSpot, we often speak of the Flywheel model, which replaced the old-school marketing funnel. With a Flywheel model, your goal is to deliver a remarkable customer experience, and the more efficiently you can make the Flywheel spin, the faster your business will grow.

This means that your marketing, sales, and customer service operations need to be tightly aligned. They make up a big part of the revenue operations infrastructure that helps propel the Flywheel. But localization is a part of this infrastructure too, especially as a company moves into international markets and sees increasing percentages of revenue derived from non-English countries.

Let’s take a hypothetical example:

  • A localization team needs to deliver two blog posts per day to support traffic on a French website.
  • The marketing team waits for the posts so they can be published and impact overall traffic goals.
  • The localization team delays them by a few days.
  • Each day that the marketing team can’t publish, traffic goals for the day, week, month are not met.
  • As the marketing team gets behind on traffic goals, lead flow is impacted.
  • When lead flow does not hit expectations, salespeople don’t receive enough leads to hit their goals.
  • When salespeople don’t hit their targets, the company misses their financial targets for that market.

Obviously, a diversified approach is important. Hopefully, your marketing team can generate leads natively too, and is not relying exclusively on localization to meet their SLA for their non-English sales folks. While it can be a good way to ramp up in a new market, you’ll need a mix of other paths. But regardless, when localization plays any significant part in demand generation, localization speed is critical and can impact a company’s revenue negatively or positively.

Here’s another example of potential revenue impact due to localization speed:

  • A product launch campaign is planned that will be critical for driving leads in Q3.
  • Localization takes too long to get the non-English campaign assets delivered back.
  • Marketing has to phase in the launch in other markets, so they won’t all hit in Q3.
  • Revenue targets related to the launch are missed.
  • Quarterly revenue goals are missed.

In summary, if you’re working at a high-growth company that relies on localized content as part of your demand generation strategy, a focus on quality is insufficient. Localization velocity is critical for the Flywheel to keep moving at the pace your company seeks to hit. And, creating a system and strategy that makes localization velocity possible is where you’ll need to keep your focus to create the kind of scalable, non-linear, long-term growth your company aspires to achieve.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. Her latest book is "Found in Translation" (Penguin). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly works remotely from New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.

4 comments

  • Hi Nataly! Thoughtful evaluation the next iteration of L10n concepts and metrics that measure impact. Does HS L10n have KPIs/metrics tied to main business metrics where you could showcase L10n impact there?

  • I’ll have to read up on the flywheel approach to be better informed. However, why isn’t it possible to adjust the financial and sales quarterly goals according to in-country or in-market conditions and circumstances? Obviously, different markets grow at different rates. Why impose a sales or leads figure on a particular market, especially a foreign one, where knowledge of not just language and general culture, but also business practices and customer expectations can be vastly different from the American ones?

    Things haven’t changed much from 1998, where the standard practice was that some managers wanted simultaneous releases, thus putting localization teams in a bind. And some managers try to measure localization output in a variety of disparate languages by factory measurements: word count over a period of time. What I see is this relentless focus on speed, which is never conducive to a good customer experience that will feed into a virtuous loop.

    Sure, if a press release meets a particular gradient of quality, that’s advisable. No need to pore over for a more elegant translation. But, aren’t we forgetting the customer in this speed-infused proclamation? Then customer experience becomes just another piece of lip service.

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