Localization as Revenue Enablement

Localization teams often struggle to demonstrate their value. A question pretty much any top-level executive will ask localization leaders is this: “How do you measure success?” Most business leaders asking this question ultimately want to see a strong link between your team and your ability to help grow top-line revenue. If that isn’t immediately apparent to them, they’ll assume localization is not important enough to pay attention to. Yet, if you try to claim too much impact, you won’t be viewed as credible.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for engaging with execs at your company, to help them understand how localization fits into the overall revenue equation.

Don’t Attribute Success in Any Market to Localization

One common mistake people make in localization is claiming too much impact, too early in the relationship-building process, with higher-level executives. In an attempt to highlight the importance of their team’s work, many localization folks can become overzealous in trying to communicate the impact.

Many executives will put on their skeptical hat and say, “OK, but salespeople are the ones driving revenue. Not localization.” When you’re talking with a leader whose entire job it is to ensure revenue targets are hit, the last thing you want to do is claim more share of that success than you really should. In fact, at many companies, the reality is that most sales leaders will (rightly) point out that their teams sold into new markets even before your product or service was localized.

If anything, leaders on the sales side want to hear that it was their team, especially their management layer, who opened up new markets for a company. Of course, we all know it’s a team effort between Product, Marketing, and many other functions. But let’s give credit where it’s due. At most companies, salespeople actually are the ones who have to do the work of moving customers to the final stage and bringing them across the finish line. Very few business leaders, even outside of sales, will argue with that.

And so naturally, many business leaders will see you as less credible if you overstate the contribution from localization. Especially if you do so in your earliest conversations with them, before you’ve built up any relationship or credibility.

Don’t Focus on Costs Unnecessarily

One problem that’s perhaps even worse than claiming more credit for international growth than a localization team deserves is launching into an explanation of how localization costs only a tiny fraction of the international revenue it supposedly creates. Whatever you do, don’t do this! It’s a variation of the former “don’t” above, taking too much credit, except you’ll additionally be waving a huge red flag around without knowing it.

Resources can be difficult to come by. Sure, the localization budget might seem “small” to you, but not to everyone at your company. Depending on whom you’re talking with, business leaders might react with shock to learn what your company spends on localization. Not all teams have budgets this large, so they might start calculating what else they could do with the localization budget instead of localizing. For example, would the company grow faster if they spent that money on hiring more salespeople in markets that speak English? What about funding more marketing campaigns with it? Those are fair questions any smart business leader is right to ask, in an effort to grow top-line revenue.

Even worse that discussing costs is talking about pricing. Many people think they “know a vendor” who can get translation work done at a lower rate. If you start down this path, you’ll face the difficult task of trying to help people understand the total cost of ownership in building a localization system, with people, process, and technology designed to support global growth. This entire topic is pretty difficult for people who aren’t specialized in localization to really wrap their heads around, as it requires a lot of niche knowledge with nuance, so it isn’t something you should bring up proactively to your busy non-localization-focused colleagues.

Don’t Focus on Words, Project Volume or Throughput

Another common response might be to launch into a discussion of how many projects and words your team delivers, which might seem impressive to you, but which will only be met with a yawn by most busy executives. It doesn’t matter if that’s our bread and butter in localization. Most people have very little concept of how many words per day a human being can translate, or why certain experiences (even ones with low wordcount) can be hugely challenging to localize.

Some Marketing teams, especially those focused on content marketing, might have some understanding of what your wordcounts and projects closed statistics mean in terms of volume, but most business people at your company simply won’t be able to tie this to anything tangible like revenue, so you might as well simply avoid talking about it.

Do Talk about Growth in Familiar Terms

Many companies look at quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) and year-over-year (YoY) growth when discussing their revenue targets and when reviewing performance. Some might even talk about month-over-month (MoM). The more you can tie your own metrics to these common frames of reference, the easier it will be for people to understand localization, and make them feel that you are speaking the language of business, especially if you can link it back to other key business metrics and KPIs. Examples:

  • This chart shows that our team’s output in Japanese has been growing at a rate of 12% month over month, which is tracking on-trend with the growth in revenue from Japan.
  • We saw a year-over-year spike of 37% in localized content French marketing campaigns from Marketing, which is right in line with our 38% YoY growth in revenue in France.
  • Traffic to our Spanish blog grew by 78% quarter over quarter, and investments in Spanish blog posts and content offers doubled in the same time period.

Leverage other reports that business leaders look at routinely, and mirror the same types of metrics in your localization activities. For this reason, I like to use terms like “touchless,” “high-touch” and “low-touch” to describe various types of translation to business leaders unfamiliar with localization. Business leaders in B2B SaaS already use these same terms to discuss revenue, so it’s not a big leap. Touchless = machine translation, high-touch = human translation, and low-touch is a combo of the two, such as post-edited machine translation (PEMT). This is not recommended for any and all businesses; it’s just an example of what it takes to “hyper-localize” into whatever business jargon is fashionable at your company.

Do Talk about Strategic Company Initiatives

If your localization team is enabling key launches, strategic campaigns, and other high-visibility programs, make sure to point out how the work you are doing connects to these initiatives. It’s important for Localization to be viewed as an enabler, a supporter, and a team player. It’s also important to reinforce that your team is fully aligned with strategic company initiatives, and that you’re not disconnected or in some sort of silo, leaning off in some other, different direction from where the company is headed.

The challenge of course is that strategic initiatives change frequently. We’re in an era of constant adjustment and readjustment at many companies. Most businesses update their strategic plans at least once a year, and in recent years, updating has been even more frequent due to the pandemic and economic uncertainty. Make sure you and your team are able to link your work to the strategic initiatives du jour that matter for your executives, and not just the stated company priorities that arose out of annual planning 8 or 10 months prior.

Do Talk about Revenue Enablement

One important way to truly tie your team to value, and articulate this in a way that resonates, is to talk about how localization supports and enables revenue. This is the happy place in which localization is strategic in nature, but also relatable and interlinked to the things that matter most for your business. Ideally, you can even use the term “revenue enablement” not only when you speak with executives, but when you meet with stakeholders around the company and the folks who work on the localization team too, to ensure everyone understands this purpose.

Typically, localization as a function within a business simply doesn’t have a close and visible link to revenue. Usually, localization teams sit in the product / R&D area of a company. Sometimes, they sit in operations or even IT / BizOps. But they are rarely in close proximity to revenue. So, when you get the chance to be connected in some way, use this to help highlight the impact in terms that are very real and tangible for executive leadership.

For example, perhaps your company has a major product launch that your team enabled not only via product localization, but product marketing campaigns at launch time. Or perhaps there is a new and popular sales demo, piloted in one country and language, that is used for more than 50% of customers in that market. If your team localizes it into all of the languages your sales team is selling into, then your team is enabling those salespeople by making it possible for them to run demos in-language. This potentially links your team to a huge percentage of the revenue for those new markets. But most importantly, it’s closely tied to revenue.

Often, localization teams are so focused on delivering to so many stakeholders or teams at a company, across many functions and geographies, that it can be hard to take a step back and truly understand which areas have higher weight within the company than others. But typically, anything tied to revenue is the highest-value activity your team can be involved in. Revenue generation can be impacted by many places in a company, not just direct sales teams, but via partner and reseller channels, through account renewals and upgrades, and through product-led growth. I would argue that most localization teams can link their work to revenue, even if it’s not immediately obvious.

Revenue enablement, in my opinion, is ultimately a good way to describe the work of localization teams. It frames the work in positive terms, links it to revenue, and helps others see localization as a driver of growth that helps a business accelerate not only internationally, but globally.

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.

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