How to Boost Sales Velocity with Localization and Content Ops

Localization and Content Operations are perhaps the most underutilized accelerants in tech sales these days, especially in B2B SaaS environments. The need for localization and content operations is heightened even further at global companies with a CI/CD model on the product side. Aligning content operations and localization has the potential to radically improve sales velocity. In this post, I’ll explain why and what to do about it.

Localization as a business function at tech companies in the past was most closely intertwined with product, and in more recent years, with marketing. But with product-led growth on the rise, with “inside sales” becoming more widespread, and with sales enablement now solidified as a discipline of its own, things have become more complex in global tech sales. Content operations is not yet well understood, and localization often gets lost in the shuffle. But if you’re a sales leader, and your company does business in more than one country or language, you might be missing a vital link that could make your entire global team more productive, achieving greater sales velocity.

The Old Model: Let Them Speak English

At many tech companies in the past with an English-speaking country as their global headquarters, English was designated as a corporate language, and lots of selling took place in English only. Often, salespeople spoke English no matter what country the business expanded into. For enterprise sales, the expectation was often that the client spoke English too. Even if the client didn’t speak English, sales materials were often provided only in English (reps could always make slight adaptations in their languages).

Because sales materials didn’t change all that often, a traditional marketing team could dedicate a small portion of their team and budget to generating materials for sales. If reps wanted or needed to spend time on it, they could adapt or customize those slides and tools once, and leverage them for many presentations to come, often for years, without having to do much re-work in their native language. These presentations were often highly customized for each sales opportunity anyway, so any language adaptation was being done by the salesperson directly while they were making other changes.

But today, sales velocity is in the spotlight more than ever, and remote selling has made in-language materials even more glaringly needed. In the old days, when selling in person was the norm, it was easier for reps to overcome communication barriers on the fly. They could quickly “live translate” just those pieces that prospects didn’t understand. They could build a relationship more easily, and they could establish rapport and absorb information in the office setting. Everything about selling to a prospective customer tends to be easier in person. While this “let’s just get by with English” model might not have been perfect, it worked, up to a point, for a wide variety of selling scenarios in the past. Sellers simply didn’t have such an acute need to have in-language content at their disposal as they do in today’s reality.

The Salesperson’s Job Has Gotten Harder — In Every Language

The job of a sales professional working in tech has become more complex over the past decade for one major reason. The pace has dramatically changed. Modern tech companies use continuous deployment and integration models. But, leadership tends to underestimate the impact of a CI/CD model on the rest of the business outside of product. It isn’t just product teams that adopt CI/CD, but the entire business. CI/CD philosophy ends up cascading quickly into the rest of the company’s operations too, particularly at product-led growth companies. The faster your product team iterates and deploys, the harder it will be for all the other teams at the company to keep pace.

What all this means in practice for sales teams is that reps find themselves in a hamster wheel of learn-relearn-sell, learn-relearn-sell. With products changing rapidly, the features they sold this time last month, are often replaced, renamed, and repackaged very quickly, sometimes even during their onboarding period. By the time they’ve mastered something, it’s time to unlearn and start again. Because salespeople have to constantly re-learn the ever-changing product they’re selling and how to sell it, there is a very real risk to productivity dipping as an organization grows in size, and especially as it grows across borders of language and geography.

The Risk to Revenue Is Very Real

Content is being produced more frequently and being updated faster than ever at tech companies to accommodate the product velocity. So how does this impact the go-to-market GTM teams? When you suddenly increase the pace at which information needs to be absorbed, learnability takes the center stage — for salespeople, for support reps, for users, for customers, for everyone. The faster people can learn, the more efficient they become. The faster salespeople can learn, the more productive they become. So, the more you speed up content velocity, the more you speed up sales velocity.

Sales leaders: consider the cognitive burden of having your reps learn how to sell a high-tech product in a foreign language. Or, imagine how much faster your salespeople could learn and be effective if content were in their language from the start.

Here’s where things get challenging for companies that operate in many languages. You can’t speed up localization velocity without dramatically changing the source content production processes, e.g. content operations. Often, the barrier isn’t only that content isn’t available in other languages. The barrier that sits underneath that is that the content even in English isn’t being updated fast enough to keep pace with a CI/CD environment. When you start to add other languages into the mix, the problem can suddenly seem overwhelming — even though it actually has pretty straightforward roots and thus, solutions.

In this post, I provided an example of how a company could add US$130 Million in revenue in one year, simply by fixing their content operations. It’s not hard to do the math and see that small investments in sales enablement and content operations in other languages, or even native-language sales enablement (materials developed directly in-language by native speakers) can make a huge impact on sales velocity.

What Can a Sales Leader Do?

Here are some steps you can take as a sales leader immediately to remedy broken content operations, which will help you boost sales velocity not only with non-English sales teams but with English-speaking teams too:

  1. Push for your content operations model to align with CI/CD. If things feel slow, and your sales teams are hanging around waiting for content to arrive, this is a clear sign of a poor underlying content operations model that needs automation and flexibility. Yes, even in English. Certain content formats, such as video, might be good for learnability, but unfortunately can be time-consuming to produce. So, teams must focus on content that can be created at speed and scale. This will often be a mix of video and other content formats.
  2. Don’t accept the status quo. If content operations stay stuck in the “old way” of doing things, sales will never achieve its potential in terms of velocity. When sales is dependent upon an upstream process that is slow and heavy, it creates a backlog and a burden. Be vocal, do the math, and come with hard numbers to your Finance team to lobby for change.
  3. Carve out your own budget and resources. Centralization is fantastic in some cases, but when the process and budget are owned by Sales, it becomes easier to take matters into one’s own hands. If you don’t have a budget for creating content, and if you don’t own any of the resources, it can make it harder to influence the direction.
  4. Get the localization team involved. Localization teams have expertise in breaking content operations apart and importantly, pinpointing the bottlenecks and sources of slowdown. Localization teams really have no choice but to do this, because they can’t possibly scale things times 10+ languages otherwise. No team will have a more critical eye on content production than the localization team that is expected to multiply it by many languages. They are trained to look for inefficiencies and automation possibilities from the beginning.

If sales velocity can be boosted by fixing this problem, why aren’t more companies focused on content operations today? The single biggest challenge in getting teams to focus on fixing these content operations and localization challenges is really one of alignment. Does marketing own sales enablement content? Does sales own the budget? Does localization own the process? Is operations calling the shots on headcount? Often, the challenge is more of a cross-functional nature that it is a global or cross-geo one. Simply getting everyone to align around the same goal is the crux of the problem for the vast majority of companies. That’s tough when in any typical business, each team has to independently fight for resources, headcount, and budget.

Fix the Underlying Content Operations Model to Enable Localization

Every modern tech company today struggles to keep pace with this degree of change — support docs, product marketing, sales enablement, and so on. But when it hits Sales, it hits revenue, which means suboptimal content ops actually hurt the financial performance of the entire company if this area remains neglected. The stakes are higher for sales-destined content than for any other area of content in the business. This is why, if you’re going to focus on fixing content operations in just one place, sales enablement content is always the place to start!

To fully align Sales velocity with the pace of product development at a modern tech company, you must nail your content operations model.

To summarize the root of the problem, if content processes aren’t designed for CI/CD pace which requires rapid updating from the start, they’ll usually break when a company reaches global scale. Sales teams already take a hit even in just one language, such as English. But if the underlying process is broken, it simply can’t and won’t scale when you try to take it into more languages.

the Sales Manager’s Job Is Harder Now Too

It’s not just the job of salespeople that has gotten harder. The job of a sales manager right now at any modern tech company has gotten more difficult as well. With companies going global earlier in the life of their business, and faster than ever, the scenario of having reps based in many countries who speak many languages is an increasingly common one. It’s hard enough to manage across time zones and cultural barriers. Now add into the mix the job of trying to feed these teams with the content they need to do their jobs in many languages, and it’s easy to see why the job of leadership in sales has become more and more challenging in this new reality.

At the same time, it’s actually unfair to ask salespeople to do their job in one language, while providing them with tools in a language that isn’t actually the one in which they’re selling. Why would anyone expect these reps in other languages to have productivity on par with English-speaking teams, if they are already at a major disadvantage where language is concerned? It’s nothing short of a miracle when they do hit the same numbers as their counterparts who already benefit from getting everything in their native tongue.

When we don’t advocate strongly enough for salespeople to get what they need to do their job, we’re not only failing our company on the revenue potential we could be supporting instead, but we’re also not living up to our potential as managers, looking out for our team’s long-term retention, growth, and career development.

Modern Tech Companies Must Look at Global Sales Enablement Differently

Bottom line, in the advent of this new reality in which products are being deployed continuously, change happens every day, content gets updated on an ongoing basis, and sales teams are now perpetually re-learning, companies will need to do four key things:

  1. Recognize that reps require content in their languages to sell effectively
  2. Dedicate resources to creating content for them in their languages
  3. Fix the underlying content operations model to map to the new reality
  4. Bring localization into the process

Again, this degree of change isn’t just up to sales leadership. It requires alignment with all of the other functions involved, especially teams that hold budget, such as marketing, localization, and any other teams involved in content operations, but especially those creating content that is destined for Sales.

The good news: there is light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news: transforming content operations is not a quick or easy thing to do. It’s actually quite new and visionary in nature. The only companies that can pull off such a transformation are those that can tolerate a steep degree of change, overcome functional barriers and embrace true collaboration. That’s a small percentage of companies, but those that do will ultimately see sustained global success in the long term.

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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