Even during an economic downturn, some companies are hiring. The following is a discussion of one profile
in demand: Sales people working for Language Service Providers (LSPs). It is also an attempt to provide some of the context, reasons and variables involved in the hiring process. This is written from the perspective of a globalization staffing professional who is talking to sales people, LSP’s and clients on a daily basis (…for longer than I want to remember)
2009: Clients, Language Service Providers & Outsourcing Model
Given the challenging economic times, companies** are looking to minimize risks, cut overhead and lower production costs. Many companies have hiring freezes or layoffs. Very few companies are looking to lower sales revenue, however, so when there is a need to sell their products outside the US, companies still often turn to outsourcing their work to Language Service Providers.
To have a reliable, stable LSP as a business partner during these lean economic times is invaluable to many
companies. The client is able to outsource the work confidently, continue to sell globally and not add to payroll and direct overheard costs. Considering that many larger technology companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and Parametric Technology, for example, derive from 30%-60% of their revenue from international sales—stable, competent LSP’s are essential.
2009: Language Service Providers
LSP’s, like most service businesses, have been impacted by the financial downturn. The impact, however, has not been as pronounced as with many other industries such as the financial services or construction businesses. LSP’s complain that clients are squeezing margins or delaying payments.
Says Michael Kriz, CEO of Acclaro, a mid-sized LSP in New York with a reputation for technical expertise and
“Any company operating in this environment should be concerned…we began trimming expenses and taking a more cautious approach to our expansion. However, we are pleased by what we’ve seen so far this year and still expect to grow significantly.”
By and large, most Language Service Providers have not had wholesale layoffs. Many larger vendors have
had hiring freezes or performance related layoffs. But there are also some vendors that are growing and hiring.
**Companies and Clients refers loosely to any business that has a product to sell (and to be contrasted
with an LSP or external vendor which sell their translation service to these clients.
Writes Andres Heuberger, CEO of Foreign Exchange, an LSP specialized in Life Science’s translation—Pharma and medical devices, “So far, Foreign Exchange Translations has been unaffected by the current recession. In fact, 2009 will be our best year ever.”
Who are LSP’s hiring predominantly in 2009– sales people.
There appear to be a few compelling reasons to continue to hire Sales/Business Development Managers (BDMs)* during a financial downturn. Good sales people generate revenue. Good sales people can generate revenue despite an economic downturn. For LSP’s to survive and grow during this economic slump, it is essential to have a strong, productive sales force.
BDM’s at LSP’s: Home Run hitters
Sales people, like home run hitters on a baseball team, often have a large impact on the success of the organization and are compensated accordingly. In some US vendors, a very successful sales person, in a given year, may earn more than upper management and even the CEO. Good Sales people in the US are viewed as the life blood of a successful LSP. They can take a small, mediocre company and grow revenue dramatically.
Companies like Translations.com make a concerted, ongoing effort to train, monitor and improve their sales people and account managers. Part of monitoring the sales team include tracking and evaluating daily and weekly client calls, company visits and pipeline growth. European LSP’s, on the other hand, often focus, value and train people on the production side and view their contribution as most important to the organization.
This accounts, in part, for some of the difficulties US sales people encounter when working for a European vendor. They do not get the immediate response from production that they need to gain credibility with their client. Some US Sales people complain that they are treated like the tail trying to wag the dog (or fill in another anatomical part with a horse).
This brings us to an important point, matching the right profile of the BDM to the Language Service Provider. LSP’s come in all shapes, sizes and locations. Even when two Translation vendors appear similar in size and shape, their needs may differ greatly because their strategic vision, specialization, culture and growth plan are different.
Mark Flanagan, International Sales Manager at VistaTEC, a successful vendor, headquartered in Ireland, writes, “When hiring new sales people, VistaTEC value honesty and integrity above all else…”
* For the purpose of this article, the terms Sales people or Business Development Managers will be used interchangeably
So let us look at a few different scenarios and evaluate the sales profile that may be a best fit.
Matching the BDM with the LSP
For the sake of discussion, let us provide some broad parameters that might fit many Language Service Providers. We will then make a case for a specific BDM profile.
Take an LSP that does between 8-20 million in annual revenue. They are headquartered in a major city in either the US or Europe. They specialize in one or two verticals such as software localization or life sciences. Their production facilities in Asia or South America are running well and built to expand. Project sizes range from 50K-250K. They would like to grow aggressively in the next few years. They have small satellite offices throughout the US. Sometimes these are one person virtual offices.
They would like to hire 1-2 sales people in the US. What profile would be a best fit for this scenario?
# 1 Sales Profile—Failure
The LSP in Scenario #1 is not set-up to monitor or supervise carefully the sales person in these remote Satellite offices. The sales person will be without local production support. Yet the vendor is looking to grow aggressively and land complex, expensive projects. My suggestion is to hire an experienced sales person who has had many failures. Let me explain.
Until you have failed miserably on a translation project with a client, you do not proceed carefully enough with the proposal, quoting and selling of your services. Or as a High School teacher of mine once said, “You are not a good driver until you get in an accident.” To drive a car means you have the potential to damage, injure or kill yourself or others. Until you understand the depth of responsibility involved in driving a car, you do not drive carefully enough. By the same token, until you understand the complexity and responsibility of a fixed bid translation project, you do not sell carefully enough.
Examples of project ‘failures’ may be as simple as leaving out a ‘0’ in the proposal and agreeing to $1000 rather than $10,000 for a line item leading to a loss of revenue on a $25K project. Or the ‘failure’ may be a huge one, like late delivery to a client because you underestimated the complexity and time to complete the off-site testing of 15 languages. Late delivery caused delays to the client release. Your company then lost a million dollar per year Fortune 100 client.
For each failure, the sales person learns invaluable lessons. One thing is certain, next time a similar project is presented, the sales person will address these issues up front. A senior sales person with five plus years experience of working on large projects, will have experienced ‘mistakes’ in all phases of an engagement: glossary issues, TM compatibility, testing procedures, quoting errors, padding delivery dates etc.
This experienced Business Development Manager, in their virtual office, can then act like an ‘army of one’. They are able to land large, complex projects. They can advise the client on pitfalls of certain approaches, coach their LSP on potential production challenges and tweak the proposal accordingly. The end result, a successfully completed project and all parties are happy. The sales person can continue to close these deals with the confidence a seasoned driver navigates rush hour—proceeding carefully, slowly and with experience. This experienced BDM is a good strategic match for the mid-sized LSP looking to grow aggressively through small satellite offices.
LSP does over $200 million in annual revenue. Headquartered in the US or Europe and house a large, centralized sales and production staff. Production and sales processes are compartmentalized and streamlined. Each individual does a specific task and no one wears ‘multiple hats’. Project sizes range from $50K to $1 million. Strategy is to grow conservatively during the economic downturn. Sales process is closely monitored, and sales people get bonuses based on number of daily calls, company visits, size of the pipeline and attendance. Looking to hire 1-2 sales people for prospecting new accounts.
#2 Sales Profile—Inexperience
In the second scenario, this is an example where inexperience may be a virtue. A senior sales person would not fit in. There are no ‘armies of one’. Once you get a lead in-house, another team will follow-up to engage the client on the specifics of their requirements. An experienced sales person does not get to leverage all their knowledge. You are required to generate leads by making multiple calls, showing enthusiasm, selling the company tag line and handing off all leads.
Mark Homnack, CEO and founder of Simultrans, a West Coast LSP of 25 years, one of the oldest localization services companies in the country writes that he often hires recent graduates in sales roles:
We are very focused on metrics such as orders and other activity accomplishment…Essential qualities of a successful account manager include the abilities to prioritize, manage time, learn quickly, communicate well, be technical, and of course, close orders despite a tough economy.
In this sales role, the person will need to expend a lot of energy. You make as many calls as you can on a daily basis, promote all the services your company offers and generate as many leads as possible. A new driver, not afraid to go fast, may be best suited for this role. The job requires you play a distinct role and success is measured by detailed metrics not experience and creativity. So a sales person who is relatively new to the field, has energy, discipline and enthusiasm may do best in a role that is clearly defined by the vendor.
The job of a sales person at a Language Solutions Provider can be quite challenging and rewarding. The needs of the LSP and the profile of the BDM may vary from place to place. But sales success, from any angle, is of great value, especially during these lean economic times. So if you are a skilled sales person at an LSP, you are still quite marketable, despite market conditions.