Do you know how your ideal customers make buying decisions? Who in the organization is in charge of finding vendors? Who makes the final decision? What’s their average budget?
Creating an effective sales strategy starts here. First, you have to know who you’re interested in selling your services to. And then how they make decisions around contracted services.
Everything about your sales process — your marketing materials, sales scripts, proposals, etc. — will be more effective based on this information.
In this piece, we’ll walk through the entire sales process, from how to create an ideal customer profile and find leads to how to write a winning proposal and close the deal.
Fundamentals / Pre-selling activities
Create an ideal customer profile
Step one: Make sure you’re selling to the right people. An ideal customer profile (ICP) is a detailed analysis of the market and companies you most want to work with. Building an ICP involves looking for similarities among your current customers and defining which have the best production numbers; doing research to understand what the translation market is like in your country and in the industries that you’re targeting; and, finally, tracking changes in the global economy, your specific markets, and to technology that impact your ability to sell to new customers.
Why you should start with your current customers
In a previous article, we talked about how to analyze your current customers. Specifically, you’re looking for overlaps in their size, industry, and budget. If you already have customers of a certain size and industry, you’re likely to attract similar companies.
For example, biotechnical research and development organizations will look for LSPs with experience translating technical documents within their field. If you have experience working with a specific industry (and want to continue doing so), then companies within this industry are your ideal customers.
There’s another reason to be specific about size and industry. It helps you be realistic about the types of customers you can attract.
Companies will look for LSPs with experience in their industry. Localization expert Michael Klinger explains that large companies will also look for companies of a certain size. For example, he explains that “the big pharma companies have a whole large process, and you won’t get past purchasing if you’re a small business (under $20 million).”
Focusing on one market and company size can also decrease your customer acquisition cost (CAC). You’ll start to have more relevant project samples; you’ll be able to reference well-known customers in your sales materials; and you can rely more heavily on customer referrals and reviews. All of these will help you more easily acquire new work from similar companies.
How to expand your ICP: Vertical vs horizontal focus
Your ideal customer may change over time. Or, as you grow, you may want to expand to larger or multiple markets. A choice every company makes as they grow is how they’ll expand their reach: horizontally or vertically.
Horizontal growth is offering the same services to different kinds of companies. For example, a single language provider that primarily works with financial organizations could begin to target their translation services to other industries.
Vertical growth is offering more services to the same industry. Single language providers could begin to provide more language pairs. They now have more value to offer their current customers.
Research your competitors
Once you know who your ideal customers are, who else is targeting them? Research other LSPs in your country or market that offer the same services (language pairs).
Research their pricing models
Their quality assurance process
What project management software they use
What companies they’ve already worked with
What they consider their strengths
The more you know about your competitors, the more equipped you’ll be to convince a customer to work with you instead.
Find leads: An outbound sales strategy
Once you’ve developed an ideal customer profile, you know what kind of customer you’re looking for. Now, it’s just a matter of finding them.
In this section, we’re covering an outbound method of finding prospective customers, where you seek out new clients, as opposed to them finding you. These specifically targeted leads may have never heard of your company before. An outbound outreach involves cold calls and emails and interacting via social media. The traditional outbound sales approach starts with creating a list of leads.
1. Build an initial list of target companies
Shoot for a list of 100 to 200 companies that fit your ICP. You can build this list yourself or hire a contractor whose expertise is finding leads.
Find these companies by researching industry-specific online communities and forums, industry associations and, last but not least, LinkedIn.
Keep track of them via a spreadsheet, lead management software (LMS), or your customer relationship management (CRM) software. While there’s an unlimited amount of information you can keep track of about a prospective customer, at minimum, you’ll want to include the size of the company, their annual revenue, what countries they do business in (or where they have global offices), and the contact information of the department or person responsible for localization. This is the key information you’ll need when you begin to prioritize and act on leads.
You’ll also want to record any contact you make with the company, including who you contacted and what method you used.
2. Find new leads (and make initial contact) in person
In-person events are one of the best ways to make a lasting positive first impression. You can use your initial list of leads to know who to look for. See where they may be speaking.
Keep track of important events for the industries that you’re targeting. Klinger explains, “If you’re targeting financial companies or life sciences, you go to those specific conferences. A lot of the big LSP companies will go there and have huge booths. TransPerfect is at every large life science event. It’s smart.”
You can also host your own events — a tactic that is very underutilized in the translation business. For instance, an LSP that works with pharmaceutical companies can set up a mixer for folks responsible for translation services in that industry. In small events like this, you can combine loyal customers (who can serve as advocates) and new prospects from the same field or that have similar interests. Events can serve to simultaneously nurture leads and current customers by providing value to both.
3. Ask for referrals
The other very important source for new leads is your current customers. If you’ve done a good job of providing quality service to your customers and earning their loyalty, they’ll be happy to recommend you!
We wrote about best practices for how to request referrals, such as asking each customer individually instead of through a mass email.
The Smartcat difference
Smartcat can help LSPs more organically find and attract new companies. One way is through our LSP Marketplace where you can display your company profile and outline the services that you provide to every user looking for a vendor. The other way to find leads through Smartcat is through our partnership program. As a Smartcat partner, we recommend you to other LSPs and end customers looking for vendors in your region or specialization.
Prep for outreach
Anyone who has worked in sales can tell you that it often takes more than one attempt to get a potential client to respond — and more than one conversation to get to the point where you can successfully propose your services.
Much of the sales process isn’t actually about selling your services. Instead, it’s about building brand recognition with a potential customer, creating an actual connection and providing value. There are many techniques to accomplish these objectives.
Before you kick off an outbound sales campaign, design a clear sequence of communication using different channels. The number of ways to connect with potential clients has significantly increased in recent years. Your prospects can be contacted via phone, email, LinkedIn, Twitter, as well as industry-specific online communities. For instance, there are often industry-specific Meetup communities in most large cities.
Just how many emails should you send or how many calls should you make before you stop? A common outbound sales sequence may include as many as six to ten emails, a couple of Linkedin message (including a custom connection request), and a couple of phone calls.
Many sales professionals believe that if you haven’t heard no from a prospect, it’s perfectly okay to continue reaching out to them. Use your best judgment and don’t spam prospects on a daily basis. In all of your contact, you want to walk the fine line of being persistent but not annoying.
In his Guide to Cold Emailing, entrepreneur and writer Tucker Max recommends keeping emails short and making sure you’ve thought about why someone should take the time to open it.
To this end, we recommend scripting each email or call using a sequence of goals or important points you’d like to make (i.e. you don’t want to say the same thing every time you reach out).
For instance, offer something of value: “If you’ve done your research and found a major pain point for the recipient, and you can offer relief, highlight that,” Max writes. Provide a useful resource, such as a case study or industry report.
Here is where it pays to have researched each prospect so that you can customize your scripts (and what you’re offering).
When designing your sales outreach, the goal of each email or call might not be attempting to get the prospect to buy; it might be getting the prospect to the next step. Since it’s much much harder to make a sale via email or text, one of your first goal posts is getting the prospect on an initial call.
Let’s look at an example sequence and how it might work for your LSP.
LinkedIn connection request (custom)
Follow on Twitter and like (if applicable)
Call #1(leave voicemail)
Request a time to chat about services
Relevant report or case study
Announce a new service/award, etc. relevant to the prospect
Best practices/educational email
Call #2 (leave voicemail)
Request a time to chat about services
Invite to a webinar
Make a special offer
Send a breakup email
Throughout this process, consider sending running A/B tests on different subject lines and message copy to judge their effectiveness. Keep track of which get more responses. As you send more of these emails and calls, etc — you’ll start to pick up on details (like specific words in the subject line) that work better than others.
In his book The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales, Close.io co-founder and CEO Steli Efti writes, “If your response rates are below 5% you’re doing something really wrong. In the 10% range, you’re on the right track. Anywhere between 10%-30% you’re doing really, really well.”
Outline your sales process
Before you reach out to a customer, you’ll want to not only have the entire outreach sequence mapped out, but also the rest of your sales funnel. If a company is interested in your services — what then? We propose a four-stage process that moves a prospect from initial interest to post-contract onboarding.
1. Inquiry or discovery call
If you’re using an outbound sales strategy, all of those initial messages and calls — lead up to what we’re referring to as the “discovery call.” This is the point where you’re communicating with a prospective client and able to validate whether they’re a good fit for you and vice versa.
An inbound LSP strategy can get you here, as well. When a lead offers you their contact information, at some point, your sales team should contact them to request a call.
The primary information you’re looking for is whether are they have a translation budget and whether their needs match your offerings. You’re less likely to win over companies that don’t have already have translation services factored into their budget.
If both of these are true — they have a budget and they’re specifically interested in translation services that you offer (specific language pairs, etc) — the next step is to ask if they have an active request for proposals (RFP) available or if they’re taking proposals (without an RFP) from new vendors.
If they don’t have an RFP available, you can use this call to ask for specific information you’ll want to include in a proposal, such if they prefer specific file formats, etc.
2. Submit a proposal
A proposal typically includes:
Your company’s background: especially any experience related to the prospective company
Bios of your team
Explanation of work process: including what technology you use and what happens when issues arise
Accuracy assurance: your quality standards and quality control process
Budget and plan: rates per project (usually per word), turnaround time, and languages offered.
One of the key things businesses are now looking for is what technology a vendor is using and how it can save them money and improve quality. For instance, if you offer localization engineering, you should define the various processes including QA you have in place, the tools that you are using and the pricing structure associated with it.
3. Follow up and close
If a company is interested in your work, there’s usually a follow-up call or in-person meeting. Be prepared to answer questions about your process, address objections, clarify costs, and provide additional evidence of work (such as case studies and reports, including KPIs).
There may also be further negotiations around the terms or costs in your proposal. One thing to prepare for is multiple levels of approval necessary to close a deal. Especially in larger organizations, the person who requests the proposal may not have the ultimate buying power. It may be their boss, or their boss’s boss, or even another department.
During any follow-up call, keep track of any question or objection you hear so that you can respond afterward. You’ll also want to keep these in mind for future clients. Respond to any potential objection before they have a chance to raise it.
This stage ends when you have a signed contract.
4. Nurture the customer
The nurture stage involves providing a new customer post-sale support, such as onboarding, and finding new opportunities to continue working with them. Customer nurturing is a never-ending process of communicating with your customers.
Have a nurture process and schedule in place, including:
Follow-up emails to ask how the first project is going
“Upsell” suggestions for future work
Customer satisfaction surveys
Request for referrals
It’s important to be able to track your sales process and your relationships with your customers via KPIs. All parts of your business ought to be measurable and goal-oriented, which leads us to stage five: optimization.
Optimize your sales process
Each time you close a new client, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what went right and what you wish you’d done differently:
Measure how many emails or sales calls it took, the size of the deal, etc.
In their book Predictable Revenue, outbound sales experts Aaron Ross recommends focusing on results rather than activity. The example they use is to track “the number of qualified opportunities created per month” instead of “focusing on the number of sales calls made per day.”
They also recommend tracking “fewer, more important metrics” including the number of new leads and qualified sales opportunities created per month and the conversion rate of leads to qualified opportunities.
Reflect on new customer feedback and their questions.
Sales metrics are not the only source of information you can use to improve your sales process. Each conversation you have with new customers is full of valuable insights. Taking the time to reflect on their questions and comments.
The same is true about the conversations you had with people who did not choose your services. If you’re able to, reach out again and ask why they chose a different company.
Danny Wong suggests recording sales calls (with a prospect’s permission, of course) in order to train and coach sales representatives. However, these recordings can be useful outside of a training environment, as well. You can go back through and listen to places where maybe you misheard someone’s question or missed an opportunity to provide more information.
Finally, optimize your sales materials based on this new information and adapt your overall sales process accordingly.