How to enter the US translation market

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Michael Klinger has worked in the globalization industry for over twenty-five years. From translator and interpreter to founder of the software localization project and bilingual staffing services at Comsys (now Experis), Michael has held many roles in the language industry. He is now the founder and managing partner of Anzu Global, which offers bilingual staffing and brokerage services for the globalization industry. Among their services, the company helps global LSPs break into the U.S. market.

We spoke to Michael about the U.S. market, the challenge of hiring a salesperson, and what LSPs can do to grow.

— Tell us about Launchpad — your service for helping LSP companies break into the U.S. market.

First off, the Launchpad initiative was started at Anzu Global by Thomas Edwards who was passionate about helping global vendors enter the U.S. market. He has since left Anzu Global, and we continue to provide this service with another senior sales person. Ms. Johnson is heading it up.

A lot of companies in Europe, Asia, and South America want to grow in the U.S., but because the marketplace is very different, they don’t know how to do it. So here are some best practices that we talk about. It’s a fairly straightforward and cost-effective three-step process.

  1. After we interview and see that this is a legitimate company, the first step is a deep dive into who they are: their vertical strengths, production strengths, and pricing.

  2. Next, how would that translate in the U.S. market? So we write a little summary: “Based on this, we think you’d be strong in the life sciences. You can’t go after government; you don’t have an office here.” We come up with a target list and a projected pipeline. Then we have a senior salesperson work with them, maybe 10 to 15 hours a week, reaching out to this target market, and helping them with marketing materials, social media and adapting their website.

  3. And then, we track it on a weekly basis. You’re looking for a way to leverage and grow a pipeline. Even if you don’t close business, what you’re trying to do is give these guys a foothold that they wouldn’t normally have at a cost that’s lower than hiring someone full-time and not supporting them.

— When you do this first initial search, how do you advise companies what industries or verticals to pursue?

The first question is how big is this company? Oftentimes, if they’re trying to grow in the U.S. market, they have a strength in their own market. For example, we work with a company in Brazil that only does legal translations. They’re a $4 million company, but all their clients are in Brazil. That’s a very simple one. Let’s take those referenceable clients that have offices in the U.S. Let’s explore that, and we have someone on the ground here that can visit them.

So that’s an easy one. But take another company. We work with companies in Argentina that do a lot of life-science translations, but right now they’re doing it for other vendors. So you have the translators, and you have the process (say they’re ISO certified). It looks like you can do life sciences, which is an important vertical in the U.S., but rather than go to other LSPs, we suggest you go to smaller life-science places. Pfizer or Merck are not going to work with a $2 million Argentinian company, but there are mid-sized companies that would be interested in a company whose production is focused on life science. So, it’s a detective game.

— Can you talk more about targeting companies of specific sizes?

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). Microsoft has maybe a $100 million budget, but the process of getting aligned with them will take years. It’s not just about size, either. For instance, you couldn’t do government work if your company is headquartered in Egypt. You have to be realistic in who you should approach and the timeline that you have.

— What is the process like of making that target list of companies you’re going to go after?

When we work with clients, we help with our list. We have a 10,000-person database, so we give them some leads. Or maybe you get a marketing company that, for $5,000, will reach out to 30,000 companies.

But if your budget is limited, you create a target list of 200 to 500 companies whether through LinkedIn or email. You also work with your existing clients, because they may have worked with 10, 20, 50 companies in the past ten years without any success.

It’s a detective story. First, you research the companies: we didn’t know that this company sold but now we do. You start out with mass mailings and then you follow up. You also want to target two to three strategic meetings, whether it be an ALC conference or some kind of convention. 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.

There’s a soldier that has to go on the ground and conduct the hand-to-hand combat — try to set up meetings. Unlike in Europe, you can’t just call up and get a meeting. It’s really calling and hassling them. Three, six, nine months — it’s a year cycle.

— Many LSPs have too small of a budget to do much of this groundwork. What then?

If it’s a million-dollar company, they don’t have the bandwidth to pay for a marketing arm. They will often pay for a part-time person to do the marketing themselves. And the reason you want a more senior sales person is they can do the whole process. They can sell it, they can answer any concerns. And a more junior person is going to be lost without the support of the company.

— Can you talk about hiring a salesperson?

Let me start by saying that when you hire a salesperson, one out of three is going to succeed. It’s just a tough market.

If you’re a smaller LSP, say one to two million in revenue, and you hire a senior salesperson in the U.S. market, you’ll pay $80,000 to $100,000, and you’re not going to get a return on investment. Say you can hire a junior salesperson at $60K with health insurance, but they’re not going to get you anywhere because they need guidance.

The sales cycle for translation is 6 to 12 months. So I don’t care who you hire, you’re not going to see much unless you’re lucky. So you won’t get much of a return in the first 6 to 8 months.

Why I like the Launchpad model is you’re not paying for insurance; we’re paying the contractor and they know what they’re doing, but it’s less of a financial risk.

— Are there other ways to differentiate yourself in the U.S. market besides which industry you focus on?

There’s a technology component that acts as a specialization. For instance, media localization, such as dubbing and subtitling, is a huge industry right now. There are companies that are very good with neural machine translation, which is the latest buzzword. If someone does NMT very well, that’s a good strength because they’re basically saying, “We can knock off the costs of your translation.” So it’s not just the industry, but also your process.