In the business world, there’s nothing more important than ensuring that all stakeholders involved in a project are able to communicate effectively. There’s nothing worse than having someone perform the wrong task, or even cancel a project, due to a misunderstanding.

Given those challenges, most corporations across the globe are realizing the importance of embracing translation services within their businesses. Although language service provider (LSP) services clearly are in demand, the market is crowded, and many LSPs are engaging in price wars that cut into their margins.

All that in mind, when the teams within an LSP develop an effective marketing strategy, they can maintain high margins, while also attracting customers that value the service. Although marketing and brand positioning is a broad field, the tips below enable all LSPs to develop a solid foundation to effectively position their brand.

The state of marketing for language service providers

The first step to positioning a language service provider is developing an understanding of the tools and resources that are available to such companies. Since there’s no arbitrary rule on what does and doesn’t work in marketing, many LSPs embrace multiple techniques to ensure they’re getting the most out of their marketing spend.

Common digital marketing techniques used by LSPs include search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC) campaigns, email newsletters, case studies, and general social media campaigns. Some companies also market their services through trade shows, and cold calling.

Developing a marketing strategy

Once the teams within an LSP choose the tools for their marketing campaigns, the next step is developing an effective marketing strategy that’s unique to their company, because something that works for one company isn’t guaranteed to work for another.

This process begins with the internal stakeholders identifying their ideal customers, and defining action items to execute the strategy. Most language service providers use the Porter’s Five Forces Framework. While it’s a topic beyond the scope of this article, in short, the framework revolves around LSP professionals understanding the five forces of business, which in their industry include:

  • Threat of new entrants
  • Threat of substitutes
  • Bargaining power of customers
  • Bargaining power of suppliers
  • Competitive rivalries

Throughout the strategy development process, professionals within LSPs need to document their marketing plan and budget form day one. Once there’s a clear direction for the marketing strategy, the planning document should be shared across the company so all relevant stakeholders can provide input.

The most effective marketing plans are ones that are built around a user sales funnel. LSP teams need to understand that language service purchases aren’t made overnight as buyers need guidance to ensure that they’re purchasing a solution that will meet their needs today, and into the future.

Understanding marketing funnels

Sales funnels are comprised of five parts, descriptions of which are below:

  • Stranger: At this stage, the LSP is focused on brand awareness, and showcasing its capabilities and specialties. This is done by using social media and general advertising. When an LSP looks to build brand awareness, they need to ensure that their website design, logo, and overall messaging are on the same page.
  • Prospect: This is where the prospective customer is interested in learning more about translation and linguistic technology as a whole. They’ll also dig around various LSP websites to understand the key players and their offerings.
  • Lead: Known as the “brand consideration” stage, the LSP needs to deliver content and informational materials to keep the brand top of mind to the buyer. This is when the LSP starts making the case for why the prospect should purchase from them, as opposed to a competitor.
  • Qualified lead: This is the stage when the sales team within an LSP engages with the prospect directly — reaching out via email or phone. While sales teams take the lead here, marketing staff still need to ensure sales professionals use messaging that is in line with the brand image.
  • Client: Once a prospect becomes a customer, the LSP can’t just focus on retaining that user. They need to focus on delivering an exceptional experience that will compel the customer to recommend the LSP’s offerings to others via word of mouth.
  • Evangelist: This is when the customer begins recommending the LSP to others. From there, the LSP benefits from increasing the number of leads they gather.
Developing a sales funnel strategy

While an understanding of the sales funnel gives professionals within LSPs an edge over the competition, it isn’t an end all be all. They also need to consider a few questions to ensure they fully understand the concept. These include:

  • Is the approach complete? — To ensure the marketing strategy is comprehensive, LSPs need to consider how their teams can support the prospect through all phases of the sales cycle.
  • Do the initiatives create a logical sequence? — Marketing teams within LSPs need to create content for all stages of the sales funnel. Going beyond educating prospects about the product, internal teams also need to focus on thought leadership and providing value to the end user.
  • What are the weaknesses in the approach? — Teams within LSPs need to identify bottlenecks and blockers that prevent prospects from becoming clients. For example, a lack of qualified leads indicates ineffective brand awareness efforts. On the other hand, qualified leads dropping out of the funnel can be countered with improved thought leadership measures.
  • What is the quality of the leads you get? — LSPs need to ensure they are addressing the pain points and interests of their ideal customer.
  • What factors accelerate the process? — Sales and marketing teams in LSPs need to continuously evaluate their sales pipeline to ensure that buyers are provided with relevant information in a timely manner, in order to expedite the purchasing process.

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Measuring the effectiveness of marketing strategies

Once the language service provider develops a coherent strategy, and begins executing on it, the teams need to continuously monitor campaign performance to ensure that they’re meeting their goals. Doing so helps marketing teams justify their requests for funding, while also ensuring that existing budgets are allocated efficiently.

Identifying relevant metrics

As a whole, there’s no shortage of metrics (also referred to as key performance indicators — KPIs) that professionals within LSPs can use to gauge the performance of their marketing campaigns. That in mind, professionals need to choose the metrics that are most relevant to their business, by considering the following tips:

  • Set KPIs to the stage of the company: An LSP in the very early stages is going to have completely different goals and objectives than a larger entity with offices across the globe.
  • A focus needs to be placed on the KPIs that directly impact the customer base, since optimizing for those numbers will help deliver rapid growth.
  • The chosen KPIs need to be SMART: The term SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-related. In short, this translates to meaning that goals need to be realistic and practical. Professionals within LSPs can’t afford to overpromise and underdeliver.
Examples of relevant key performance indicators for LSPs

As explained earlier, it’s on each individual LSP to determine the metrics that work for them, since every business has unique goals and objectives. That being said, there are a few KPIs that LSPs should consider, such as:

  • Net promoter score: This KPI revolves around brand sentiment. LSP users are asked a question along the lines of, “How likely would you recommend this service to a friend or colleague?” The user answers on a scale of one to ten. One is least likely, ten is most likely.
  • Gross margin: This is an essential metric for all LSPs as it determines whether the pricing and staffing levels are sustainable. This is calculated at a per project, or net total level.
  • Customer retention rate: In business, it’s often cheaper to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one. With that in mind, LSPs need to focus on keeping customer churn levels as low as possible.
Efficiently gathering information

Gathering data for monitoring doesn’t have to be difficult. Marketing practitioners within LSPs have a variety of techniques and tools they can leverage to ensure marketing campaigns are performing efficiently.

Those channels include: customer interviews, custom landing pages (unique to each marketing campaign), and shortened URLs (created with services such as Bit.ly). Another popular method LSPs use to gather information is through call tracking, which works when the company assigns unique phone numbers to each marketing campaign.

Making sense of it all

The language service provider sector is similar to other businesses because it is constantly changing. What works today isn’t going to carry the same performance levels in the future. Marketing professionals in the language service provider space need to continuously monitor their campaign performance and ensure that adjustments are made to address shifts, in real time.

In order to be successful in this competitive market, employees at language service providers need to develop a foundation for their marketing strategy. It’s important to build flexibility into that model, however, since it’s impossible to anticipate how things will change years, or even months into the future.