Localization Business School: It’s about people and relationships

Translation technology is over-hyped. As excited as I am about new technologies, approaches and startups, localization is a personal business. Yes, it’s about processes and hand-offs, for sure. It is also true that people and their relationships matter more. My German-born and bred engineering brain does not always get that easily. But with the conference season in full swing — it’s now time to rewire it.

If it weren’t about people and relationships, then everybody in localization could buy a list of names from a database acquisition service and be a millionaire in no time. Successful marketers know that the number of people on a mailing list is not what’s important. What’s important is the relationship they have with the people on that list. And as we have learned from America’s most successful vocal group to date, The Supremes, you can’t hurry love. The more trust we build, the deeper our relationships grow over time.

Good project managers produce the best test translations

People and their relationships matter. We know from vendor selection processes that the personal qualities of the sales person often make a stronger impact on the prospective buyer than the product itself. Likewise, project managers who build relationships early on have a positive and measurable impact on the outcome of test translations. The more they engage a prospective customer during the testing process, the higher the ratings will be.

Good project managers take control not only of the process, but also manage their relationships with the stakeholders in it. They ask customers for additional information and resources, such as terminology, reference documents, product information and so on. They proactively reach out to encourage queries from translators and resolve them effectively. They communicate progress, manage expectations and make the work easier for the next person in the process. In contrast, unsuccessful test translations are often managed by project managers who operate in a black box.

How do you measure the quality of a relationship?

Many translation buyers, if they can, would rather follow a performing project manager when they move on to a new job than stay with their current services providers. They value their preferred project managers the way I treasure my son’s babysitter. When I work with one who knows what he or she is doing, is available and is someone I like — and most importantly my son likes — I only share their name with my very best, select friends. People and their relationships matter.

The challenge is that relationships are hard to measure. How do you know if you have a good relationship? Relationships are not like pricing, turnaround time and quality, which can all be easily quantified and communicated in numbers, percentages, time, weight and money.

The short answer is that people in good relationships have regular spiritual experiences together. In personal relationships they meditate, pray, work out, dance, eat, drink or are merry together. In business, they celebrate successes, plow through a crisis, finish a challenging project. They communicate frequently, share and discuss their ideas, and they respect each other. That’s why business lunches and award dinners, user meetings, customer appreciation parties and outings are crucial to success even in a world where technology allows us to collaborate virtually.

Nowhere is this need better evidenced than in colleges around the world. A college degree is a mathematical equation. All one needs in order to graduate is to attend a number of semesters of education, during which one completes a certain number of classes with qualifying results. At the end the student receives his or her degree. Instead of having a graduation ceremony, colleges could just send out an email congratulating the student and attach the certificate as a PDF file.

But humans are social animals — it’s why we have survived for thousands of years. So instead, colleges do commencements with our friends and family present. It makes graduates feel better and makes their parents proud. For the same reason, partners in the most successful professional relationships also want to make the other proud; and for each to believe that they got the better end of the deal.

No, you can’t hurry love

Which boss, colleague, customer or business partner do you want to make proud? Start with a list and plan one specific action per person, every week. Always remember that you need to be in it for the long run. One email is just a first step; it won’t make the sale or build the partnership you need. It is, however, the beginning of a journey that will bring rewards gradually and organically.

It is important that you make a conscious effort to improve your relationships every day and week. Come up with specific ways you can help, rather than just offering any type of help. Give unexpected praise. Ask questions that address an unresolved issue. Instead of thinking about what you want out of the relationship; focus on what you can give.

Be authentic. Remember that no one really likes cynics and critics. But don’t be nice because you ultimately want to achieve your goals. Picture yourself like a drop of water in a water fountain. The only way to make it to the top is by pushing up the water above you.

So, for the conference, don’t go there to meet that one person to make that sale. Be there to build relationships, create value for others and make them proud.