Taking back your clients

I have many fond memories of those good old days when clients were loyal to their localization suppliers. We didn’t have to do much to keep business coming in. Competent resources were scarce, which meant clients were happy just to hear you say you could handle their list of languages.

Larger suppliers got all the business from cash cows like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. After all, large clients could only do business with large localization houses. Clients paid invoices promptly without reading them. What a time! Then came the world economic downturn. Suddenly, corporations began evaluating everything, including their localization efforts. Purchasing departments started looking at creative ways to reduce costs. Project management fees or paying for 100% matches were eliminated. Online bidding became a fad. Larger vendors were no longer the sole suppliers for big clients. Relationships were not as important anymore. Case in point: my friend is the CEO of a software company that spends quite a bit on localization and I can’t get him to send me his company’s localization business.

Today, frugal clients go straight to the cheapest vendor. Some go directly to freelancers; others switch suppliers twice a year. This is a lose/lose for us and them. We need to get these clients back and reignite their loyalty by demonstrating our value. Forget the boilerplate statements. Don’t rely on saying how good you are, that you use cool tools and that all translations are handled by native linguists. The truth is that most clients don’t really care. Focus not on praising yourself but on how you can make your client’s life easier.

“Consumers, in general, are thoroughly disenchanted with the marketplace,” says Ann Clurman, senior partner at Yankelovich, a leading consumer market research and analytics company. There’s a lot of truth to that statement. How many clients are passionate about their relationships with their localization providers?

But perhaps we can change that attitude. Yankelovich has been researching consumer attitudes for 30 years, and advises us to approach business with a new type of vision, energy and daring. They call it “brand charisma,” and it’s the ability to inspire the customer to seek you out. Clients will willingly accept that they are better off with you than without you if you prove it again and again on each and every project. To do this, you need to find out what’s working with their current strategy and what is not. Start by asking!

This, of course, assumes that clients know what they want. If they don’t, it is your job to find out. Contact them by phone or better yet in person. I know the phone is old fashioned, but it is still the best way to get a sense of how emotionally attached they are to what they are thinking. It is also a way to ask follow-up questions, which could cost you precious time if you’re going back and forth via e-mail.

Never pretend that you know what your client wants without asking. Do not think that the answer always revolves around price, quality or time-to-market. Sometimes you have to dig for the specific client problem so you can offer a unique solution. For example, I was after a global company with a localization budget of $1.4 million annually. I called on them for two years with zero success. During one of my routine calls the team mentioned that their localization house took six to nine months to invoice and this presented a serious problem because of budget allocations. I offered to invoice them in a manner that was better suited to their corporate culture, and got their business. We had the skill set and experience to do the work, but the real reason we got the job is because we met a need that the competition could not or would not.

I don’t necessarily enjoy having to acknowledge that my company makes mistakes, but we do. Just recently, we messed up royally on a client’s website. No, I’m not going to share the details, but I will say that anything that could have gone wrong did and then some. Our team acknowledged that there was a problem and created a plan to fix it. We offered to fix the problem, load all the files onto the client’s content management system, coordinate an independent review and provide additional testing, all at no cost. Once these efforts were completed, we sent them a questionnaire asking how we did. I expected them to trash us and call us names. As it turned out, they praised our customer service, our proactivity and said they would use us for their next project.

Show clients that you are an integral part of their international strategy. Demonstrate that they are worse off without you. Prove the value of a long-term relationship with you. Take back your clients or give them my number!