Making the Link Between
Marketing, Revenue, and Localization

by nataly Kelly

Traditionally, marketing teams were focused primarily on activities that took place mostly offline, including branding, messaging, public relations, design, advertising, and field marketing. As more activity has shifted online, today’s marketers live in a completely different reality than their counterparts did even just a decade ago. When digital marketing first began to emerge, marketers began to focus more on proving their contribution to the bottom line, demonstrating what percentage of revenue was “marketing-sourced.”

Today, marketing teams focus even more heavily on demand generation and creating leads for salespeople, but beyond that, marketing teams focus on creating content, messages, and workflows that help to nudge prospects further along in their journey to becoming a customer. As marketing has evolved to take on more of a starring role in revenue generation, companies have turned up the heat. As such, the importance of tight relationships between marketing and other functions, especially sales, has never been greater.

The scope of influence for marketing teams just keeps getting bigger, but as such, so does the complexity of their job. Businesses with a strong online presence tend to naturally attract web traffic and interest from other countries, even if they only start out in one language that is spoken in multiple countries, such as English. When the business, and marketing’s much broader scope, begins to creep beyond just one country or language, the complexity can begin to seem overwhelming.

Localization teams work with marketers in new ways

Knowing that marketing teams are facing more pressure than ever to contribute to revenue creation at every stage in a visible way, localization leaders have both a frustrating problem and an opportunity.

The problem localizers face is that even though marketers need their help, localization takes time that marketers simply don’t have. Today’s marketing teams are in a tremendous hurry, racing to meet their never-ending stream of deadlines to push content live, launch campaigns with that content, and repeat the cycle — all in service of generating demand as quickly and continuously as possible, so that companies can achieve their revenue targets.

However, the opportunity that naturally unfolds with this new reality is an exciting one. Localization teams have a greater chance than ever before of tying their work directly to revenue. The reason this new reality represents an opportunity is that if marketing can show “marketing-influenced revenue,” and if localization teams are supporting some of this revenue, it naturally follows that localization leaders can demonstrate their link to revenue also.

With people visiting a company’s website every hour of every day, marketing is not as time-based and campaign-based as it used to be. Many campaigns are simply running constantly. While in the past, marketers could look at progress less frequently and wait until a campaign was complete, many metrics for marketers today are reviewed through the lens of daily averages. This means that marketing activities today have a continual, streaming pace.

Because this new marketing pace is constant and ever-accelerating, marketers will gladly take help from localization counterparts. When regional marketers begin creating a presence in a given market, their focus often isn’t what it might have been in the past, when they could focus more on initial market research, thinking about how best to launch products locally, come up with their local branding and PR plans, and so on.

Under the new demand-focused scenario for global marketing, the more common situation is that a marketer will be hired to support a country or region after demand already exists, when salespeople are already working leads sourced for that territory, and when a domestic marketing team no longer has the bandwidth, time zone, or language skills to properly support the growth in that market.

In other words, regional and local marketers today don’t get much time, if any, to stretch their legs, warm up, and then start running as they did in the past, gradually building up to a faster pace. By the time they join a company today that already has a demand-generation engine, these regional marketers are already sprinting toward lead flow targets and SLAs that pre-dated them. More is expected of them than ever before. They have to start sprinting in a race that is already in motion.

Localization teams increasingly support revenue priorities

Localization teams who traditionally focused on product localization, but are new to marketing localization, often feel disoriented when thrust into this new, highly demand-focused reality. They can empathize with regional marketers, but aren’t used to operating at this continual and seemingly frantic pace. Localization is all about detail, and efficiency requires advance planning, so it can be hard for localization teams to respond to requests from marketers that, to them, seem at times to be completely outrageous: “You want 12 blog posts, eight emails, a video, and 14 graphics in five languages, all requiring transcreation, back within a week?”

Mapping to the revenue-focused nature of marketing today means localization teams have no choice but to evolve, but at times it may seem that localization teams can’t adapt quickly enough to face the demands of their marketing stakeholders. Marketers today usually want high-speed turn-around with the highest possible level of quality, including cultural adaptation of their content. And they want to do this at scale. Especially for teams with a strong SEO focus, content volumes can make a big difference. Large volumes of web-based content such as blog posts and web pages can add significantly to a company’s online footprint, helping them improve their value in terms of SEO.

At HubSpot, we realized very early on that with this new reality in terms of marketing, there would be no way to outsource certain aspects of the localization work. Regional marketers creating a brand presence for the first time in a new market naturally wanted to have the final approval and final say on key content for their markets. The marketers, not a third-party freelance translator sourced by an agency, wanted to have the ultimate stamp of approval on messaging, tone, and even word choice.

As such, we quickly figured out that we would need to hire localization specialists to support the marketing team for each language in which we conduct marketing at scale. What we saw was that the marketers grew to appreciate these localization specialists for their languages to such an extent that the marketers actually offered in some cases to give us their own headcount in order to fund this role, because they saw huge value in these individuals.

Why did marketers view localization specialists as having such huge value? Because every minute spent by a marketer reviewing content was a minute they were delayed from launching a campaign or generating revenue or hitting their lead targets for sales. Every hour that a localization specialist spent making sure the content was of high enough quality to generate demand was an hour that marketer could spend on other activities designed to influence revenue. In short, the more work localizers could take off their plates in terms of content, review, and choosing the right terms for things meant greater success for the marketing team with demand generation.

The challenges of revenue-focused localization in a fast-paced world

Revenue-focused localization comes with plenty of challenges. Because it’s such a new concept, many teams are not accustomed to gearing localization operations toward demand generation. Marketers tend to want high-quality content, at the fastest possible speed – but they also have finite budgets. Compounding the matter more is the fact that costs can be difficult to predict. A marketer might have 20 blog posts per month on their content calendar, but there can be a huge variation in terms of word count, so no one can fully predict exact costs until after work is completed. At best they can use an average word count to come up with an estimate for budgeting purposes, but this is not exactly a world of precision required for scoping and planning that most localization professionals are used to working with.

Another major challenge of this new type of localization that accompanies modern revenue-focused marketing is the fact that it’s highly continuous in nature. When marketing basically never stops, and campaigns are continually running, this means localization teams have to embrace a highly continual nature also. To enable team members to take vacations, have down time, and account for weekends and holidays, capacity planning takes on a new life, and a mix of internal and external resources becomes critical.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of this new reality for localization teams is the constant reshuffling act they must perform when they support, along with their marketing counterparts, an increased scope of activities that directly impact revenue. Priorities and projects can change so quickly that agility is not even an appropriate word. Rather, extreme flexibility, and building operations that can run continuously becomes key.

As an example, let’s say that a marketer is launching a global campaign and suddenly needs to change the label on a button on a sign-up form. This form has to go live in hours, because 10 campaigns are going out the next day that include this form, and the company has decided on an important terminology change.

In a traditional set-up, when faced with this scenario, the marketer might ask their localization team to provide a translation. A project manager would then send this to an LSP, who might be able to turn it around within a day or two, but the quality would likely be poor unless it were sent to translators who have extreme familiarity with the brand, the past translations that already exist, and alternatives for each language, and so on. This would infuriate the regional marketers, who would then find out the conversion rates on that form were not great because of poor copy in some languages due to translators sourced by the LSP who were not familiar with the rest of the marketing content.

In our reality at HubSpot, the traditional set-up would never be acceptable, would cause marketers to waste time, and would ultimately result in salespeople not getting their leads in time, which could cause missed revenue opportunities for the entire company. So, in our system, a marketer with a global campaign can simply send a note in a Slack channel requesting the translation, after which human localization specialists for each language will provide assistance with the quick-turn need.

The difference between outsourcing and insourcing, in this case, is that internal localization specialists who live and breathe this content every day can deliver the highest quality at the fastest speed possible. Internal specialists will ensure that the translations are relevant, contextual, and because they know the regional marketers very well and are highly aligned with them, that the marketers would approve of them too.

In this new scenario, localization and marketing teams operate in a very high-trust environment that goes in both directions. Marketers trust the localization team not only with the brand voice. They are depending on the localization specialists in order to actually make their demand generation targets. In turn, localization teams also trust that the marketers will only ask for this help when it’s truly needed. But when asked, they don’t blink or balk, because they know that, even if it’s hard to context-switch and jump from one thing to another, this is in service of the entire company hitting our revenue targets.

Let’s finally call localization what it is: Revenue Enablement

In some ways, this is a monumental change, and the dawn of a new day for localization leaders. In the past, localization teams had a very difficult time demonstrating any clear link to revenue. The best they could do was perhaps to show how much revenue was derived from customers using a product in a given language, or hailing from a given country. But those metrics can’t usually be attributed to localization alone. In fact, if localization teams tried to claim any influence over those revenue successes, sales teams would likely counter, “But having the product in another language doesn’t matter without us to sell it!” And they would be correct in saying so.

Marketing and sales teams have often gone through periods of fighting over who should get attribution for what percentage of revenue, but the new focus for most businesses today is to get these teams to focus less on arguing with each other about who gets credit, so they can spend time on things that will move the needle on revenue. This means executives work to keep these teams as aligned as they possibly can be, so that all teams can focus on optimizing the entire operational engine used to generate revenue.

This new direction for marketing and sales teams has led to the creation of new roles and at some companies — an entirely new area called revenue operations, which is designed to focus solely on aligning these revenue-creating teams and creating operational efficiencies in their processes.

Localization teams, who tend to support marketing but also sales enablement with content localization, can be an integral part of this change, and can actually help shepherd the broader picture of revenue operations along.

What’s exciting for localization leaders is that, even though our job is getting harder in some ways, the age-old discussion of how localization leaders can “prove their value” is beginning to fade and become a thing of the past. Localization will no longer be viewed as a cost center if it’s so closely intertwined with revenue. In the case of my own team at HubSpot, localization rolls up into sales. While this may seem strange at first glance, it makes sense that a revenue enablement function would live within sales. I believe that localization teams will increasingly be housed organizationally within revenue functions at companies, especially companies with a strong digital marketing focus.

Strategic alignment is more vital than ever

The biggest challenge localization teams now face within this new reality is not just the fact that the scope of the work they do has increased and become more continuous. While that is difficult to manage operationally, that is not the only challenge. The bigger challenge is that localization teams now need to not only align strategically with revenue-influencing teams such as marketing, but that the pace of change is constant, and priorities also change frequently too, which can make long-term planning and budgeting quite difficult.

At many companies, this means localization leaders will need to carve out significant time in their schedules for attending internal strategy meetings, networking, relationship building, and even things like just keeping tabs on who’s who at a growing organization where the company and stakeholders change often. If you’re a localization leader at a company where localization is centralized, this creates an even bigger challenge, because you not only need to do this with revenue-facing teams, but with all other teams you support, such as product and engineering teams, legal, HR, and so on.

At HubSpot, to help rise to this challenge, our localization team carries out quarterly business reviews with nine different primary groups of internal partners. We use this as an opportunity to review metrics (especially related to velocity), but more importantly, as a chance to align on strategic priorities.

Partnering with marketing leadership is incredibly important for us at HubSpot, and one of the localization team’s most valuable partnerships, for three key reasons:

  1. Marketing represents the majority of our localization activity in terms of project volume and human interactions.
  2. We value this alignment hugely, because it links us inextricably with demand generation and revenue-creating activities for the company.
  3.  Marketing professionals, much like localization professionals, understand the value of content.

I’m excited about the direction in which things are headed for localization and marketing teams. Both teams specialize in making sure communication happens effectively between companies and customers, which is proving to be a differentiating factor at many businesses. Both teams are seeing an increase in the scope of their activities, which seems in many ways like a reward, and an expanded definition of their job that they are being entrusted to do. And the work of both teams is being tied, more than ever, directly to top-line revenue.

Nataly Kelly is vice president of international operations and strategy at HubSpot.

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