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Helping clients reduce translation costs

Helping clients reduce translation costsIn today's highly competitive, cost-focused business world, translation buyers all struggle with the same mandate: do more with less.

For most translation service providers, this is an awkward and new situation. By and large, translation companies have been used to working on easy street. Clients would find them and there was so much business to go around, that translation companies didn't worry about educating clients or distinguishing themselves from other translation suppliers. What a difference 18 months make...

Over that time, I have noticed an increasing number of translation companies offer discounts, announce its intent to increase sales by providing free content, and provide tips to (potential) clients on how to reduce their translation spend.

I am not sure about the effectiveness of discounts or press releases without specifics on the offer being made, but it's terrific that translation suppliers are getting more savvy about marketing. It's the last category, where translation companies pretend to be concerned about clients' translation spend, that's really getting my goat.

There have been tons of these pieces recently, and they all carry similar names. Here is a sampling:

So, what's wrong with these efforts to educate clients? I'm glad you asked... It's the following three things that irk me about these pieces:

1. They are one-sided
None of the suggestions made in any of these articles is about the translation supplier. None. Ever.

"Suggestions" are always directed at the client/prospect. "If you really want to spend less, then you must ..." The client is supposed to figure out how to reduce source text, write more consistently, improve in-country reviews, etc. etc.

What about contributions from the translation provider's side? Why not propose specifics on how they help clients with the suggestions? Even better: Why not take on some of the burden by outlining specific paths to volume pricing or offering value-added services or even just supporting clients' efforts by providing management reports and metrics?

Well, I know why not. Because that would involve actual work...

2. They are not realistic
Sure, a lot of this depends on the company and industry of the translation buyer. In general, though, harping on authors needing to be consistent in their writing isn't helpful.

Mergers and acquisitions have resulted in cobbled-together organizations that don't share common history or terminology. Yes, it's possible for even those companies to organize their authoring and translation management. But for every company like Philips Healthcare that is successfully tackling this, there are a hundred companies that are hopelessly stuck in different silos and geographies.

And yes, there exists an opportunity for translation suppliers to help their clients. But not by simply repeating cliches and trite statements.

3. They are self-serving
Because of #1 and #2 above, these pieces are not helpful to clients. More sophisticated buyers of translation services already know about the suggestions being made. Less experienced companies wouldn't event know how to get started with them.

"Single sourcing content" is a good example. Only the largest medical device companies have the resources, budgets, and clout to put in place a content management system. Smaller device firms simply have no means to do this.

Similarly, regulatory submissions at pharmaceutical companies encompass hundreds of thousands of words but most of the content gets written specifically for the submission and isn't used again afterward.

These articles don't provide actionable advice to clients. Instead, they are all about appearances. These pieces are designed to make the authoring service providers look like they are doing something when in fact they're serving up the same old, tired platitudes.

Being helpful to clients is possible but, as I mentioned, it requires real work. I know because we try to do some of these with our clients. It's not easy. Here are some examples:
  1. Listen to clients - It really starts with this. Until you understand a client's pain point, goals, and area of influence, you're just stabbing in the dark. Translation service providers could tell clients how their client teams are organized, how they report progress to clients, how they make it easy for clients to communicate with the supplier's team, how clients benefit from this approach.
  2. Propose specifics - You can't do this unless you understand your client. But once you do, the translation supplier's team can make specific proposals to a client: "We will reduce turnaround times by X days over the next quarter. We will do this and this and this. To make this feasible we need that and that and that from you."
  3. Measure and report - It's easy to talk about consistency or text re-use or quality but unless have objective metrics, it's just talk. Clients need prove. Heck, translation suppliers need proof too. Without it, you don't know which course of action to take and whether or not the results warranted the investment in time and resources. Why not advertise and discuss your data measurement and reporting facilities and outlining how clients benefit from these efforts?
  4. Stay committed - Translation suppliers and clients alike suffer from high staff turnover. That makes it difficult to manage improvements over time. We have found that it helps to organize teams, on the client's side as well as ours. This enables everybody to keep the momentum going when a team member is reassigned or leaves. Clients would be interested in hearing about translation suppliers' account teams enable continuous improvement efforts.
  5. Educate clients - It's been great to see more and more translation service providers utilize education tools like blogs, audio conferences, and webinars. But the ranks of companies utilizing these tools are still woefully thin. And there is really no reason for this. Even the smallest translation company can publish valuable information in a newsletter or on Twitter. Granted, audio conferences require more expertise but even this has become a lot easier. The point is: Translation buyers yearn to be educated and informed. Answer their call for help!
OK, I will get off the soap box now and ask you: Am I being to harsh?


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4 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...
    Buying translation is like buying a car. You usually get what you pay for.

    If you check the advice and substitute the translation with car, would it make sense?

    If not, maybe the advice should be reconsidered (smile)
    Andres Heuberger said...
    @Anonymous: Thank you for your comment.

    While I agree that buying translations is similar to buying a car, I am not quite sure that "you get what you pay for" holds true in medical translation. There are two reasons for this:

    1. I have detected no correlation between translation price and quality. Sometimes excellent translations are produced by low-cost providers and vice versa. Factors such as volume of work, competition for business, subject matter, and maybe even the phase of the moon - but not quality - influence prices.

    2. One of the reasons for #1 is that few translation suppliers can quantify their quality. Everybody says "our quality is terrific" but few can prove it.

    And that brings me back to buying cars: Is a Porsche 911 better than than a Toyota Prius, just because it costs more? That depends on how car buyer values the quality of the respective models.
    John said...
    Hi Andres - I enjoyed this post a lot. I agree that telling the customer what to do to save money is not really the most effective approach. They typically don't have the means to change things easily on their end. It is the vendor who offers the customer service of meeting their needs (including finding savings on the vendor side to help the customer reach the "lower cost" goal) that works. It isn't about price but about service.
    John
    Anthony said...
    These are good tips. In general, communication will be an important factor. It's also good to teach clients how to use text redundancies to their advantage and make sure the same sentences are not paid twice for the same translation. It requires a bit of organization but you can easily save a lot of money.

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