Are Sales Cycles Getting Longer in the Language Industry?

Language Industry Sales Cycles

With a date of legal effect of November 9, 2023, the European Patent Office (EPO) came to a final decision after refusing Google’s latest appeal for a machine translation (MT) patent application on “Neural machine translation systems with rare word processing.” The submission named, among others, OpenAI’s co-founder Ilya Sutskever as one of the applicants. 

The fact that Google did receive a patent in the United States in 2017 for the same technology apparently had no bearing on the EPO. Neither did the over 300 patents for MT systems and methods the organization has granted since 2000 to various companies and teams, according to the EPO’s search engine Espacenet.

Successful patent applications include Google’s own “Processing text sequences using neural networks,” granted in July 2020. Plus, the EPO’s own Patent Translate service uses Google MT. We asked readers if people should be able to patent components of MT, and most respondents (44.7%) answered No. A little over a third (31.6%) think we should ask the question to a patent translator, and the rest (23.7%) said Yes.

How Sale Cycles Fared in 2023

Funneling a large language services deal from prospecting to identifying to having a first call all the way through to receiving an RFP and, eventually, closing, takes persistence and an expert sales, solutions engineering, and account management team. This is called the sales cycle.

To go after profitable deals, LSPs require professional experience in Solution Sales, as our Pro Guide on Solution Sales for Language Service Providers outlines.

Seeing a sale through from A to Z requires careful planning of resources — if an LSP loses a deal at the very end of the cycle, it usually means writing off a sizable investment of time and money. So, we asked readers how sales cycles have trended in 2023. Exactly half said they’ve become longer, indicating a more difficult sales environment. The cycles stayed the same for about a third (27.3%) of readers and became shorter for less than a quarter of them (22.7%).

Business is Good (for about a Third of Companies)

Sales cycles info shared by readers, above, showed sales cycles stayed the same for close to a third of them (27.3%), and about a third of poll respondents (30.3%) qualified overall business during 2023 as “good.” Data will tell of potential correlations (for an initial overview, be sure to attend the Slator Q1 2024 Research Briefing on January 12, 2024). 

Other readers told Slator that their business has been flat (19.6%). For some (17.9%) it has not been great. Two groups of respondents of equal size were on opposite ends of the spectrum, deeming their business as bad (16.1%) or great (16.1%).

Over the Horizon 

As often happens when information is repeated over and over, terms like “the AI revolution” start losing meaning and become cliches. Still, AI did indeed revolutionize the language industry in 2023. In fact, AI has been changing the business, fast. And the trend shall continue, even if not as fast or in as “revolutionary” a pace.

As regulations and demand start to lend some structure to the many AI technologies now involved in language conversion, some language service business models continue to be transformed, and others will be retired. 

We asked readers about their business outlook for 2024, and over a third (39.1%) are positive about developments in the new year. Less than a quarter (19.6%) of respondents adopted a neutral position, followed by groups that see things are slightly negative (17.4%), very positive (13.0%), or very negative (10.9%).