Coupa’s Jose Palomares on Fit-For-Purpose Localization

Coupa’s Jose Palomares on Fit-For-Purpose Localization

The closing presentation of SlatorCon Remote March 2023 featured two acronyms, neither of which is specific to the language industry: B2B and B2C.

As Director of Localization at business spend platform Coupa, speaker Jose Palomares leads a team of up to 15 (out of about 4,000 employees total) localizing assets into more than 70 locales. The San Mateo, California-headquartered company has a presence in 150 countries. But the most significant recent change to Coupa came in December 2022, when the once-public company was acquired by a private equity firm in December 2022.

The experience made Palomares question some of the best practices he learned over his 20 years as a technologist, entrepreneur, and business leader.

“I peaked at a time where I thought that I knew everything, and I became the CTO of a pretty successful LSP,” he said. “I think that the role right now is rethinking.” 

In times of uncertainty, such as acquisitions, Palomares explained, leaders must strategize and use their existing, likely limited, funds to focus on adding value to the business as quickly as possible.

The method, however, will vary depending on whether a company is operating in a B2B or B2C space. In the more conventional or widely-known B2C model, companies cater to a wider audience and focus on demographics, such as English proficiency. In B2B, companies try to sell to a completely different, and highly specific, profile.

Coupa, for example, sells financial software, but its target customers are CFOs and procurement leaders — the individual decision-makers who make purchases on behalf of an entire company. The journey to buy is typically longer than that for B2C situations, but the payoff can include a ripple effect in terms of localization: If an immediate client has to expand into a certain region and Coupa needs to support the client, that region becomes a localization priority.

Localizing for B2B also means speaking the language of the target market as well as industry jargon.

“We need to be particularly proficient in speaking the language that those people need, but also be aware that the amount of content that we need to get to them to convince them to buy is going to be a lot higher,” Palomares said. 

According to Each Industry’s Needs

Palomares said that localization is typically perceived by B2B buyers as a cost center, even if efforts achieve greater reach or retention; it is very difficult to prove ROI. This makes it doubly important for providers to back up their work with metrics demonstrating success, rather than focusing on feel-good PR moves. 

This principle underlies localization priorities at Coupa, from the selection of languages to the standard of translation quality at different points in a product’s lifecycle or the company’s expansion to new markets.

Instead, Palomares suggested, consider fit for purpose, and whether translations are needed for the buyer or the end-client. (Regional teams provide a reality check for on-the-ground needs.) Other factors include visibility, shelf life, and content type (internal versus external, paid or free, etc.).

An alternative to localizing at scale from launch is working backwards: getting a critical mass of customers and then localizing into many different languages later on.

“Don’t go just for quality. Not every type of industry cares about quality in the same way,” Palomares advised. “The consequences of not producing top quality [are] not the same when you’re doing life sciences [as] when you’re doing packaging goods, for instance, or electronics.”

For those who missed SlatorCon Remote March 2023 in real-time, recordings will be available in due course via our Pro and Enterprise plans.