8 Ways Project Managers Can Help to Grow a Language Service Provider

When asked about growth plans, which language service provider (LSP) worth its salt would not cite sales strategy, domain expertise and technology investment as three of the most important factors in the pursuit of growth?

They might have the shrewdest of sales teams, certificate-laden linguists and technology that is so cutting edge it draws blood, but it would be foolish to underestimate the potential growth impact that your project management team can have on the business.

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Ignoring the obvious and necessary skills of customer service and general organization (usually a baseline for PMs), in what ways can Project Managers help to grow LSP revenue? Here are eight things that PMs can do to drive growth in the business.

  1. Learn your industry

PMs must infiltrate the client industries they are servicing in order to add maximum value to the customer and the LSP. Knowing the difference between your AoAs (Articles of Association), RCSs (Registre de commerce et des sociétés) and AMFs (Autorité des marchés), and a whole host of other acronyms, is important in the financial industry since it allows you to build fundamental trust with customers by quite literally “speaking their language”.

PMs will also have greater success in communicating with customers and be more likely to catch and correct translation errors before it’s too late, thereby reducing spoilage linked to customer complaints.

Knowing the industry means that PMs are more aware of the peak production times (every industry has their cycles) and even spot a potential business opportunity from chance encounters.

2. Make best practices better

Because of technology’s rapid progress, it is more crucial than ever to critically examine existing best practices and make sure that they are still optimal.

This behaviour is intrinsically linked to learning your industry since knowing the customer and their specific pain points will keep PMs focused on what the customer actually needs and why (why the translation file has to be named in a specific way, why the document must not be longer than x number of pages, why updates must be tracked, etc.)

Being able to critically examine potentially outdated workflows and application of technology demands a subtle skill set, comprising analysis, problem solving and tact. Bear in mind that any new workflow must be more efficient, safer or faster to be viable (and ideally all three!).

Ironically, some of the most necessary improvements are only generated in the wake of customer complaints and quality breaches.

One PM recalls an instance when a French translation was sent to the client with the name of a country regulator spelled incorrectly; one typographical error whose impact was then magnified a thousandfold since the error was replicated across hundreds of documents which were subsequently printed by the client. The very same PM immediately included the name of the regulator in a term base, to be used team-wide in an automated QA check to ensure terminology adherence.

3. Share your ideas

Take any new work hacks you come up with and ask yourself if the same changes could be applied on a wider scale, to the benefit of other teams or customers. It could be as simple as sharing your Excel skills, demoing an automated QA trick for checking numbers, or leading an Indesign training.

One PM remembers escalating the performance of a particularly low-margin customer account to the team manager. The account was an anomaly for the team in terms of customer segment and request types, and was preventing the PM from operating in the core segment and from hitting performance targets. The PM offered to train other team members up on the account so they could help in managing these projects. The other team members gained knowledge of a new customer segment and the PM was then able to achieve targets…win-win!

4. Come in early

Being flexible and able to manage a variety of customer accounts makes you a valuable asset to an LSP and resilient to the eventuality where your main customer reduces its translation spend or pulls its business completely. Likewise, someone who offers support to a colleague when they have some downtime (a rarity for PMs!) shows that they are both sensitive to the concepts of resource and capacity management, and that they care about helping out the team.

Being flexible might mean getting to work an hour early to make sure the customer receives their translation on time, confirming an urgent request from Sales or the customer outside of business hours or taking over a project from a teammate who is knee-deep in a high-priority test piece or complaint resolution.

Conversely, a siloed approach to customer service – one where I deal with my customer and you with yours – is one that is destined to fail at the first onset of flu, peak times or holiday season.

5. Listen to the customers

Any one PM will be in contact with at least 10 and in some cases up to 100 customers with varying regularity, and a good PM will know that developing a solid working relationship with the client is key to success.

PMs have a great vantage point from which to learn more about the customer. After all, you can glean just as much useful information from a quick phone call or FYI email as you can attending a lengthy client meeting.

PMs are often privy to a variety of business information that might well be of commercial relevance for their LSP.

Be savvy and take advantage of the relationship you develop with customers to ask a few questions about what’s keeping them busy, what their new colleague will be responsible for, why a new office has been opened up, or what the latest business initiative is.

6. Talk to the linguists

The other side of the coin is understanding and maximising the value that linguists have to you in your role as PM. It would be naive to think of this relationship as little more than a supplier-customer relationship since it’s not just customers who can be your industry experts.

Good linguists will have deep knowledge in their chosen field, which makes them a valuable source and resource for PMs. Being mainly freelancers, linguists place a high value on networking, and make it their mission to keep abreast of industry and technological developments. If you are struggling to work out what the latest acronym your client uses means, tap them up!

7. Work with Sales

This is the third piece of the puzzle when it comes to mastering the important relationships a PM has within an LSP since PMs are constantly juggling the needs of the customer, the opinions of the linguists and the demands of Sales. It’s helpful to think of Sales as an extension of the client, and an internal customer if you will. The line that divides the remit of sales reps and PMs will be drawn differently in different LSPs, and knowing when and how to involve Sales in production matters is a delicate art to be practiced and refined.

Knowing when and how to involve Sales in production matters is a delicate art to be practiced and refined.

Since sales reps face pressures of their own in terms of growth and profitability targets, it can be distracting for them to be involved in production decisions unnecessarily, and part of your job as PM is to spare them the responsibility of worrying about production. When should and when shouldn’t you involve Sales in your decisions?

  • If the customer is asking for a freebie, do you ask Sales or make the decision yourself?
  • If you have overestimated the scope of the project and the customer has received an overinflated quote, do you involve Sales?
  • If your translator is going to deliver half an hour late and delivery to the client will be later than expected, do you tell Sales?
  • If the client requests 1,500 words in 7 languages to be delivered in 2 hours for publication on their website, do you flag to Sales?

The answers to these questions, one PM says, are prefaced by ifs, illustrating the factors influencing your decision making, e.g.:

If you know the customer is a big spender with good profitability and is asking for a few extra sentences that you can probably get translated for free, or if there is budget to spare in an existing project then yes, it’s good customer service to offer a small freebie and easy enough to make that call yourself.

If you know the customer does not have a hard deadline or is out of the office and that a 30 minute delay will not make a difference, then you can drop a line to the client yourself and forewarn them of a slightly later delivery for good measure.

If there is an immovable deadline that is outside of the customer’s control and a 30 minute delay will have a serious impact on the client, then your priority should be to come up with options for recovery, and alert Sales so they can be on hand to soothe the relationship if needed.

It seems obvious, but the responsibility of a PM is to manage. The more you are able to manage and influence, the more trust a sales rep will have in your ability to make and execute decisions.

One of the dangers of relying on Sales for decisions that impact production is that they are often in client calls, meetings or otherwise indisposed.

If you don’t equip yourself to own as many decisions as possible, you will be stumped as soon as the sales rep is not around to solve the problem for you. It is of course good protocol to inform Sales of any actions you have taken that might impact on costs or customer relations and briefly explain the logic behind the decision. Use your carefully honed judgement when it comes to the trickier problems, however, and when in doubt, ask.

8. Get active on social media

Sharing and liking industry news and content on business social networks, whether it’s company-produced or just industry-relevant, can help to strengthen the company brand and is a soft approach to developing relationships within the wider industry and with customers.

Following companies on LinkedIn and commenting on relevant posts is another way of staying in touch with what is happening and shows your company that you have an active interest in the industry. Your LSP might have a coordinated business approach to online marketing that you are not aware of – ask the question.

PMs are at the heart of an LSP’s success and mastering these 8 skills will increase your value to the team.

For more tips on how to grow your business, subscribe to Slator’s mailing list and receive insightful language industry intelligence straight to your inbox.

Esther Bond

Research Analyst at Slator. Localization enthusiast, linguist and inquisitor. London native.