For any business entering a new market, getting the language right is essential. But as keynote speaker Jimena Almendares reminded the audience at SlatorCon Amsterdam 2019, language is just one piece of a successful localization plan. Almendares gave a glimpse of the client-side of the equation by sharing lessons she learned through the American company Intuit’s launch in Mexico.
Almendares is currently the VP of Global Expansion at Intuit, which she described as “the leader in accounting and financial management software” in the US. Intuit’s products include TurboTax, through which the majority of Americans file their taxes, and QuickBooks, a comprehensive software that many small and medium businesses (SMBs) use to manage their cash flow.
Six years after Intuit’s last expansion, Almendares was tasked with deciding where Intuit should head next, with which product — and how. Almendares emphasized in-depth research as key to selecting Mexico as Intuit’s next destination.
“We did a lot of analysis in terms of the market, pricing, competition, and customer understanding, so that we could finally say, ‘This is the problem that we want to solve, this is the set of features that we’re going to launch with, this is the price that we’re going to launch with, and this is how we’re going to do it,’” Almendares said.
Almendares explained that this research stage was especially critical to Intuit, a public company dealing in complex fiscal matters. In addition to translating the QuickBooks software, Intuit had to make sure the product would comply with Mexican tax regulations.
After this analysis, Intuit focused on strategy, considering which metrics would make the investment worthwhile. In the end, Intuit was able to launch a fully compliant product in Mexico in just three months, and metrics look very positive so far.
Almendares reported that, for Intuit, Mexico is now one of the countries with the highest monetization, in terms of revenue per customer. The Mexican office is now ready to host more than 40 employees, and Intuit expects a 450% increase in subscribers year over year.
Looking back on this intense but ultimately successful process, Almendares distilled five takeaways to guide other businesses considering international expansion.
For starters, Almendares explained, deeply understand your (potential) customers and their challenges. Intuit conducted more than 100 in-person interviews with small and medium businesses in Mexico to grasp the local context Intuit would be entering. Going to offices and seeing how people worked, Almendares said, “gave us a point of view that really connected us to the ones that would be our customers at the end.”
“The devil is in the localization details”
She also noted, “The devil is in the localization details.” Drawing on interviews with potential customers, Intuit saw that some language, including certain slang, was received more positively, and in response added those terms to its ads and YouTube videos.
“That was a great way for us to not be an American company, but actually a company that came with big assets but felt really local,” Almendares said.
More concretely, Almendares cautioned companies not to take infrastructure for granted. That might mean revisiting the status quo to improve employee working conditions, as Intuit did for employees from France, India, and the US working in Mexico for two or three months at a time.
“That was a great way for us to not be an American company, but actually a company that came with big assets but felt really local”
Although Intuit usually puts up employees in top-rated hotels, the company’s compliance and security departments determined the requirements Airbnb rentals would need to meet so that employees could enjoy homier accommodations during their long-term stays.
It can also mean problem-solving in the absence of certain systems. For Intuit, this included having a legal entity in Mexico to set up a payroll system for new employees, and figuring out how to transport computers from the US to the new Mexican office.
Internal collaboration is key for a successful launch, Almendares added, noting that this project required working not just with the localization team, but also with colleagues in marketing, technology, legal, finance, accounting, and other departments. Reframing the launch as a common goal promoted cooperation and buy-in from others.
“Once all those people felt really excited about this thing that we were doing together, the dynamic changed, and it went from them helping us, to us advancing together,” Almendares said.
Lastly, Almendares recommended embracing the new country’s culture. In November, for example, the team in Mexico decorated the office to celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Almendares cited this as just one way “to blend in the culture versus being a foreign company that oversees the business in Mexico.”