Decoding the Business Side of Localization: Tips for Success


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Decoding the Business Side of Localization: Tips for Success

Robert Sarver, Director, Solutions Architecture, Vistatec

During my time on the client side of business, I remember thinking more than once what a pleasure it would be to have someone come into my office, go to the whiteboard, and connect the dots between the localization services they were trying to sell me, and their real-world benefits for my company, my business metrics, or even my personal career.

Expanding on this line of thought, what a refreshing change it would be if we, as localization professionals, could consistently explain the business relevance of our activities to various stakeholders, such as senior management or internal partners. Surprisingly, that kind of precision communication around localization doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. This disconnect impacts our effectiveness in our roles and trivializes the value of our contribution to employers and customers. 

Localization professionals are the only ones who can change this

Too often we allow others to define our role or limit our value-added proposition. We let others control the conversation and dictate the terms of the discussion. And then we wonder why we get narrow-casted or pigeonholed into a single service and shut out of the more strategic areas of the business.

If you’re tired of being just the “translation guy” or “translation gal” at your company and want to start showing your total value to escape your pigeonhole, this article is for you.

First things first – let’s change the conversation we’re having.

How to Talk About What You Do

People in the localization industry are particularly passionate about their careers. They’re proud of their work and often love to get into the nitty gritty nuances of language or grammar.  At the end of the day, we’re language geeks, and wholeheartedly embracing our passion is both honest and wise.

In social settings, it makes us rather exciting people to have around. Friends and strangers alike have questions, and sometimes explaining what we do can be very mysterious or have a certain cachet. In a business setting, however, the conversation shifts gears. Where revenue, careers, and market share are involved, it becomes focused on facts and metrics. 

Yet, because we’re passionate – artistic even – about what we do, we can get disconnected from those business realities. We forget that localization only matters since it serves a more extensive business goal. We frequently get so caught up in the “localization HOW” that we forget to focus on the “business WHY.” Failing to focus on the why can be a huge mistake, especially when presenting information to senior management or paying customers. 

We need to rein in our natural passion and harness it for business. Part of this entails making the difficult call of knowing when to let go of a project. There will come a point where continued effort or resources on a project will yield diminishing returns on key strategic metrics, such as gaining international market share.

I have seen localization professionals tarnish their credibility by pushing and arguing for a quality that was more personal or artistic than business-savvy. They failed to recognize the point of diminishing returns. Nobody took them seriously because they didn’t show they understood basic strategic business goals. Lost with their head in the clouds, they were written off by management – and many of their peers – as being disconnected from the business.


Business runs on metrics.

Activities and outcomes must be measured. After all, the first step to controlling a variable is getting good measurements. The statistician W. Edwards Deming, often credited as the father of the Toyota Manufacturing Method, once said that “uncontrolled variation is the enemy of quality.” That same principle applies to everything that we do as internationally-focused managers. 


At first glance, this may seem like a paradox. Let me explain.
Because business runs on metrics, customers do care about them. But the unfortunate truth is nobody cares about localization metrics except for localization managers. So, how do you get your message across when the metrics you care about frequently bore your key stakeholders?

I’ll borrow from two former colleagues and mentors here: Jon Ritzdorf and Erik Vogt, who are masters of precision Q&A and business communication style. It may help to visualize the presentation of metrics by stacking them in three layers:

  • Layer 1 – Actual Data: What you’re measuring. The number of grains of sand in the hourglass.
  • Layer 2 – Tactical Metric: Is the amount of sand in the hourglass growing or shrinking? And at what rate?
  • Layer 3 – Strategic Metric: I’m a military general or a CEO. How will studying hourglasses help me defeat the enemy, i.e., outmaneuver my business competitors?

Presenting tactical metrics not tethered or anchored to a strategic goal leaves people bored. At worst, it can make them question the relevance entirely – who are you, why are you presenting all this to me, why do I need to know about all this?

To be seen as maximally effective, always present tactical metrics first and then connect each to the strategic business goal it specifically reinforces.


Everyone in a company has a narrative that follows them around – who they are, what projects they’re in, or whose team they’re on. One part of that story is how important they are to business activities. Are they a key actor? Or just a bit player?  

To change your story, you first need to change how other people see you. Connect the dots to show your relevance to the company’s line of business. Here are three steps you can take.

  1.  Find out what your employer (or your client) is being measured on. These are the business metrics used to measure their success and failure. Whether you’re a business employee using localization services or a supplier to such a company, this question is a “must-know.”
  2. Find out how you fit into the big picture. Ask yourself: “As an employee of Business ABC (or a supplier to them), which of my company’s strategic business metrics does my localization work roll into?” Or: “Which strategic business metric does this impact?”
  1. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you need to find out. Why? Because if you discover you’re having a hard time connecting the dots between your activities and the larger business objectives, then others will have an even harder time. Instead of being related to revenue, you’ll seem too distant from core business functions. And that’s a dangerous place to be.

Remember: as a good communicator, it’s up to you – and nobody else – to connect the dots for your stakeholders.  Make it easy for them.  Give them:

  • the things they need to know: tactical business data
  • in a format they are used to: with their preferred metrics, not yours
  • about goals that matter to them: strategic business insights


Let’s take a hypothetical example of a quarterly business report to show how a conversation around localization could go very differently. Most of us have found ourselves (or heard others) saying the following.

Version #1: 

  • “Across all languages, localization costs have fallen by 10% despite adding three new language variants.”
  • “Buyer rejection of localized content has declined.” 
  • “Your localization project on-time deliveries for this quarter were 97%.”

Now imagine if we said this instead:

Version #2: 

  • “Across all your global customer markets, the average marketization cost per user has fallen by 10% compared to last year, even while three new customer markets were added. This advances your corporate goal of finding innovative ways to gain global market share while operating your business in an environment of increasing costs.” 
  • “Customer satisfaction with in-market content we produce for you has increased 15% since the last survey period. This has reduced content rewrites by 15%, thus also lowering marketization costs per user.”
  • “Release timeframes for global content show a 97% on-time score, an improvement of 3% compared to last quarter and 5% compared to the same quarter last year. This helps us reduce channel partner dissatisfaction and improve customer satisfaction scores.”

I guarantee that a business professional will sit up and notice the second version because it’s framed in a language and metrics that matter to them. You did the work for them by connecting the dots.

Did you also notice that the second version never mentioned localization or language? That’s because the “how” doesn’t matter; only the “why” is relevant. Also, notice another key element here: Version #2 presents its key points using the second layer tactical analysis and connects that to top-level strategic goals, as described above. 

The metrics and strategic goals in Version #2 will take some legwork to discover – and then more time to map the relationships between those metrics and your localization activities. As discussed above, however, you cannot avoid this work as a localization professional. You should already know how your activities support these strategic objectives. If you don’t, you should be worried. Anyone who cannot clearly and concisely explain their value to the business risks having a target painted on their back.

Does this mean that you can never discuss actual localization details?  No, of course not. But wait for your stakeholders to ask the question. Go for it if they’re curious and want a deep dive into localization granularity. Put on your localization manager hat and take them on a tour of the data and tasks. At the start, you want to focus your comments on the business metrics they care about. 

By presenting data in this manner – key nugget first, deep dive second (and only by request) – people will start to look at you with new eyes.

A USEFUL EXERCISE: Talking About Localization – Without Talking About Localization

One way to see how this could work in real life is to return to your last report or leadership presentation. Think about how you would rewrite it if you couldn’t mention localization and if the only way you could present the data was in some fashion that connected it to company goals or business objectives. What would you do differently?

You can also do this exercise as a role-playing game. If you’re a localization service provider, pretend you need to prepare a sales pitch to a client, but you’re not allowed to mention “localization” unless the client asks. If you’re a client purchasing localization services, pretend you must present your department’s activities to your senior executive team. Still, you cannot mention “localization” unless someone specifically asks about it.

These exercises highlight the importance of balancing our localization expertise with the broader business side of the equation. When people have done such exercises, they are usually surprised at how internally focused their presentations are—using their metrics, not the client, and using localization-centric language instead of business language. It involves discussing what they wanted to discuss, not what the client felt was necessary. It was almost as if they were presenting information to themselves, for their benefit, instead of to the client or senior management. 

Robert Sarver has over 30 years in the international industry in both client and supplier roles. His experience spans software, health care, engineering, and green energy. He is an alumnus of both the University of Washington and Seattle University. He has been with Vistatec for over five years.

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