A general approach to selling

As with many things in life, making sales is, for the most part, a numbers game. Persistence is indeed a key quality you’ll need to make more sales over time. However you can use a range of basic strategies to improve your odds of making a sale on each attempt. These tips can be applied generally to most sales channels, although with translation the focus is typically on website sales, email marketing and cold calling. As translators tend to have an academic background, this is often the area that troubles them most. The cold, hard sale isn’t taught in much depth on most language courses. But it doesn’t have to be cold or hard – it can be the warm, easy sale! – and that’s the path I like to go down in my work.

There will be rejection. Mostly rejection, in fact. Remember that it’s never personal when potential buyers reject your offer. Always be systematic, logical and try to find out what caused it. Sometimes people aren’t aware they might need you in the next year, sometimes they know for sure they won’t need you (let them go!), and there will be those who need your services that day.

Your offer will have to benefit both buyer and seller. It should be ‘win-win’ and it is our responsibility to demonstrate this. If required, the careful use of questioning can bring a prospect around to understanding how the benefits of your offer apply to their situation before you lose their interest. You can also demonstrate this value in your sales copy. What follows are tips you can use to at least remove the simplest of sales obstacles, giving your persistence a greater chance of converting prospects to clients.

Prior to making contact, be sure to prepare a basic level of company knowledge. Work out where the added value would be if they worked with you. Typically you should think in terms of what benefits and results you can offer them; higher sales, stronger branding etc.

Look at the prospect’s competition for ideas on how the prospect could improve their offer, or for examples of what to avoid. Having this information to hand will certainly show you have considered their situation and are working with them to improve their business, rather than being the stereotypical opportunistic and predatory seller.

Double check any mutual contacts you may have among their employees or clients. This could speed up the sales process. A good tool for this is LinkedIn’s Inmaps. It’s an experimental project set up in 2009 by LinkedIn, but offers a visual map of your connections, grouping those who are most interconnected. You can easily mark out who the key influencers are in your network, who is connected to whom and how.


Help prospects to trust that you have a ‘win-win’ proposition for them by displaying your ‘war-medals’ or ‘trust-badges’ prominently. These could be your:

o   association memberships

o   clients

o   testimonials

o   ISO certification

o   anything that shows permanence and professionalism

Doing something to help them by giving them useful information, offering a free business card translation or any action that shows your interest is in a long-term business relationship will help to improve your credibility in their eyes. Writing about translation and languages, as many translators do, is a fine way to show your professional standing to potential prospects, and allows them to find you themselves via the search engines. Write on your blog, a translation guest post for an industry blog, or even a trade publication.

Speaking the prospect’s language, in the figurative sense, is a great way to show that you understand their industry. By using the terminology of their line of work you immediately catch their attention and stand out above other offers. You are tailoring the conversation to them, and as I will continue to explain below, this is key to a successful general sales approach.

Giving talks at group events (for free or paid at your day rate) is also an excellent way to raise your profile and show people what you offer in an engaging and more human way.

These credibility ideas are all part of your positioning, which must be considered in any sales strategy. In this book I advocate the use of pricing on a project’s overall value to the client, as well as on the usual factors of time and word count. However, to do this well you must also position yourself as someone who can translate, yet who can also see the wider picture. Someone who understands the direction of the prospect’s business and who has the will to work towards growth solutions for their business. I go deeper into this subject in the next chapter.

Finding the pain

Be sure that you talk to the boss or decision maker. You can generally do this by writing, emailing or calling them directly and telling them you could make them more money (in a round-about kind of way). This works better with smaller companies, with decision-makers typically very open for discussion. And smaller companies, who make up the majority of most economies, are often much better to work with than the larger ones. Decisions, payments, red-tape, paperwork; it’s all much quicker and more efficient in the smaller company. Your cashflow and savings situation will thank you, especially if building your first direct client base.

If you’re having trouble talking directly to the decision maker or company owner, and they’re a medium-sized company with myriad ‘gatekeepers’ blocking calls, a great tip I’ve picked up is to talk to the salespeople. They’re surprisingly informative. Failing that you have professional network websites that allow you access to a wide range of company contacts, such as LinkedIn, as mentioned above, or you can ask for a referral from the first person you talk to within the company.

You can also attempt to meet prospects in person at trade shows, local business and networking events, translator meet-ups and more. Be wary of networking events that turn into the Business Card Collector’s Society where no useful discussions are had. By the same token it’s impossible to say that networking events never produce leads for anyone, especially if meetings are attended regularly. The work is there, but there is often a low return in attending ‘every now and then’. I prefer one-to-one events, such as a phone-call or email. The key point is not to wait for them to contact you, but rather show them their options before they need you.

When you do end up talking to the person you need to, ask smart questions that make sure the prospect understands how your product would benefit them. This makes them much stronger advocates of your business than someone who merely buys the odd translation. Examples of these ‘smart questions’ would be:

-         When [foreign] visitors land on your site to place a large order, what do they do?

-         Do you know the market size for your widget in [country]?

-         How do [foreign] users read your product manual?

Once they understand how the offer is a good fit for their company, you can then go on to remove their risk of this decision being a mistake purchase. Offer a guarantee, or continued support on your translation (for limited rounds of revision). It is often said that ‘companies don’t buy things, people do’. Ensuring that they are making a good decision that will benefit the company and won’t backfire on them personally is the least you can do as a seller.

Answer any questions you can’t answer immediately with ‘I’ll find that out for you and let you know’. Don’t try to gloss over them as this undoes any credibility work you have done up to this point.

Closing the sale

When moving closer to closing the sale, focus on the lifetime value of the translation, not its price. That translated sales page will sell many hundreds of products over the coming years, and will let the prospect expand the whole range into a new market. Remind them of this where necessary.

Finally, when you reach the stage where the prospect is definitely an ideal client for you, and you an ideal supplier for them, ask for the order. This is what makes the deal actually happen. Until this point it is only theory. Asking directly if they are ready to sign off the order is key to securing the business. Make sure you leave the meeting, call or email conversation with either an order or another meeting scheduled.

Be organised – finding prospects

Decide on a strategy that outlines your ideal prospect industry, location and size (e.g. law firms, London, 10 employees). Divide up the territories to cover, make a list of contact details with columns for notes and actions to take. Measure your performance by working out how many sales you’ve made over how many calls or emails. Tracking at this level of detail will help you to improve your sales process for your situation as you go on.

Build your prospect list – the quick way

Find relevant exhibitions and conferences with attendee lists online and manually select and research relevant companies. Alternatively, the more IT-focused among us can automate the process with tools such as ‘Scraper’ for Google Chrome. This allows you to pull out the list of web addresses, phone numbers or email addresses present on the page in a few clicks. You can then use a tool such as BuzzStream to generate contact details from your list, if required. There is a free 14-day trial to test this with, but is a paid service otherwise. Or you can work manually, as above, which might see your success rate increase at the expense of time taken.

Given that you then have to spend time doing the work the prospects might then order, decide on which days you will do your sales work. The cliché is true; it’s important to take time to work on the business, not just in the business. Be sure to set aside time.

Regular marketing and selling efforts, as well as striving to improve your sales conversion rate, are the best way to build the ideal client base quickly. We mustn’t forget our existing clients in the process, who can be a major source of income, but in developing the ‘client cycle’ you are also in effect working towards giving yourself a continuous pay-rise and reaping the rewards of your hard work. As your translation memories, client list and experience grow, so will your job security and chances of new opportunities.

A general framework for sales

1.   Find out background info. Grasp their situation in the market.

2.   Single out any language issues. These let you know their needs.

3.   Use questions to highlight their problems and needs to them.

4.   Finally ask them questions that show your translation solution provides a fix to these problems.

Example questions: Would translation QA processes help? How? Would a multilingual glossary of terms help? How much revenue could this translation bring you in foreign sales?

Try to focus on the solution at this stage, not the problem. Ideally a problem-solving atmosphere is created and the client tells you the benefits themself. This avoids any objections to you selling the features of your translation service. The client might then go off to fight your corner with their colleagues and bosses. Having them onside is the goal here.

If you can’t close, look for an advance

·        The bigger the sale, the longer the time to close (and vice versa)

·        Close calls by setting up the next meeting, at least

·        Just saying ‘we might call you in the future’ is not enough

·        If they let you know that there is no sale to come, guaranteed, then don’t waste your time here; appreciate their honesty

To keep moving forward in the process, or rather, to keep the process alive, pay close attention to finding out their issues and if you suspect they are unclear as to what you offer, invite questions and summarise the benefits of your work.

Then, rather than asking for the next meeting, tell the prospect when you might be free for it. It may sound ‘pushy’ but it is only a different way to communicate your intention of a next meeting, positively and enthusiastically reframed. Asking if they might be free one day soon perhaps is just too passive for this kind of process.

General tips

-         Focus on what they get, not what you offer
(this must always be a benefit to them such as a cost saving or an improvement of their current situation)

-         Know what problem the translation solves: peace of mind, quality, consistency etc.

-         Tap into areas of common interest: talk about languages

-         Be brief on information seeking questions. Less than 20%

-         Don’t offer your solutions too soon, as this raises objections

-         Make it clear you need to ask questions first

-         Plan smart questions ahead of time

-         Follow up on the meeting shortly and frequently thereafter

General problems translation prospects face

·        Lost foreign sales, number unknown

·        Time and cost of recruiting translators

·        Hard to monitor translations, no central location, lots of emails

·        How to guarantee quality and consistency?

As mentioned, these general principles can be applied to all sales channels from email to phones, social media and direct mail marketing.  Keep conversations going, asking about their issues and problems, adding value where you can.

There is no mystery. These are approaches that have been shown to work well over time, but the main point is to invest time in the prospect’s interests before, during and after the call.

For them to see you in the best light, position your service uniquely. This sets you apart from the competition and gives you the green light to charge the best rates, eventually attracting the best clients.

The next chapter covers an approach to positioning yourself that will offer your business the highest chances of growth and sustainability.


Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.