Translation and Language Industry Observations

At GTS Translation, we made a strategic shift a few years ago and started to sell document translation services online. It is a simple concept which is used by several other companies like gengo, onehourtranslation and translated. The customer only needs to upload her/his documents and select the source and target languages. They get the translation price quote online within seconds and can then complete the order and payment online. Delivery and approval of the job are also done online. Many customers prefer this method of buying over the traditional method of yesteryear, when they had to call up the translation company by phone, sent files by courier or email, etc.

We also prefer the new way of selling. We can deliver faster and at better prices. Overhead is reduced which means cost savings and happier customers.

The key difference between serious and non-serious online buyers

We noticed something interesting in our transition to selling online. Many non-serious buyers ask questions instead of placing an order. Serious customers that want to buy online just do it (like it says in those Nike ads). Non-serious customers engage our chat lines, send emails or call on the phone to ask questions. We usually make the effort to respond to these questions, but in analyzing hundreds of such queries, we have concluded that over 95% of these inquisitive customers end up not buying.  Which is really not fair, if that word can even be used in a business buying situation. These customers are not only wasting their own time, but sadly they are wasting the time of other people who can be doing better things than responding to questions which can easily be answered by checking the company website.

The buying signals

Anyone who has read books about selling will recall one or more chapters about how to interpret buying signals. Questions like “does the product come in black or brown?,” “how long is the warranty,” and “can you deliver it next week?” were considered to be buying signals. I also recall reading in some of those sales books that a lack of questions usually indicated a lack of interest on the part of the buyer and a lost sale.

That may have been true then, but when selling online it appears to be mostly the opposite. Not that questions always result in no sale-some customers are serious about buying and can’t find the information they are looking for online. And some customers want to speak to someone before using their credit card for the first time on a website. So they call up or send an email. Some of those customers convert and do end up buying. But they are a minority in the world of online sales. If you have a company that is selling online, I would not recommend that you invest too much effort in responding to these queries and learn to weed out the non-serious buyers.

Typical sales queries

Here are some of the queries and questions that we tend to encounter frequently.

1. Customers who are shopping for general price information, especially for a future project. Even worse, customers who are preparing a large bid in which translation services is just one of the components. There is ZERO percent chance of getting any business out of these inquiries. Don’t put any effort at all into these scenarios, unless it is a customer who has bought from your company in the past.

Automate your query response system

AT GTS we rolled out a translation cost calculator tool that allows customers to select languages and enter a number of words to get an instant price estimate. If you are selling translation services online, either develop a similar tool or feature a website page with general translation price information. Then when the non-serious buyers call you can send them the link and put your time to better use.

2. The files are not ready yet, the final version is not ready, the files are confidential, we only want to share the files with the vendor that we end up going with.

These statements tend to come from non-serious buyers. If the files that the customer needs to translate are not ready, how can the customer be a serious buyer? In 99.99% of these scenarios, the customer will get the information and then disappear. The files are confidential you say? We’ll be happy to sign an NDA should be your response. If they disappear on you then you will know that they are not serious.

3. The project is scheduled to launch in Q3 of next year.

If a customer is asking for a price quote for a project that is in the distant future, the chances of getting a sale are very slim.

4. Are the translations done by humans? Are they certified?

On the GTS website, we have this information spelled out in great detail. In fact, our home page slogan is “Best Translation Quality Humanly Possible.” We also have several pages on our website that describe what kind of translation certification we provide.  Yet we receive many chats, phone calls and emails asking these questions. Most of these queries are from non-buyers.

5. We want free translation samples

This is a classic. People who ask for free translation samples will take the sample and disappear 99% of the time. Serious buyers have better ways of doing due diligence like calling customer references and checking online reviews.  My recommendation: don’t waste time on these requests. Imagine the response you will receive if you walk into a McDonalds and ask for a free Big Mac as a sample.

6. What are the translator credentials? or We want to see the translator CVs

Again, these questions usually indicate that the buyer is not serious. As I wrote in the last paragraph, there are  better ways of doing due diligence.

7. Can I get a price discount if I give you a longer lead time? My document has a lot of numbers, can I get a discount for this?

These types of questions are not as bad as some of the previously mentioned ones. But still, most of them indicate a non-serious buyer on the other end.

8. Request for Proposal (RFP/RFQ)

As a translation company with a high online profile, you probably get a lot of RFPs. Some of them are very serious and potentially very lucrative. But they are sent out to several companies and the competition is usually fierce.

Additionally, some corporate buyers have already decided who they will order from. They just want competitive quotes to better their leverage with the supplier. And from experience, some of these RFPs can take hours or even days to prepare. As a translation company sales manager, you need to decide which RFPs to accept and which to decline. And if you accept, be prepared to get rejected which means time spent for nothing.

9. Can we pay against a PO after delivery? Can we pay 50% in advance and 50% after delivery?

These are actually good questions and very often result in a sale. Check out the customer and make a decision. If Apple or Microsoft are asking for you to front them translation services against a PO- Go for it! If a customer is negotiating a 5 or 6 figure purchase and has a good credit rating, 50% in advance is a great deal.

10. My credit card is being declined. The word count I received in the quote does not match my own records. Can I get the translation sooner? 

These are serious questions. The low-hanging fruit in online selling. Answer these queries quickly and with alacrity.

Summary of the online selling paradigm

If your website is layered correctly with a clear sales funnel; with content targeted to each stage of the buying decision and process; and an easy process for ordering online. Then the majority of the questions you will receive are from non-serious buyers. Treat them accordingly.

Search for patterns in the inquiries you receive and make your own conclusions on what are the buying signals.

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