A potential customer tells you that you’re too expensive. They’ve found a translator who’s much cheaper and they decide to assign the project to your competitor. Why did you lose the business? It’s not because you’re not cheaper, it’s because you didn’t get your sales pitch right. You used facts, qualifications and memberships to support your case and fully justified your rate as a professional. Unless your client is an agency, this tactic will rarely work.
Let’s start with a common error in translation sales pitches for both freelancer translators and language service providers. The problem stems from the curse of knowledge. Once we know something, it’s hard to imagine what it was like to not know it, and when we’re confronted by a client that questions the value of our service, we give them the facts to support our value. We tell them how experienced we are, we list our qualifications and memberships, the importance of an accurate translation. We do it in person, by email and through our marketing copy.
If this pitch is aimed at another language professional, that’s fine, you’re talking their language. However, when you’re talking to a client, more often than not this tactic won’t work. They don’t know or care what the ITI or ATA is. They don’t really understand what you mean by nuance and they just don’t get why you need to translate into your native language.
You need to deliver a pitch for your businesses which is in line with their knowledge of translation. The problem is, they often don’t know a thing about translation and they don’t want to know. It’s hard for us to use language and concepts that someone outside the industry would understand. Once you develop a detailed knowledge of any subject and you’ve been immersed in it for years, it’s incredibly tough to accurately remember how you thought about that subject before you became an expert. We also have a fear that by simplifying a message, we dumb it down.
The answer is, don’t explain what you do in great detail, use a schema. A schema is defined by scientists as pre-recorded information stored in our brain which enables comprehension.
“Hi Sarah, thanks for coming back to me with a price. Unfortunately, you’re far too expensive. I’ve got a price from someone else offering me the translation at half your rate”.
Hi David, unfortunately I can’t get near that price, it’s way below professional rates. Is the price from a qualified translator? I am a specialist in marketing texts, and I’m also a member of the ITI and can provide several references to confirm the quality of my work. My price also includes collaboration with a professional proofreader to guarantee that the translation is accurate and delivers the right message according to the function of the source text.
The translation in this scenario is FR-EN. As well as contacting Sarah for a quote, the client posted the job on a freelancer site and received a translation price from a French student living in the UK. The problem with this pitch is that, whilst the client understands that you’re a professional translator, he doesn’t understand the value of a professional translation. He doesn’t speak a second language. To him, he has a price from two people that both speak French.
All they have to do is read the original copy and write it out in English. If you speak both French and English, it should be fairly straight forward. He doesn’t understand how only the best translators can get ITI membership status. Proofreading? If you’re a professional, why do you need someone else to translate your work? Isn’t it good enough first time around? The client doesn’t understand the core message of your response. The only thing that he understands is that two people who speak French are offering to translate the content and one is half the price. Sure they’re a student, but how hard can it be to read a document and re-write it in a language in which you’re fluent?
The problem is, Sarah has a complex knowledge of translation, and in turn she’s provided the client with a complex sales pitch. Sarah has given into the temptation of unloading all of the facts on a client.
I understand there are loads of cheap prices out there. The thing is, translation is like running a professional football match. You need a referee to manage the match. If you use a professional referee, they’ll get 80% of decisions correct (nobody’s perfect right?). Then, if you use professional linesman as well, the officials get 99% of decisions right between them. The result is a great match which the audience enjoys and the officials go completely unnoticed as they should.
Alternatively, you also have 20,000 supporters in that football stadium who think that they could referee the match too. They’re not professional, and they’d be much cheaper. Sure, they could referee the match, but they don’t understand positioning, they don’t know all of the intricate rules of the game and they’re not fit enough to run up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. They’d get 50% of decisions right, the audience goes away unhappy, blames the referee and decide to not bother coming back to watch another game.
Translation works the same way. The referee is the translator, the linesman the proofreader. I’d seriously doubt that a professional would charge x/per word. It’s well below the standard rates so it might be a good idea to check their credentials. If they’re not a professional, fully qualified translator, they will make errors and it will reflect badly on the content, and subsequently on your business. I have a range of qualifications, memberships and references to support my profession. Let me know if you would like further information.
In this scenario, Sarah uses a football schema to support her pitch. Whilst the schema may represent a slower route to the core message, the sales pitch uses pre-recorded information to simplify the message. Most people will understand the football schema, whether they like football or not. It simplifies the message that we’re trying to convey. Rather than attempt to deliver an accurate report of professional translation, we give the client enough information to understand why quality may vary between translators and that there is a value in professional translation and proofreading.
This message may not directly lead to the sale but it has a much greater chance of maintaining dialogue. From the client’s perspective, you’ve introduced simple concepts to the scenario that introduce elements alongside the price. Now that the client has a basic understanding of translation, they may ask further questions or request references.
I accept that when confronted by this kind of situation, the schema situation isn’t always going to lead to the sale. Some clients will always go for the cheaper solution, but then I would question whether that’s the kind of client we want to work with. However, I believe that many clients go for the cheaper option because they don’t understand how translation quality can differ vastly between translators.
If you’re interested in learning more on schemas and how to use them to create memorable messages and content, Made to Stick is well worth a read.
Over to you now. I’d love to hear whether you already use schemas in your work. Do you have a better schema than the football example to simplify the concept that not all translation is equal?
Liam Curley is a director and co-founder of Smoke & Croak, a start-up multilingual digital marketing agency that specialises in website translation and international SEO. He blogs on the Smoke & Croak website, and you can get in touch via Google+ or Twitter.