It’s Not About You — Pitching to Clients

“Your sales pitch should focus on the client’s needs, not on you.”

It’s not like I’d never heard this before, and in fact some of you have given similar advice on your own blogs. But you know how it is, sometimes you need to be told ten times before you do anything about it. So after attending a webinar by a consultant named Brennan Dunn in which he also hammered home the fact that clients are interested in your solution to their problem, not the boring details of your life, I finally decided to take a good, objective look at the text of my website.

BoringWhat an eye-opener that was.

What I thought was an interesting, solid spiel, was, in fact, a showroom display of every mistake in the book. Or at least the three mistakes in Brennan’s book. As he explains it, these are the characteristics of an effective pitch:

1. It does not focus on you but on the client’s need.
2. It does not sell a product but a solution
3. It does not present you as a vendor but a partner

This is the main text on my home page:

I have extensive experience with a wide range of documents, including hospital records, clinical trial documentation, medical journal articles, SPCs, lawsuits, contracts, etc. Confidentiality is of the utmost importance when dealing with medical and legal information, and I adhere to international and US regulations, including HIPAA and the EU Data Protection Directive.

Yawn. The whole section focuses on me, me, me, and all of it of it should actually go without saying. Of course I am experienced and law-abiding, or else what am I doing running a business like this?
I do make a slight effort to focus on the client in the sentence about confidentiality, but again, should they be pleasantly surprised I don’t sell information to the Chinese or read their letters to my friends over coffee?

So what are my clients looking for?

To paraphrase Brennan, they don’t wake up thinking, “What we need is an accurate translation that reads like the original, delivered on time!” If the client is a contract research organization, they’re focused on collecting and managing clinical trial data in such a manner that it will be easy for the sponsor of the study to determine whether they have a marketable product on their hands.
If the client is a legal firm, they are looking for substantiating documentation that will help them win the case. With that in mind, I rewrote the text as follows:

The foundation of a successful trial is accurate data and clear communication. Whether you are preparing for a criminal case or engaged in a clinical study, you need to be sure that the information you are presenting is rock-solid.
Dealing with documents in a foreign language adds an element of uncertainty, and an inaccurate translation can have far-reaching consequences. Partnering with Calliope Translations means access to accurate information you can safely build your case on.

Moving on. Next to my picture on the same page, this is how I introduced myself:

Welcome! I am Marie Brotnov, a certified Dutch-English translator specialized in medical and legal documents. If the translation of your document has to be impeccable in order communicate to a professional audience with the highest standards, contact me and I will be happy to discuss your project and show you how I can help.

The problem here is that I present myself as a vendor of a product, i.e. translations, rather than a professional partner. The issue with that is that it subtly presents translation as a commodity (which you try to get at the cheapest rate available) rather than a more valuable professional service. I do try to focus on the client’s need in the next sentence, but “trying to communicate with a professional audience” is probably not exactly their perceived need.

Here’s the rewrite:

I am Marie Brotnov, your partner in effective Dutch-English communication. Lives depend on the outcome of your clinical trial or your court case, and it is of the utmost importance that you can rely on the accuracy and clarity of your supporting evidence. Calliope Translations takes your Dutch documents and delivers information you can work with. Contact me today and let’s get started.

I’m still wrestling with this whole “partner” concept, as the webinar was mostly geared towards web designers whose projects can’t easily be compared with translation work, but I’ll explore that in another post.

6 thoughts on “It’s Not About You — Pitching to Clients

  1. Great article, Marie.

    Many of the posts of this kind are just SEO traffic baits that just speak vaguely about the DOs and DON’Ts without giving applicable examples.

    Actually, I think that there is a quite a similarity between web/graphic design (as well as programming) and translation. The particulars regrading the day-to-day work are different, but the ultimate goal and destination are very aligned. Webdesign is also all about communication. It is all about building a functional and effective platform to convey a message. Just like translation is not a batch of loose sentences that were put together into a paragraph and a page, webdesign is not just about a bunch of “boxes” being piled one over the other.

    What professionals offer, and what quality client seek, is the human expertise, skills, and advice, and therefore your use of the word partner is quite appropriate. You are not their employee nor their vendor/contractor – you are a professional that offers a valuable service to complement their business operations and solves a problem that they are facing.
    Now I’m starting to here the term consultant being used to describe pretty much the same thing, but I don’t know how I feel about it.

    • Thanks Shai! Good point about the service we offer being more than the sum of its parts. That is the essence of being more than a vendor, but I’m trying to figure out how we can effectively communicate that. A designer can say, if I redesign your website in such and such a way I predict and x percentage increase in conversions and sales, so investing in my services will really make you x amount of money. It’s harder to do that with translations, so how can we approach this?

      • Some webdesigners like to promise things. Promising a better conversion rate is bit of a hoax because there are far more many parameters that can affect the conversion rate. The advantage of webdesign is that in the end the client gets something that they can assess. Even if they have no clue about the best practices and expertise put into the design process, they can just rule it visually pleasing or not. This is a minor advantage that they have, but it is also a drawback because everyone’s a critic.

        Also, webdesign and copywriting are all about sales. If you translate materials that are not directly related to sales, it is almost irrelevant to talk about better conversions and such. Then it all comes down to who are your clients and what they are looking for. This is why it is important to target your ideal client base instead of spreading yourself thin as a generalist. Ideally, you should know what your ideal client base needs – or in other words – what are their major risks and concerns. In webdesign it is usually about conversion (sales, leads) – this is the primary benefit to the client. In translation it is more complicated. It really depends on who is your target audience and what risks your service mitigates.

        Generally speaking, in B2B sales it is all about risks. Those who are price sensitive don’t consider buying a poor quality service or product to be a risk for them (as misguided as this may be). Those who wants to avoid risk, tend to care less about the price if they find a good and reliable business partner. Sadly, for many translation is not considered a risk, part because the damages and costs of poor translation are long-term, but there are business that understand it. I think that in your specialty are there are business that understand the risk of poor translation (even if only to cover their behinds), and I think you did a good job outlining the benefits to them.

        I’m not a marketing expert by any stretch of the imagination, so please take my advice with a grain of salt. But the above is my experience and what I’ve learned during the years.

      • More great food for thought, thank you! Rather than try to think it through here I will incorporate your thoughts in my next post, because that’s exactly what I want to explore: since we do not offer a service that is directly related to increased sales, how do we “market” ourselves as partners/consultants/whatever the best term is for the added (but unquantifiable?) value we offer. Stay tuned 🙂

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