Every technology organization and founder will have a different definition of success as they see it. Whatever your success metrics look like, there’s a good chance that the development of an international user-base will feature somewhere along the line.
For some, global expansion will be crucial to meet their projected revenues, and for others the decision to expand will be prompted by individual customer demand. Some started out with a wholly domestic focus, but then found that investors are generally more interested in funding businesses with a clear international strategy and a larger addressable market.
This makes sense of course — after all, why limit your potential? However, it does raise a lot of questions about the point at which an early-stage business should begin to scale internationally, and how they can do it intelligently — without burning cash for little return.
Aside from establishing infrastructure and recruiting staff in a new country, marketing and product localization are two of the biggest investments you’ll need to consider.
The decision to begin localization is made easier if there’s a deal on the table that will only close if the product is localized. Then it’s a relatively simple process of considering the prospective revenues versus the standard costs of accepting the deal. Where localization is a requirement, this can be factored in and applied wholly to that deal. However, it’s far more likely that a proportion of the localization cost will be charged to the first client, with the remainder being amortized across the rest of the addressable market in that region — hence kickstarting activity in a new location.
Of course, that’s overly simplistic. If your product includes a large volume of content that is unique to an individual customer, localization costs can’t always be apportioned across a wider customer base. There are also cases where the language(s) required for a specific deal are so niche that the wider market opportunity will be too small for the localization costs to be shared.
In cases like this, or where a strategic decision is made to localize and aggressively target a particular region or country prior to the first deal win, it’s important to assess what the wider language demand might be. No organization can afford to localize without doing their research first.
Instinct is usually best left to unicorn founders writing about their success with hindsight — for the majority, data-driven decisions will be the most effective path to growth.
So where can you look for early intelligence?
Web traffic — Are there any particular regions or countries where you see a significant amount of traffic coming from? If a country where English isn’t the first language is highly represented, this might suggest further research is warranted.
What does this group do when they hit the site? Do the number of page views and durations suggest they’re clicking away when they find their language is not covered?
What are your competitors doing? Where are they active, and which languages and regions do they localize for? Importantly, where are they not active — this might represent an opportunity.
What passive enquiries from shortlisted regions are you seeing? Are your SDRs actively researching and targeting prospective regions, or are you receiving passive enquiries and engagement via your website and social media?
Once your initial findings are validated, don’t forget to revisit the web stats to find out which content is most popular, which knowledgebase articles are most read, and which assets are most regularly downloaded. Aside from the core site content, these are the elements that you should consider localizing first from a marketing and support perspective.
Whilst we count many of the world’s largest SaaS, CRM, and analytics companies amongst our client base, we started working with many of them when they were in the early stages of international expansion. This means we’ve been alongside them from their earliest days of validating language requirements right through to the stage they’re at now where they are simultaneously shipping complex releases in multiple languages.
We can help you identify and validate these early localization decisions too. There’s no obligation — just get in touch and we’ll be happy to share our experience with you.