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E.g., 04/07/2020

How Can You Differentiate Your Company in a Competitive Market? (Part 3 of 3)

By: Gordon Husbands (Wordbank) - Wordbank Limited

26 May 2011

What is it exactly that differentiates you from the translation agency or localization services vendor next door? In this third and final part of our series on LSP differentiation, we get down to the nitty-gritty and learn where your marketing focus really should be.

In this third and final installment of my series on LSP differentiation, I look at how to measure differentiators against client needs. Assuming you’ve done your homework from Part Two and have completed a SWOT analysis of your organization, we’ll move forward and look at how those strengths and weaknesses mesh with your target market’s needs. To illuminate the next set of exercises, I’ll use a fictitious LSP that is representative of many GALA member companies.

An Example of a Typical LSP and Its Key Strengths

Let’s assume that we are an Italian-based translation vendor, specializing in the medical devices market. Here is a list of what we might have identified as our top five key strengths:

  • Ten years of experience in delivering medical device translation
  • Two company founders who have worked in the hospital and health services sector for a combined total of 30 years
  • A strong pool of qualified and experienced Italian medical translators
  • The company is financially sound, well-funded, and owns company offices in Rome and Milan.
  • The company has developed an extensive medical devices glossary database across several languages.

Sounds pretty impressive as it stands, right? But this is only an internal perspective. The next step is to identify what the potential client’s needs and wants are.

Establishing Client Needs

An essential part of identifying your company’s key differentiators is to identify first your clients’ needs. Your sales people or front line project managers are normally good resources for getting input on client needs. Ask yourself what questions clients regularly ask when you are pitching or bidding for business. (There is always more to it than just cost per word and turnaround time, although both of these will be factors.) If you have just lost a sale, then there is no better time to reconfirm needs and decision criteria. Put yourself in the position of a buyer. What would you want to know about a vendor before you put your future career prospects in their hands?

An Example of Typical Client Needs

Let’s stick with the medical devices market example. The client’s main needs might include:

  • A vendor with extensive experience in delivering medical device translation, ideally with references from one of the main international brands, such as GE Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, or Siemens Healthcare
  • A deep understanding of the quality criteria of translation required for the medical market, such as ISO 13485 2003
  • The ability to handle regular translation of XML content into French, German, Italian, Swedish, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Simplified Chinese
  • A financially sound vendor with a strong balance sheet and no customer representing more than 15% of sales
  • The ability to support client headquarters based on the US East Coast and to work with local distributors in China and Russia

Admittedly, this is a simple example, but still representative of the difference in perspective you might expect. It is worth remembering that while we might be trying to sell the client some translation (Italian in this case), the client’s real objective is not to buy translation, but to effectively distribute and sell their product (medical devices in this case) in their target country. Translation is just one step in the go-to-market plan.

Table Stakes versus Client Value

 Our next step in identifying key differentiators is to understand what the client values from our extensive list of (perceived) strengths. The above two lists are deliberately short, since this exercise focuses on the most important attributes and needs, respectively. If you have taken the trouble to analyze your strengths and weaknesses, however, you will typically have compiled a list of perhaps 20 or 30 strengths. Similarly, many a client RFP has an exhaustive list of irritating but necessary questions, which these days often include extensive questioning on social (and ethical) responsibility, as well as on financial history and such statistics as the number of offices and employees. You’ll be able to respond favourably to these questions by enumerating your strengths, but the vast majority of these items will be considered table stakes. In the translation business these are things like qualified translators, TMs, and workflow systems.

Arguably, the aim of both the LSP and its customer is the same in this aptly named vendor/client dating game: both parties have checklists they want to complete. The client, after checking off their lists, will disregard the majority of items so that only the outstanding attributes remain. Ideally, this makes the ultimate selection decision easier and more value-based.

For the LSP, it is critical to separate the table stakes (i.e., disposable strengths) from what is really valued by the client. For each client need in your list, decide whether it is valued, or is just a table stake. As per the table below, enter ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ into column 2, and score each item from 1-10 in column 3, using 10 to identify something most highly prized by the client – a potential deal winner. A table stake should be scored less than 5. A score of 1 would be given for a strength almost every vendor had (for example, qualified project managers, TMs, or ISO 9000).

  Client Need Table Stake (Yes/No) Value to Client (1-10)
1. Financially sound vendor with strong balance sheet and no customer representing more than 15% of sales Yes 1
2. Vendor with extensive experience in delivering medical device translation, ideally with references from one of the main international brands (e.g., GE Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens Healthcare, etc.) No 8


Consider how much value a client might place on a vendor who has worked with all three of the medical device brands mentioned, compared to another LSP who had only worked with one minor player. The process is subjective, but you start to get the feel for the relative value certain strengths may have in the eyes of the client.

Work through your list of 20-30 client needs, applying the scoring method above. Discuss it with colleagues, partners, and existing clients. Try to be as objective as possible during this process.

Strengths, Differentiators, and Competitive Advantage

We can now get right down to the nitty-gritty of determining whether a company might have any differentiation or competitive advantage in the eyes of the client. Now is the time for brutal honesty with yourself – you might kid yourself, but you can bet it won’t wash with the client unless you can substantiate it.

This is basically a 3-step process in its own right. See the example below.

Step 1 –  For each of your identified strengths, rate their value to the client in column A. Refer to your client needs analysis as you go.
Step 2 – Next, rate each strength based on your ability to beat the competition. Benchmark yourself against your most common competitors.
Step 3 – Add column A and B to get your total rating.

From the overall list, one or two strengths will stand out among a leading group of four or five. If they don’t, then your company is either the market leader, with competitive advantage coming out of your ears, or you’re in big trouble. Take my example, illustrated in the table below. 

Strength, Competency, Resource

Value to Client

Versus competition

Total Score



10 years of experience in delivering medical device translation





Company founders who have worked in the hospital and health services for a total of 30 years





A strong pool of qualified and experienced Italian medical translators





The company is financially sound and well-funded, and owns company offices in Rome and Milan.





An extensive medical devices glossary database




This table demonstrates how you might assess your LSP’s strengths. During this evaluation you might ask yourself questions like how valuable ten years of experience are in this market niche. The answer is: far better than five or two years, but it is all relative to the competition in your market. For instance, if I am the only medical device translator in Italy, then my ability to beat the competition is comparatively very high, but if there are five others—forget it. In the latter case, my medical device experience is only a table stake.

From the point of view of the client, strength number two has real value. It suggests that the company has a deeper knowledge of how these devices are used. The principals could be members of local medical device associations and could have access to local clinicians, with the benefits that such connections might bring.

Messaging and Substantiation

This nicely brings me to the subject of substantiation. The whole point of this exercise has been to distill key company/service differentiators. Once differentiators have been clearly identified they should rapidly become the heart and soul of company marketing communications. Embodied into well-crafted messaging, they will be splashed all over marketing materials, websites, and advertising, not to mention littering every proposal and sales pitch.

But, and this is an important but, any claim must be substantiated by specific details and evidence. Clearly verifiable facts or ‘proof points’ should be written for each differentiator or claim. It is no good claiming that you have the best quality control if you cannot provide your ISO9001-2000 certificate or similar support for your claim. Something like ‘Extensive medical devices glossary database' is just begging for more detail – how many terms, in how many languages, for how many different categories of medical devices, etc.

And Finally...

Establishing and maintaining any sort of differentiation or competitive advantage is going to be a challenge in any market. Today’s differentiator is tomorrow’s table stake. Marketing, and your marketing positioning, are things you need to keep refining, updating, and renewing regularly. And it’s not just your messaging that needs to be well-honed; you also need to be at the top of your game when it comes to executing your marketing campaigns. As economic conditions and markets evolve, so must the strategies employed by LSPs to stand out in the crowd and capture clients.

In these articles we have looked at analyzing, defining, and understanding our differentiation. However, there is nothing passive about marketing – differentiation can and must be created. In our industry service innovation – creating a new service or suite of services is one area where we all have the opportunity to create something new, different, and appealing to the ever widening market. But that, as they say, is another story!

Gordon is an Anglo-Scot, living in London and Spain. He has more than 27 years of experience in successful international sales and marketing, consulting, and business management. He has worked for corporations such as BAe, EMI, GEC, and Digital Equipment in Europe and the US. Gordon has been actively involved in the communications localization business since 1995 and regularly publishes papers on international marketing and global communication. He is an active member and supporter of GALA. He is presently a partner, board member, and Vice-president of Sales and Marketing at online marketing and advertising localization specialist Wordbank, based in London and Denver.