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How TMS Developers Pitch Their Wares to LSPs

By: Benjamin Sargent and Don DePalma (Common Sense Advisory)

10 December 2007

The life of a language service provider can be difficult. Clients always want more work for less money in less time. Suppliers from lower wage countries undercut prices.

Foreign exchange fluctuations hack away at margins. An inadequate supply of experienced project managers slows down production. New file formats, more languages, and new products challenge the time-honored processes that LSPs have developed over the years. It's no wonder that most translation agencies plan to spend more on translation automation in the coming year. What Do LSPs Look for in Software They Buy?

The big question is "what technology will they spend their money on?" Translation memory (TM), terminology management, and translation management (TMS) will top the list for 2008. Most LSPs will invest more heavily in TM, training, and normalizing linguistic assets for their clients. Terminology management will be further out for most as this key discipline continues to evolve inside buyer organization rather than at their translation agencies. That leaves TMS as the big question mark for language service providers.

For those of you keeping score, TMS often gets sold under the moniker of "globalization management system" (GMS); we have long found that term to be a gross distortion of what these systems actually do, which is manage translation workflow. That's a critical function, but by no means could a so-called GMS help companies or governments deal with gnarly cross-border issues such as immigration, energy, industrial development, and national sovereignty. So, until the CEO of Idiom or SDL is invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, we'll label the sector "translation management."

A Brief History of Translation Management Systems

Four years ago we reviewed the TMS space in a report called "Rage Against the Content Management Machine" (Apr03). Finding a mere 50 sites deploying what all their developers then called GMS, we pronounced the sector dead. The CMS sector was catching up with them, customers were not pleased, the companies often competed with their CMS partners, pricing was inappropriately high for the functions offered, and marketing was abysmal. Indeed, the sector all but vanished in 2004. But not quite.

By early 2006, the GMS vendors, properly chastened and culled by acquisition to a more manageable few, began positioning themselves as translation workflow providers. CMS vendors, once poised to absorb translation workflow into their technology stacks, remained uncommitted. The surviving GMS vendors stopped competing with their CMS counterparts and instead positioned translation workflow as an add-in to the content management process (see "Global Content Management Technology", Mar06). The now-TMS suppliers pumped up centralized translation management — a key differentiator — and tailored their offerings to more intimately coordinate with project management and CMS solutions. For the most part, the TMS companies went after commercial accounts like Adobe, eBay, Hewlett-Packard, and Symantec and largely ignored LSPs.

While the larger or IT-savvy language service providers built their own systems for managing projects, many LSPs took advantage of a different set of applications aimed at small and medium-sized agencies. Smaller, generally self-funded software companies selling primarily to LSPs quietly established marketshare — these were mostly European companies like LTC, Plunet, and ]project-open[. They initially oriented their efforts around project and resource management rather than workflow, so these software products lacked the centralized TM component. However, those restrictions meant that they could manage the business aspect of a company's projects. Any system with a centralized TM will only handle "supported" file types for which a parsing engine exists. LSPs do not control what kind of file types their clients send to them, so they appreciate a system that does not constrain which projects can be put through the mill.

Given the number of choices now available in the market, the structural differences between system types, and the variety of buyer organizations, we wondered how TMS vendors market their wares to LSPs. For this article we surveyed the software makers to find out what messages they use to entice buyers. As might be expected in a new product category, we found confusion rather than consensus on the business benefits of using these types of application.

Mixed Messages from TMS Vendors

Knowing that these vendors sell to enterprise customers as well as LSPs, we looked at how their spiel differs for each buyer type. But in a review of TMS websites, we found only three TMS suppliers that have customized messages for LSPs and enterprise buyers. Three more offered only LSP messages and four used generic language to address both types of buyers (see Table 1). The remaining companies shown are LSPs with captive technology that use enterprise-only messages; several of these do allow their enterprise customers to work with other LSPs when employing the system, but they fail to mention this in their online materials.

Vendor and product

LSP-specific messaging

Enterprise-specific messaging

Generic messaging

Across Language Server




AIT Projetex




Beetext Flow




Idiom WorldServer








Lionbridge Freeway 2.0




LTC Worx




MultiCorpora MultiTrans




Plunet BusinessManager








Sajan GCMS




SDL TMS 2007




thebigword.com LanguageDirector




Translations.com GlobalLink GMS




Transware Ambassador









Table 1: TMS Messaging to LSPs Falls All Over the Map
Source: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.

In our 2007 report "Translation Management System Scorecards" (Feb07), Common Sense Advisory found that these systems are meant to improve results across several vectors:

  • TMS systems incorporate ERP-like business management capabilities to streamline project management, resource management and financial activities such as purchase order and invoice generation.
  • They automate workflow either by sending files on to the next participant or by notifying workflow actors that content is ready to be worked on.
  • Many of these systems process text against centralized translation memory (TM) databases. Centralized TM management increases the capture and leverage of translated segments, giving an immediate gain in cost and time.

As simple as it is to describe these phenomena, the sales pitches and website messages of TMS vendors mostly eschew these types of "business benefits" and instead focus on listing features (see Table 2). In the messaging highlights below, what we regarded as the best text is highlighted.


Slogan, Motto, or Tagline

Messaging Highlight

Marketing Value 1-5 (5=high):

Common Sense Advisory comment

]project-open[ Bridging the gap between ERP and PM "...integrated Translation Management System (TMS) for translation agencies (SLVs, MLVs), translation departments and language service providers..." 2: No attempt to pitch value to prospects.
across Language Server Central repository, smooth processes, open interfaces "...seamlessly integrated project management and workflow control; new forms of collaborative work with your customers..." 4: Over-use of adjectives, but effective message to LSPs.
AIT Projetex Project Management Software for Translation Agencies "...simplifies task of corporate and freelance workflow management, data and files sharing within translation agency..." 3: Comprehensive but uninspired.
Beetext Flow Project Efficiency Solutions "...enhance your project management efficiency by up
to 70%..."
4: Uses numbers as concrete examples.
Idiom WorldServer Translation Management with Freedom of Choice "...accelerate translation and localization processes for any content, from websites to paper-based documents and software applications..." 5: Sells the business benefits.
Lingotek The Language Search Engine "...targeted glossaries, selected searches, spell checkers and other features that make the translation process as quick and easy as possible for a qualified linguist..." "Know the status of your business; Manage all your language projects; Manage multiple sites; Manage your projects efficiently; Collaborate effectively; Create quotations quickly ... "
LTC Worx One system for all your business needs "Know the status of your business; Manage all your language projects; Manage multiple sites; Manage your projects efficiently; Collaborate effectively; Create quotations quickly ... " 3: A generic message does not effectively reach either LSPs or enterprise buyers.
MultiCorpora MultiTrans A unique approach to Multilingual Asset Management "...combining multilingual search engine technology with all the features of a conventional translation memory and best-in-class Terminology Management solutions..." 3: Too much cliché, but generally solid explanation of benefits.
Plunet BusinessManager ...enables the processing and management of all organizational activities and processes on a single platform Adaptability = " flexible customization." Flexibility = " client-server application on a local network or via the Internet." 1: No attempt to describe benefits; repetitive and illogical message.
SDL TMS Unify the Translation and Localization Supply Chain "...automating many manual processes and driving the reuse of existing multilingual assets..." 4: Lists benefits, then features.
Thebigword.com LanguageDirector The total solution for all your language requirements "...central, server-based translation memory ensures cross-vendor translation re-use, capitalizing on cost and time efficiencies and maximizing consistency..." 4: Strong enterprise message, but ambiguous or missing LSP message.
XTRF Extend the limits "...easy to use and user friendly. Enjoy your work every day with X TRF!" 2: Missing a compelling story about business benefits.

Table 2: TMS Messaging to LSPs Falls Short of Compelling
Source: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.

What TMS Vendors Need to Do If They Want LSPs to Buy

Marketing messages need to tell a story. The benefits are the "why" and features are the "how". The story begins with the business discussion: What are the LSPs trying to accomplish? That's what they'll want to hear as the premise of the software product. Technology marketers should then flesh out their story with proof points showing how other customers have used the platform to improve their business results. Then the features come last, with each concrete capability of the platform serving to underscore a point in the story. It is the features of a product that make the benefits story believable, but it's the benefits that buyers want to know about. Of course there are reasons besides marketing messages why LSPs aren't buying — see "What Do LSPs Look for in Software They Buy" in this newsletter for a discussion of the technical, competitive, and standards issues they consider when evaluating software for their internal use.

Here are some examples of messaging that we think LSPs will appreciate:

  1. Ease of use: project managers come up to speed quickly — we provide real-time support for LSPs to make sure every project goes smoothly.
  2. End double-entry: information flows directly to and from a financial system (for instance, Quickbooks) for freelancer purchase orders and customer invoicing.
  3. Manage everything: unified production system — all file types and all project types, including interpretation, consulting, and engineering.
  4. If on-demand: Expand inexpensively: IT decreases as a percent of operational costs as you grow. If on-premise: Expand inexpensively: all-in licensing lets an LSP grow its business without growing its IT spend.

As an example of an effective message, Idiom states "Increase throughput (manage more projects) without adding staff. " That is a business benefit no one would argue with. It's simple. It may seem obvious, and the reader might think "that's why we're looking at this stuff in the first place" — but readers don't think that, they just nod their heads in agreement and think "Idiom, yes!" And that's the definition of good messaging: connecting with an audience.

Here is another effective, LSP-specific pitch, this time from DocZone: "How would you like to tell your customers that you can cut their DTP costs in half, with faster turnaround time? Yet, at the same time . . . make a higher margin on your services. The DocZone solution will help you to completely automate the localization process and the composition and publishing of your client's content."

Some vendors offer confusing verbiage. For instance, XTRF says "Excellent for small and medium-sized businesses due to its scalability." A U.S. reader will intuitively append the word "limitations" to the end of that sentence in order to make sense of it. Small and medium-sized businesses are not the ones that have issues with the scalability of software applications, in the technical sense of that word. However, the XTRF marketing manager may have intended to say the software grows comfortably with small businesses expanding at 30 or 40 percent per year (as companies in the US$1-5 million range often do). If licensing terms allow customers to grow without increasing their technology spend, then that is a business benefit that should be stated clearly.

The Next Step for TMS Vendors

With LSPs and enterprises clearly looking to increase their technology spend, it will be up to the TMS suppliers to improve their messaging to profit from this trend. TMS software is business software, and it is fundamental business benefits that will sell it to the growing companies in the space.

Ben Sargent is a senior analyst at the research and consulting firm Common Sense Advisory. He covers the global content management and translation management sectors. Don DePalma is the founder and chief research officer of Common Sense Advisory, and author of the premier book on business globalization "Business Without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing."