Knowing Your Buyer Type is Key
Buying language services seems like a straightforward decision. You know your languages, required subject matter, and what you generally expect from a Language Service Provider (LSP). So, you make up your mind and select one or more LSPs. It sounds simple, right? Not quite.
Sourcing language services requires proper planning and has become a strategic decision for many businesses. This is particularly true for larger companies with diverse needs and significant demand for language services. Moreover, the decision process can involve many stakeholders with competing agendas and priorities. And this can skew their understanding of actual needs and sourcing objectives.
During my career in the localization industry, I had numerous opportunities to engage with language services buyers. Additionally, prior to working in the localization industry I was a corporate user of language services myself. This gave me a unique perspective on the buying and selling process.
I quickly learned that whether you are a seller or buyer of language services, identifying your buyer type is key.
In general, there are three useful buyer types that I encountered in my B2B engagements. In a way, these suggested buyer types are not specific to language services. You will likely find them across other industries, too. And you might also find variations of them using different designations. Since my focus is on language services, the provided descriptions and context reflect my experience and observed purchasing behaviors.
These buyer types are as follows:
- Solution Buyer
- Economic Buyer
- Strategic Buyer
Generally speaking, all buyer types look for a combination of capabilities, business practices, and solutions. In addition, purchasing priorities can correlate with the role of the buyer type within an organization. For instance, a sourcing manager might emphasize cost while a service user looks for service quality and consistency.
A Solution Buyer either consumes language services or is looking for a technical solution to address a specific problem. Essentially, this buyer type includes user buyers and technical buyers, which are subtypes of solution buyers. The term “solution” implies solving a specific need or set of problems. It can include a combination of technologies, business practices, and approaches to achieve that.
Moreover, the user buyer subtype in particular often supports time-sensitive activities such as product releases and product development. This can put the solution buyer on the critical path and impose additional risk on an organization. No other buyer type is more concerned about consistent and responsive services as well as ease of use. In many cases, the solution buyer is personally invested in the relationship with service providers. The primary reason is that language services directly affect the solution buyer’s contributions that enable dependent business activities.
An Economic Buyer seeks the best value for the company and emphasizes the cost-effectiveness of provided solutions and services. Buyers in this role usually have financial responsibilities and commonly represent procurement departments.
However, economic buyers can also include other functional areas if budget constraints and large investments drive overall purchasing decisions. For example, a solution buyer might reveal herself as an economic buyer due to circumstances.
Furthermore, for an economic buyer, innovation can refer to creative financial terms and procurement practices. These could include tiered service levels, volume discounts, and performance incentives. But economic buyers also value innovative technology if it helps reduce the total cost of ownership.
A Strategic Buyer is a person in an oversight position who makes strategic purchasing decisions to achieve operational objectives. This buyer type might steer the direction of a specific department or group, a business unit, or the entire company. Strategic buyers often have positional power and lead initiatives to improve business practices, introduce technologies, and align functional areas. Furthermore, they influence and focus on big-picture scenarios.
Because of their positional power, they can be sponsors of strategic partnerships and actively participate in the supplier selection process. Likewise, strategic buyers are less price sensitive if provided solutions and expertise show evidence of past success.
In order to capture the motivational force behind a purchasing decision, we also need to define purchasing drivers. I have found the following drivers to be relevant:
When asked, most buyer types would say that all three drivers are equally important. Nonetheless, in my experience the actual decision making and purchasing behavior usually emphasize two of the three drivers. It does not mean that buyer types completely disregard the third purchasing driver. However, when push comes to shove, one driver is secondary or less tangible due to the buyer’s role.
For example, a sourcing manager does not experience the actual service delivery. That is, she cannot effectively judge or assess the quality of the service and relies on input from service users. In contrast, service users will highlight performance because it directly impacts their ability to execute their role.
Also, please note that the introduced purchasing drivers are not absolute measures. For instance, “innovation” can be an ambiguous term. LSPs sometimes use the term to underscore unique practices and features of their solution. Still, buyers might not see it the same way because it is not critical or even relevant to them. In other words, the suggested purchasing drivers are based on the buyer’s perspective rather than the seller’s (LSP’s) perspective.
Received value can include quantitative and qualitative measures. However, not all buyer types express value the same way. For example, the user buyer is the only type that experiences the delivery of language services firsthand. Therefore, this buyer type tends to assess value as a combined benefit comprised of price, quality, and service experience. In contrast, the economic buyer is looking for the best return on investment. For this buyer type, value is a quantitative benefit and mainly represents the best bang for the buck.
Innovation refers to a contribution at the organizational level by creating customized solutions. Moreover, innovation should offer flexibility and creativity to provide a unique buyer experience. This could involve solving issues that impact the entire organization rather than just a group or department. Therefore, innovation is a measure of both scope and scale of a provided solution. In addition, the means to achieve this can vary and there are many different approaches. However, it is usually the buyer who determines if a solution is innovative and meets expectations.
Performance is another important measure for gauging language services. It confirms whether providers have delivered on their promises and met the buyer’s expectations. Particularly solution buyers and strategic buyers look for indicators of performance during the selection process and routine business reviews, mainly because their roles and efforts are closely linked to the performance of an LSP and provided solutions. The overall performance of a solution and delivered services requires clear goals and objectives. Otherwise, there is no reference point and corresponding expectations to measure performance against.
Sourcing language services can be a complex undertaking, especially when organizations have many different stakeholders with diverse needs and expectations. The challenge is to balance competing interests and agendas to formulate an aligned approach for consuming language services.
Understanding buyer types is essential for sellers and buyers of language services. If a seller misinterprets the buyer’s needs and expectations, the seller might propose the wrong solution and services. And if a buyer does not understand what drives her purchasing behavior, she might make the wrong purchasing decisions.
The sourcing process starts with the definition of shared needs and expectations to set clear objectives for the entire organization. Stakeholders can then better determine priorities for required solutions and minimize process variance for identical needs. Likewise, this initial fact-finding phase will also help identify any unique needs and conditions that apply to a functional area.
The output of the planning stage should provide a compilation of prioritized and aligned needs as well as expectations. You can group them accordingly to distinguish unique requirements by functional area and shared requirements for the entire organization.
At that point, you should be able to reveal the different buyer types that apply to your organization. And this should also make it easier to convey your situation to sellers of language services. In summary, you can help LSPs better understand your needs and expectations by determining your buyer type.