For over ten years UK native Joe Atkinson has worked with Skrivanek as a Key Account Manager. We asked him some questions about that work, the language service industry, and his life in general. He’s now a resident of the Czech Republic as he continues to develop a multi-faceted career.
Joe, could you tell us your title when you work with Skrivanek and give a basic description of your job?
I work with Skrivanek as a Key Account Manager looking after clients mainly in the UK and Ireland but also in Europe and the US. We take great care of existing clients as they are the lifeblood of our business, and of course we’re always on the lookout for new clients that we feel we could offer a high-quality service to.
Where do you work most of the time? Do you travel?
I mostly work from home these days. However, I like to get out and meet existing and potential clients personally. Last week for example I attended the inaugural Rail Business Days event in Brno, Czech Republic and I hope there will be other opportunities before the end of 2022.
Why were you drawn to the field of language services?
I had been an English teacher for over 20 years and was looking to try something new. Being an English native speaker is useful in terms of writing and making contacts by phone. Also, I would say there are other transferable skills from teaching that are useful, such as presenting.
What is the step-by-step process of securing a new client?
It’s 90% preparation/10% perspiration! One of the most important tasks is selecting potential leads that you believe will have sufficient demand for our services to make them a worthwhile addition to the Skrivanek portfolio (some sectors are more attractive to us than others as long-term clients). I start with research on key contacts at these companies, make sure I have accurate job titles, and determine their availability so I can connect with them. From the start I’m honest and professional. I can honestly say there is hardly ever an impolite reaction to cold calling as long as the request is straightforward.
How has your job changed over the years?
The most basic concept is still the same: “people buy from people”. However, technology can help us identify and reach decision makers more quickly. More companies have centralized procurement platforms that they use to streamline procurement and cut costs. At Skrivanek we are happy to work with a client by taking part in a tender process on a procurement platform like Ariba, for instance.
These days we also find that companies may choose to work in a particular Translation Management System or with another specific tech or software product, and part of our early negotiation process that I’m involved with is developing a plan that accommodates these requirements.
How has the industry changed?
There have been a lot of consolidations and takeovers in the localization business and this has led to several very large industry giants and a “big buys from big” trend. On the other hand, there has also been growth of direct cooperation between freelancers and end clients, resulting in need for us to emphasize the advantages of working with Multi-Language Vendor LSP, of which there are many, such as the single point of contact structure and translation consistency and accuracy across languages.
What are some of the biggest challenges to bringing in new business?
I would say that the biggest challenges are the continually improving quality of MT, ever-growing competition (from other LSPs, mega-LSPs, and freelancers), the attitude of “cost” being the dominant priority in some companies, and the difficulty of persuading clients to compare like with like when it comes to the services offered by different LSPs.
Was 2020 as strange and challenging as it seemed to be?
Yes and no! After the steady recovery from the 2008 financial crisis it seemed we were on a continuing upward curve. However, Brexit, Covid and the war in Ukraine (three events the likes of which I never thought I would see in my lifetime) have meant that stability has disappeared for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, Skrivanek’s broad-based client portfolio and ability to adapt to new situations (growth in online interpreting for example) suggest that we will continue to thrive.
What language services are growing fastest these days?
As I mentioned, for obvious reasons online interpreting has really developed, and we have also increased our linguistic and technical resources to cope with a big increase in demand for services such as subtitling, voiceover, SEO translation (websites, e-commerce listings, PPCs, etc.). We have clients in “new” sectors such as SaaS, FinTech, Cryptocurrency, and social media, and our traditional partners in Life Sciences, Automotive, Engineering, and so on are also responsive to new ideas and services.
What do you do to prepare for clients in new sectors, such as FinTech, or even for a traditional industry that you have not yet become familiar with?
In identifying potential clients I think it’s important to keep up with trends in business, technology, etc. so when speaking with people from a particular industry I can sound like an intelligent layman. I make it clear from the outset that I am in business development and that when it comes to the execution of their job we have teams of skilled linguists and subject matter experts to process the translation/localization should we decide to work together. But I do have to understand the client’s business so I can explain our services in terms they are comfortable with. Studying a potential client’s website is a must prior to first contact. I also monitor LinkedIn and industry event websites to get a good idea of industry trends, news, and the general level of confidence within the industry at a particular time.
What is the most persuasive information about Skrivanek’s services for most potential clients?
It’s a cliché I suppose but Skrivanek, as a long-time top 100 LSP, really is “big enough to manage but small enough to care”. We have close communication among our people and departments, and that communication also extends to our clients. Every client has two points of contact within the company: their KAM who is with them to resolve any issues during on boarding, early orders, and deliveries; and secondly their dedicated Project Manager whom they will deal with directly once the project is up and running. The KAM – which is my role – is always available if assistance is required.
As I mentioned before if you are a mega corporation, then dealing with a mega LSP may be suitable (and we do work for some mega corporations and organizations, too) but it can get very impersonal. Skrivanek is able to scale its response to suit the client, whether they are a global market leader or a niche player with highly industry-specific terminology. We are able to keep communication on a human level wherever or whoever the client maybe.
How do you think of the role of language services in global issues from business to diplomacy?
Skrivanek is proud to work on an almost daily basis for a range of international organizations and NGOs. Our team can see at very close range the effect the quality of our work can have on decision making. What I mean by that is that in many situations our clients need accurate, up-to-date information translated promptly and professionally to inform important choices and actions. They are depending on us for that.
A few real-life examples of Skrivanek projects that illustrate this are an international child custody case, international arbitration cases in commercial courts, and immediate and longer-term disaster relief. Another one that comes to mind is a major Japanese industrial company bidding for significant contracts in Central Europe. For that job the tender process often involved us producing accurate translation of key documents with short turnaround in a combination of up to five languages (Japanese, German, English, Polish, and Czech). When people in difficult situations are helped or a client is successful in court or a tender process, of course we feel we played our part.
Can you tell us a few things about your life outside Skrivanek?
After living and working in several different countries I am now a long-term resident of the Czech Republic and live in a village just outside Brno the Moravian capital. I still enjoy travelling and there’s always something to do in the garden!
What are some special aspects of the Czech Republic where you live now and where Skrivanek’s headquarters is?
Brno is the second largest city of the Czech Republic with a population of around 400,000. So, it’s big enough for most things but not too big. It also has a large student population, which contributes to a very laid-back atmosphere. After finishing their studies a lot of young people stay in Brno to find their first jobs, often in the flourishing IT sector or with a localization company like Skrivanek. This gives the city, and indeed Skrivanek, a kind of vibrant and generally optimistic outlook. Of course the number of sunny days here in what is nearly “southern” Europe contributes to that, too!
A major advantage our clients experience when they work with Skrivanek is our ability and willingness to accommodate their technical needs in addition to their linguistic ones. I believe this talent is expressed by the Czech concept of “golden Czech hands”. This means that Czechs are very skilled at practical tasks and problem solving. In my experience this is accurate – a “can-do” attitude can be seen not only within Skrivanek but throughout Czech life.