Interview with Josef Kubovsky, Nimdzi Insights strategy advisor

We continue our series of interviews with Moscow Translation Club (MTC) award winners. Today’s guest is Josef Kubovsky, Sales Leadership, Strategy and Growth Advisor at Nimdzi Insights. Why are consulting services in the translation industry more challenging than direct sales? What can you do to earn your customers’ love in any market despite the psychological barrier?

All this and more in our interview with Josef, hosted by Alexey Shesterikov, CEO of AWATERA

Alexey: Josef, you were not a founder of Memsource but you joined at early stages and can you tell us how it was? How was it with Memsource when you started? What did you bring to the company?

Josef: I was hired for this position as I would have a lot of connections globally from the previous life. My major task was to really identify whether there is a market for it and whether there is an opportunity for coming out with a new TMS, there were already 30 TMSs at that time, so what… We actually tried to push and pull for the niche which is setting up the Cloud-based technology. However, I think that was really difficult because at that time no one really trusted that this is going to work in the future, people knew that this was going to happen, but no one wanted to risk it, no one wanted to risk the internet connection. No one wanted to risk that they don’t have the data fully under their control, and so on. So that was really difficult at that time.

Today it’s exactly the opposite because the enterprise customers are actually saying, “We don’t want you to save our data in your property, we want you to use a professional data center.” So there is already a push from the enterprise customer to the translation industry that they should not be storing the data in house — that’s a huge impact since then.

So but back to your question. We really did have a lot of issues right at the beginning especially in Russia, I remember the internet connection then in Japan, we had issues with the internet connection. But thanks to the really strong development team, we were able to make it. I would like to say thank you to all the Russian audience and to all the Russian friends that I have there because mainly because of the Russian market we were able to make it in the first year, and we actually made it profitable in the first 18 months, thanks to Translation Forum Russia actually where I met most of the people also, because back then there was no Moscow Translation Club so we were able to meet them and they were not afraid to make this step with us. There was trust, there was the motivation and there was this interest in trying something new.

Alexey: What were the fuck ups and failures? What didn’t go as planned? I understand you wouldn’t like to discuss it but we’d like to know because it’s a big part of running a business and so be honest, if you want.

Josef: Sure, so it was really difficult right at the beginning because we didn’t really know what is going to work so we tried it on multiple, multiple markets. I already mentioned that it was very successful for us to go to the Russian market, the Japanese market. What didn’t really work was the German market, the German market thanks to its skepticism and applying only something that you are very familiar with. We did invest a lot in the German market, we did go to multiple events, we even hired some people in Germany but it didn’t work for the first even 5 years, I think we managed to change this not ourselves but thanks again for the global approach that the Cloud solutions were more available and people… It actually did build trust. I think Salesforce would be the one who did a major impact on this, because Salesforce itself is Cloud based and you put all your data into, you put in all your sales and all your customer data into their hands and it’s a German company so this is… this was a success there.

Honestly, it is a huge difference whether you are selling translation services, whether you are selling technology and today I can say that it’s totally different to sell consulting as well. Each of them needs a lot of trust, I would say consulting needs the most trust when technology is something that you need to implement for a long time, right? You will not take a quick decision whether you want to implement a technology, this needs a long-term trust because once you implement it you are not going to use it for one or two years, you are going to use it for a multiple years at least. That’s why it’s very important for all the customers to be sure that they can trust the technology, that they can trust the direction, and that’s why most of the discussion were not about what can you do today but what your plans are. And this is very much where just before I stopped leading the sales team at Memsource, this was always our approach.

Alexey: Why did you choose the translation industry? What don’t you like or what would you like to change in this industry?

Josef: I say this at the beginning of every presentation that I make, so you probably heard that I am a 6th generation of a translator, my great grandmother was an interpreter during World War I, she was interpreting in 3 languages. My grandmother was an interpreter, my grandfather’s sister is an interpreter, my cousin has a translation company, my mother is a translator. My grandmother is the one who tests people to get governmental or how do you say legal interpreting for Swedish into Slovak. So there is a lot of translation in our history. How did I end up here? I said I didn’t want anything to do with translations so I studied international relations but the first job I was offered was at my cousin’s translation company, she got sick at a certain moment and I didn’t really like the situation as to how they treated her. That’s how I started in the translation industry. What I like about the translation industry is you get to know a lot of people from different regions, you get to know their mentality. I specifically studied how to specifically communicate with people from different regions. However, this industry, it’s a funny mixture because you can talk to a Japanese who has the mentality of an American, you can talk to a Russian if you don’t mind who has the mentality of an Italian. It’s a very nice set-up where people are very open to communicate with each other and there are very intelligent people in the industry because they don’t only know the other language that they are professional with but they also have a professional understanding of a particular topic, so on top of having that expertise, they also have the expertise in language.

I would very much want to change the approach between the ‘I am the vendor’ and ‘You are the customer’, because I am still feeling and if you don’t mind I think this is why I was successful in my sales because in a very diplomatic way my sales people were able to be polite but at the same time have a partner to partner relationship. So a partner relationship with your customer, right? We do as much as possible to make our clients happy but we also want to have a certain respect from the customer for what we do for them. I am pretty sure that most of the guys in the Moscow Translation Club will remember that I don’t like to negotiate about pricing because it only undervalues the service that you are providing and you are either ready to implement the solution or you are not ready. I would never want to negotiate about a quality of my translation services because is it something that the customer wants to save money or is it something that he believes that we are the best ones to deliver the service that he is purchasing.

This is one of the main reasons why I decided to join Nimdzi where I was offered the position of a Strategical Consultation so if a company wants to move to a certain level, I help them look into inside out what they are actually doing and how they can implement a new process and how they can be more successful. Also why I help the management of sales teams and also company management to grow their teams, making sure that it is being successful. Not meaning growing in number of people, meaning growing in a sense of expertise, in a sense of success.

Alexey: While we are on this subject. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do for Nimdzi? Is it more on the consulting side or is it also about building sales for Nimdzi because obviously every company needs sales and so does Nimdzi.

Josef: I am personally not responsible for selling at Nimdzi, however, as much as I consult external companies, I also do lead the sales team here at Nimdzi, I also do structure the team, I also implement sales processes and so on because I think showing how the organization works itself is the best case how to convince customers to purchase our services. There are two sales people right now, but I would like to have 2 more or 3 sales people. There is an enormous amount of people, coming you know and applying for this position. However, as I said earlier, for the reasons I mentioned earlier it’s not a simple position and also that’s why it is a difficult process to pick up the right guys.

Alexey: In my experience consulting is, in comparison to being responsible for the business, responsible for the sales, consulting is somewhat of an easier involvement, it usually doesn’t assume the responsibility. You definitely care for your customers but you are not there if they don’t survive. I imagine selling for 10 years in the translation industry is quite a journey right? So did you switch this on purpose, to make things easier?

Josef: I haven’t been selling myself really for the last 4 years. I was managing the sales team and I’ve been educating myself about how to manage sales teams and how to work with people. I have you know experienced some consultancy, it was more friend-to-friend or it wasn’t definitely a paid strategy in the past. It definitely may sound as being simpler to do consulting strategy. However, and because why does it sound easier? Because you cannot force the people to take the action, right? You cannot sit there, pick up the phone and do the calls. You cannot go there and tell the sales people if you are consulting the sales manager ‘OK this is how you are going to do it.’ You only do it through the sales manager. The main difference here is that first, you have to be convincing enough to the sales manager to understand and implement the strategy. Second, you have to help the sales manager to implement the strategy throughout the whole organization. So you basically need to convince the whole organization that this is the best way to go, which, in my opinion, is actually much harder than convincing a specific customer to do it. The biggest reason for my sales teams in the past being successful and definitely at Memsource it wasn’t the first team that I was managing, is that we had a very good strategy. How, who and when do we want to approach? How do we want to do it? I am not saying that sales people should just follow the overall structure, they should definitely be the ones who create the structure. Not only that they help with creating it but they are the ones who are collecting the feedback, they are collecting the strategy, they are collecting the information based on which we generate, we create the strategy on how do we implement, how do we target this or that organization. That’s why if you look at who I hired recently in the previous organization, you would have people that understand the target group that we were trying to sell to. So going back to your question, it is much harder to do this job than selling that I did in the past.

Alexey: Alright, makes sense. Thanks. So it’s harder to do it but the stakes are still somewhat lower. (laughter)

Another thing which is actually interesting is how do you like manage your balance between work and things you like to do? I believe that all the people and it looks like you’re one of those who like a lot the things you do so you don’t have to actually change or it might not be that tiring but still there are things outside the work. So how do you balance that or how do you combine that with progressing as a business person? You’re addicted to extreme sports, right? And what is it? Is it the way to escape some real life, some problems or just to get more energy for work harder or what?

Josef: I think none of us really work 9.00 to 6.00 right? Or you say whether in Russia it’s a little bit different, you guys start later and finish later. But here it would be 9.00 to 6.00, especially when you have a global team or when you have customers around the world you need to focus on their time frame. I don’t see my personal activities as something that I would try to balance it or that I would try to find energy from my work. Maybe thanks to my wife being a psychologist and a personal development coach, it’s helpful here because whenever I do something I try to follow what she’s teaching and what she’s consulting. Whenever I do something, I make sure that this is actually something that is energizing me. And this is something you have to keep in mind every day. There are certain things that you just have to do, you have to answer an email to a stupid customer or simply or none of the customers are stupid let’s take it back. But you have to answer a stupid email because you just have to but there has to be something that’s actually driving you. Why are you doing this particular job? The wake up in the morning, it has to be ‘OK I am going to do something exciting today and that’s why I want to do it. That’s why I am spending my time with it.’

How do I balance it with sports? It is difficult in certain periods of year I would say. It’s easier to balance it in the end of summer, but much more difficult to balance this in October, in November when there is the peak time for everyone to purchase translations and everything around it.

Alexey: Yeah, yeah. So another one. One more question, are you going to come to the Moscow Translation Club meeting at the beginning of December?

Josef: It will be my pleasure to come, the rules that we have at Nimdzi is that there has to be a public speech, there has to be a public presentation about a topic that we do, that we consult on. So if the Moscow Translation Club will be interested in me speaking about managing teams or implementing a strategy to grow or anything like that, it will be my pleasure to join.

Alexey: We’ll be glad to see you. What are the main trends or the main news we shall discuss at the end of the year?

Josef: I think the internalization is a big topic today. Every organization, no matter how big, has to be ready for it and everyone who is starting a business today that not a very regional type is basically thinking how do I do this so that someone else in a new region can implement it? The strategy of creating the source in a way so that it is easier to localize is very important. So I would say that one of the very important topics for our sales people, the industry-wide sales people is to get to the conversation with a customer who is in the process of creating a product, not just the content around it but be there and tell them ‘If you do this in this or that way, it will make you be much more effective and much more straight forward when going to other markets other than your local one.

Alexey: OK, yeah it’s a really interesting theme so do you know that after the TFR in Moscow there was a workshop organized by Yuka Nakasone and Irina Rybnikova. And the point was internationalization and localization.

Josef: Yeah because yeah. And just to say why — well everyone has a specific set up, everyone is a little different but having this strategy of consultations with the customer, this goes back to what I said earlier. Having a partner-to-partner relationship with your customer because if you start a conversation in such a way you will actually make sure that the customer is understanding that you are giving something to them on top of just the translation service. You are adding the value to the business and to their future business. Does this make sense?

Alexey: OK, Josef, it was really nice to talk to you, thanks a lot, and we are waiting for you at the end of the year in December at the Moscow Translation Club meeting. And so I wish you good luck in your new work!