In my previous post, I outlined why Web 2.0 companies have been natural Smartling early adopters and chose us for translating websites. But Smartling has also signed up larger companies—some of which might at first seem surprising.
But I believe there are clear reasons why these particular companies have signed up, and that those reasons have broader implications for all B2B Web 2.0 companies. In this post, I’m going first to consider why Fortune 500 and other large companies are typically not customers of Web 2.0 vendors, and then look at the qualities and circumstances that distinguish the ones that have become Smartling customers.
What Stops Fortune 500 Companies From Signing Up
First, then, what stops them?
Culture: According to the stereotype, employees of Fortune 500 and other longer-established organizations are gray, middle-aged and conservative. Innovation , and the people who offer it, scare them. While this stereotype is an exaggeration, large organizations are naturally more conservative.
Institutional history: Established businesses have existing contracts and relationships. These are not confined to the exchange of services for money—many involve personal friendships, which act like cement to ensure that expiring contracts gets re-signed. This is not good for newcomers.
And a couple of reasons why these companies might be resistant to Smartling in particular:
Existing systems: Most large international corporations already have websites in multiple languages, with entire infrastructures to serve them.
Scale: Often these companies’ websites are large and complex. Nobody wants to mess with them—and if us Smartlings are realistic, we don’t want to either (at least not yet).
Exceptions to the Rules
In spite of these obstacles, Smartling has landed contracts to translate websites with one of the most conservative financial houses in the country, and with one of the largest manufacturers (among others). How?
One factor is that large companies are not monolithic. While broadly conservative, they often have divisions or projects that are not subject to corporate contracts and/or are overseen by younger, more technically-minded managers, who are alert to—and excited by—the potential benefits of Web 2.0 solutions. This was the case with Pratt & Whitney, who now use Smartling to translate a free-standing website into multiple languages.
Another factor is that not all large companies have enormous websites—or they may have a separate “corporate site” as well. The financial powerhouse Blackstone falls into the first category, and another Smartling client, Thomson Reuters, with its enormous web presence as a provider of information services but a compact “top level” corporate site, into the second. In both cases, the folks in charge of a monolingual corporate website understood that Smartling could give them the international site that they needed efficiently and effectively—and no existing contracts blocked them from doing so.
What Does This Mean for Web 2.0 Vendors?
The quick takeaway from this is that Web 2.0 vendors looking to do business with Fortune 500 and other large companies should not be discouraged. They should instead identify specific opportunities, possibly of relatively limited scope, within those companies. In many cases these opportunities will arise in smaller semi-autonomous units where the leadership is less constrained by the corporate culture and more open to new solutions. In others, the opportunity may lie in the fact that the service that they offer addresses a relatively limited need that is not core to the client’s trading operations