The Power of the Pivot: How listening to prospects and clients can transform your company into an industry leader
Will Fleming, CEO, MotionPoint Corporation
Recently, my company—a provider of technology solutions for business globalization—celebrated its 15th birthday. MotionPoint, with its culturally diverse team of more than 200 employees, is a pioneer in its field. But localizing websites, and later discovering ways to maximize the value and impact of those sites in ways that transcend translation, isn’t where we started.
Thanks to our recent birthday, my mind has wandered to two key moments in MotionPoint’s history—moments in 2002 and 2010 that forever altered the trajectory of the company. Had it not been for these critical pivots, MotionPoint wouldn’t be an industry leader today.
In fact, we probably wouldn’t be in business. Those lessons can be applied to your business, as well.
The First Pivot
When MotionPoint was founded in 2000, our initial focus was helping online retailers provide more complete, accurate and timely product information to shoppers. We provided this through a product we called Virtual Product Brochures. It was a cost-effective solution that helped retailers publish in-depth, well-crafted product information—especially for high-consideration products such as premium consumer electronics and appliances.
Since we understood North America’s demographics, market sizes and economies, we made these brochures available in English and Spanish for the U.S., and English and French-Canadian for Canada.
We traveled the country showing our product. Senior executives across many disciplines were fascinated, but they weren’t buying.
We asked why. The brochures were quite clever, they told us, and fascinating from a technical perspective. But the product was a “nice to have,” not a need to have. They explained that the multilingual aspect of our product really intrigued them—the product information, localized for key markets. That puzzled us, because that wasn’t a central part of our service.
What came next was revelatory, and provides useful insight into how you too can transform your business.
The executives spoke plainly, sharing insights into their business problems. They didn’t spend much time speaking about their companies in the present tense. Instead, they focused on where their businesses were going, even sharing their industries’ macro trends with us.
This was illuminating. The takeaway: When chatting with prospects and clients, uncover the impediments they want to achieve, and glean how your unique perspective can help them find a solution.
We discovered that our clients wanted an entirely different solution than what we were providing. However, they saw something special in our current offering—something aligned, not quite yet clearly or perfectly, with their goals. Would we listen?
This is a powerful crossroads for any executive to face. We all know stories of companies that missed massive shifts and opportunities because they continued to do what they always did. Western Union should’ve become AT&T. Typewriter companies should have developed computers. Constantly looking forward requires an acceptance of reality, and understanding that things change—including your business. It’s easy to become swept up in the day-to-day, but that can create a dangerous institutional myopia.
We listened closely, and with curiosity. Having genuine curiosity is critical to achieving a real understanding of person’s perspective, or a company’s business. It’s not enough to ask questions; asking endless questions becomes annoying. Asking smart questions, however, becomes engaging and valuable for everyone involved.
We asked smart questions. It became clear the challenge these companies faced had little to do with translation. It was a technology problem. With the solutions of the day, launching localized sites in international markets was too IT-intensive and expensive. The endeavor was simply too risky for these major brands.
These frank conversations gave us shocking clarity of the problem, from the website operator’s standpoint—and the opportunity from our standpoint. There was a business desire and need to be in multiple languages, but massive IT problems stood in the way.
These companies were smart, but they didn’t understand the problem the way we did. Managing the localization of our Virtual Product Brochure products gave us a unique perspective. We knew translation companies will happily translate website content, but are unaware of the IT challenges companies experience when trying to inject those translations into a localized site. In contrast, IT teams will happily buy a bunch of translation, but aren’t aware of the complexities of how that impacts business process or expenses.
This was a humbling moment for us. No one wanted the product we had initially created.
The clarity of the problem spurred us to architect a creative, innovative solution.
The Second Pivot
We revamped the business in 2002 and 2003, opting to invest in website translation, and develop unique turn-key technologies that make it inexpensive, efficient and fast for clients to deploy localized international sites—all without any client IT development. The approach was, and continues to be, a game-changer by eliminating the cost and complexity traditionally required by website translation.
Those early years were exciting, if risky. We believe it’s better to be right than popular—and we knew we were right about this.
MotionPoint’s first multilingual website debuted in Spanish in September 2003. By 2007, were launching more than 100 websites every year. We gained a reputation within the nascent website translation space as being the world’s best solution for companies with complex, dynamic sites.
The company grew, and thrived. MotionPoint has appeared on the Inc. 500 list for several consecutive years. We were highlighted as a Gartner “Cool Vendor,” and featured in several Forrester Research reports on multilingual website development. Our work was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, Internet Retailer, Hispanic Market Weekly and other publications.
But change was in the air by 2010, the year we hosted our second annual Client Forum. Executive clients from our largest companies attended the event.
During one of our presentations, an attendee raised his hand and said, “Back when MotionPoint invented this technology and process, you did exactly what we clients asked you to do. You do it wonderfully, and better than anyone else in the world.”
He paused, and then added ominously: “But we didn’t ask you to do the right thing.”
You could hear a pin drop. We didn’t understand what he meant, aside from the notion that we were doing something terribly wrong. Were our largest clients about to leave us, publicly, right before our eyes?
The executive explained his perspective. Others quickly chimed in. “We didn’t hire you to translate our site because we wanted our site in another language,” they explained. “We wanted you to translate the site because we desperately need to sell stuff in other markets.”
Launching an international site in another language is a technical problem, they said. We’d solved that. “In fact, you do it better, faster and more efficiently than anyone else,” they said. “But selling more in a new market isn’t a technical problem. It’s a business problem.”
These companies needed to do more than merely deploy translated sites in international markets. They needed to increase these sites’ traffic, engagement and conversion, and reduce bounce rates. They wanted to sell more in these markets, and generate ROI.
They needed a partner that could transcend translation and provide technology, data and expertise for winning in global markets. These things represented a skill set that MotionPoint didn’t have. We were technologists and translators, not international marketing experts!
The attendees were adamant. MotionPoint’s clients cross industries, geographies, languages and markets, they explained. MotionPoint had a unique and valuable perspective on global markets—whether we knew it or not, they said.
We soon realized that deploying localized websites wasn’t the finish line. It was the starting line. The things that actually mattered—such as powerful optimizations that impact traffic, engagement and revenue, and ensure business success—happen after launch.
Our curiosity, and eagerness to understand, had liberated that conversation. Those characteristics can also be applied in your approach.
The Company, Today
Today, we use this information and expertise to increase client sites’ traffic, conversion and average order value—while also searching for creative ways to reduce costs. MotionPoint provides tools well beyond translation to ensure that its clients succeed.
There’s always room to grow. We’re in a place where we’re enthusiastically regarded by our customers as the industry’s “best-kept secret.” That’s very flattering, but we need to become better at simplifying and clarifying our message to prospects—and our current customers—so they can better appreciate what we can do for them.
Making these pivots was the right call. They massively expanded our opportunity because they increased the value we’re able to deliver to customers. Our offering now moves the needle in a meaningful way, making us a more valuable business partner than had we remained on our previous trajectory.
All of this hinged greatly on our willingness and ability to listen to our prospects and clients. Doing so saved our company, and made us an industry leader.
Your organization can do that, too. This willingness to adapt is critical. Your customers are experts about their own businesses. The better you understand them and their needs, the better you can support them. This will lead to a depth of understanding of their current state, and will inform how your organization can help them get where they want to be.
The pivot your own company may endure to address customers’ needs—and its effectiveness—will hinge greatly on leadership. For a pivot to be truly successful, this ethos must be embraced within all corners of the organization: The business you’re in today is different than the business you’ll be in tomorrow. Change is inevitable; welcome it. Adapt to it.
Embracing this mindset expands a company’s world view, and will help foster a culture of curiosity—an open-minded way of approaching the needs of customers.
Not every conversation with a client will be a revelation, but asking smart questions will eventually uncover a better understanding of what they’re thinking, and the future they’re envisioning for their company.
This clarity and intelligence will help you understand how your company can help theirs … and how you can become a valued partner and collaborator, and not a mere service provider.
[Image courtesy: Mitya Ilyinov]
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