This month, we sat down with Nataly Kelly, VP of Localization at Hubspot and author of one of the language industry’s most well-known blogs, Born to be Global. Hubspot, a leading platform of marketing, sales, customer service, and CRM software, plus educational resources for professionals in these fields, is available in 8 languages. Read on to learn how the company’s unique localization structure drives its success, why Nataly started her own blog, and her advice on how to avoid some of the most common localization mistakes.
Hi Nataly, thanks for joining us! Can you start by telling us a bit about your career path and how you ended up at HubSpot and working in localization?
Thank you for having me, it’s my pleasure to be here! My first job was working as a Spanish interpreter for AT&T Language Line. I eventually became a court-certified interpreter and started taking freelance translation jobs, including software localization projects, from Spanish into English. I was always very attracted to technology. I was a very early blogger, back in the 1990s. I’ve been a major fan of digital technologies ever since — especially tools that help people connect and share knowledge, like CMS tools, martech, and CRM solutions.
I first became aware of HubSpot while working as a VP of Marketing at a venture-funded B2B SaaS company. Their content was invaluable to me. A CMO mentor suggested I reach out to HubSpot marketing leaders — he said they were the best in the world to learn from about content marketing… and he was 100% right! Many years later, I still continue to learn from the best of the best at HubSpot. I originally was hired at HubSpot as a VP of Marketing, and then moved into Operations, and ran international expansion and strategy for four years, so localization naturally fell under these umbrellas.
I truly love the culture, people, and the technology we build at HubSpot. We have such visionary founders, an amazing female CEO who is an immigrant herself, and many inspiring executives and board members who are female and people of color. The diversity of people I get to work with and learn from is a major part of what I love most about my job at HubSpot.
We’ve heard from localization leaders from many companies throughout this series, and all of them handle localization slightly differently. What is the structure of your team/department? Where does it fit within HubSpot? Do you do everything in-house or outsource certain aspects of localization?
It’s fascinating how different we all are! I would say we differ from most companies in terms of localization in a few key ways. First, organizationally, our team has always lived on the GTM (go-to-market) side of the business. So, we align closely with revenue generation and customer-facing teams. As a result, we are closely intertwined with business strategy.
Second, localization is completely centralized at HubSpot, but marketing makes up the vast majority of our work. Content marketing is a big part of our GTM approach, so marketing localization is huge. Third, we have a unique resourcing model in which we leverage in-house linguistic experts for core languages along with translation agencies and contractors. We are constantly evolving our resourcing model to map to the needs of our business, and in recent years we have been focusing more on the Product/UI side too.
Lastly, perhaps the most unique piece about localization at HubSpot is that we are hugely focused on the end customer, versus just internal stakeholders. We look at the entire customer experience in other languages, so that we can seek to provide an equitable experience to customers in every language. Our team actually measures the customer experience in all of the core languages we support, identifies specific areas for improvement, and partners with other teams to fix those gaps.
Besides your job at HubSpot, you also regularly post on your blog, Born To Be Global. What inspired you to start this project? How do you decide which topics to cover?
Well, let’s just say I’m a big believer in karma! Put good out into the world, and it tends to come back around. My number one reason for blogging is to help people, give back to the industry, and enable others to learn from whatever I’m learning. This has always been my goal with writing. With my first book, I wanted to help others learn about telephone interpreting, because there was no helpful book on the topic, and I saw the field growing and felt that resource was needed. With my second book, I wanted to help elevate the translation profession and get people to see how important this role is in society.
I truly believe digital technologies can help improve people’s lives, all over the world. If I can play a part in helping other businesses impact more people, that’s extremely rewarding.
With my blog, I hope to help more digital companies expand internationally, and to avoid the typical pains and challenges that come with it. Yet again, I don’t see anyone else writing about that exact topic, so I hope to fill that gap. My primary motivation for creating the blog is that I truly believe digital technologies can help improve people’s lives, all over the world. If I can play a part in helping other businesses impact more people, that’s extremely rewarding.
I also really love the new connections I make thanks to the blog, especially where I can help out with international growth challenges. I’m a business advisor for a company in Ireland called Lottie Dolls and a board member for Multilingual. I’m always keeping an eye out for other board and advisory opportunities, mostly because I’ve learned a ton from being part of the GTM team for one of the world’s fastest-growing SaaS companies. I love to give back and play a meaningful part of helping other companies in their growth journey too. The blog really helps me to do that!
Let’s talk marketing localization. You have a background working both fields, and HubSpot is a massive resource and tool for those of us who work in marketing. How do you feel these two things fit or should fit together in a company’s overall business strategy? What’s the most important thing that marketing teams should think about when it comes to localization?
Oh great, that’s one of my favorite topics! I’ll always be a marketer at heart. More and more companies are realizing that marketing and localization are sisters. In both fields, we care about content, we care about how specific words resonate with audiences, we care about using language creatively to generate impact and drive business results.
What’s interesting at HubSpot is that we take into account localization with regard to overall business strategy, but it’s more than just localization — it’s looking at the entire market and considering the complexity of entering it, So, English proficiency becomes a natural part of the conversation. Likewise, our marketing team takes a more holistic view of the customer experience than most marketing teams do. Localization is a natural part of that.
So, I think the most important thing marketing teams should think about when it comes to localization is the overall customer experience in another language. Far too many companies have a short-sighted view, and they say “let’s localize our website” or “let’s localize our product” or “let’s hire some salespeople who speak the language.” In reality, you need to think through each step of the customer journey, and how you’ll support it in each language.
Great point. What do you think is one of the most common mistakes you see being made when companies try to use localization to go global? What advice would you give them to do it better?
Strategy should always come first, but it rarely does for businesses in growth mode, because international growth is just one of many growth levers companies are focused on. Look before you leap! That is the number one mistake I see happening.
That’s a great question. I see so many companies hire someone for localization before they even have a clearly defined international strategy! Strategy should always come first, but it rarely does for businesses in growth mode, because international growth is just one of many growth levers companies are focused on. Look before you leap! That is the number one mistake I see happening. Companies lunge into localization before they even know which markets are important for them. As a result, they tend to go into too many languages at once, or they go into languages for markets they aren’t truly prepared to address, or worse yet, both! How I wish I could warn them earlier, to prevent the friction and heartache that comes with that common mistake.
A related mistake I see companies make is thinking about localization in terms of languages instead of markets. Country is even more important than language in many cases. It’s tempting to just “add a language” and seems easy to do, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. You have to think through so many other factors to properly support the customer experience for a given market, too many for us to talk about today!
My number one piece of advice would be, before you spend even one cent on localization, consult with an expert and figure out what international expansion path will best support your company’s top-line revenue goals. Then, every dollar you spend will have a much higher ROI, and align with your overall business objectives. Don’t spread yourself too thin; instead, be strategic and focus on the markets that make the most sense for your business. Then, localization will transform from merely just a cost center and a reactive player into a key enabler and a strong partner in generating international revenue, just as it should be.