EPISODE 609: AI and Localization Insights with Lionbridge Canada Sales Leader Robin Ayoub

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Today’s show featured an interview with Robin Ayoub, GM/VP Sales Lionbridge Canada and President of (CLIA) Canadian Language Industry Association.

Find Robin on LinkedIn.

ROBIN’S TIP:  “This is a long-term relationship you’re building. This is good reputation that you’re trying to build across an entire organization or entire industry in some cases. It’s not a closed end transaction where I sold something and I’m done with that transaction and that transaction is gone and I’m waiting for the next transaction to come across. When we talk about professional salespeople, we’re talking about them in the context where people follow people because of the reputation of who you are as an individual, like we’re talking today on this podcast for a reason.”


Fred Diamond: I’m excited, Robin, to have you on the show, for two reasons. You actually have a pretty interesting backstory, which I’m going to ask you to share briefly because I want to get to your sales leadership insights. You’re also the first person that we’ve had in the language industry, and I want to talk about that to give people some ideas on what it means to be a successful seller in the language industry. You’re also from up north. You’re from Canada. We’re doing today’s interview in March. You said you’re getting pounded by snow. I’m in Washington, DC. We’ve had 0.0 millimeters for you guys up there, or as we like to call them, inches down here. But anyway, it’s great to see you.

I was really inspired by your story. I’m also inspired by what you’re doing. You’re the General Manager for Lionbridge for Canada. That’s a great story of how you’ve gotten to that role. I know you’re also very involved with the Canadian Language Industry Association. Are you still the president of that?

Robin Ayoub: Yes, I am.

Fred Diamond: You’ll tell us what that means as well. Robin Ayoub, it’s great to see you. Give us your backstory briefly. I don’t want to take up the whole show, but it’s quite interesting on how you got to where you are right now.

Robin Ayoub: Thanks for the introduction and thanks for making me part of the Institute of Excellence in Sales. I really appreciate the opportunity. To your viewers, hopefully, I don’t sound too boring on the podcast here. I’ll try to make it as exciting as possible. My story, just to get to it, I am originally from Lebanon. I emigrated from the Middle East to Canada, typical stories that you hear here and there. Came to Canada in the early ‘90s, 1990 I landed in Canada and found my way through a variety of jobs, tech jobs, et cetera. I found my way to discover my true DNA, which is a sales DNA. By complete accident, I became a salesperson. I was a sales engineer working on tech stuff in the telecom side of things.

Finally, somebody tapped me on the shoulder. We needed somebody to be in sales and here I was. I was shocked at the beginning that I’m a salesperson now, I’ve been tagged as a salesperson, but to my surprise, and maybe the Phoenician blood in me or something, I have no idea what it is, the first time I played the role of a salesperson, I closed one of the largest deal in the in the company. I was tagged from there on to become a salesperson. I did very well. That’s like 30 years ago now, almost. From there on, I never looked back.

I enjoy selling. I enjoy being in front of people. I enjoy learning about people, because you asked a very valid question earlier, what does it take for a salesperson to be successful? What I’ve learned over the years that I’ve been in the sales environment, is listening and learning about people. The more I listen, the more I learn about people, the more I can harness my skills in terms of what do I bring in terms of value to the conversation. Not necessarily selling, but to the conversation. Selling comes later. Bring value to the conversation so that perhaps down the road a service or a product becomes evident as a solution in terms of what you’re trying to do.

Fred Diamond: Now, interestingly, as you talked about listening, I kept saying the language industry, but also more specifically, I guess it’s localization. It’s an interesting twist because a lot of times I’ll interview sales VPs. As a matter of fact, prior to the pandemic, I was doing all my interviews in person, and I would always say, “Tell us your main skill, your strength.” Eight out of 10 times the sales VP I would interview would say, “I’m a great listener.” The 66% solution, two ears, one mouth, use them in that order. I’m just curious, the ties to listening, and I’m finally speaking to a VP of sales in the language localization industry. Give some insights. First of all, tell us what the localization industry means. Again, you’re the President of the Canadian Language Industry Association. Tell us what you sell, to whom. I’m curious if there’s any ties to listening and selling this type of a solution.

Robin Ayoub: The language industry or the localization industry, and sometime referred to L10N, and that’s a play on word. The first letter is L in localization, and then the last letter is N. The combination of the letters is L10N. That’s referred to as a localization industry, is the service that is provided to a variety of industries where you need to take content from one language to another. Be it a software, be it a user manual, be it a website, a video, an audio file, any type of content that needs to go from one language to another language to address the need of a specific demographics. Let’s say I’m located in the United States. I need to sell a product in China. I need the Chinese consumer to understand my product, or work with my product in a certain way. Obviously, they need to understand the technical documentation that goes with the product. Therefore, you need to translate or you need to localize the content associated with this product for this particular region.

The listening part, very valid, and that’s personally hit me really hard, because I speak three languages. But the predominant language I speak most of the day is English. However, I’m involved in other languages. When somebody throws at you a conversation in another language, let’s say when I start speaking French, for instance, or start in a conversation in French or in Arabic, I have to really listen. Because I don’t practice the language often, and if I don’t practice it often, I got to really listen the first few minutes so I can get my brain tuned back into what is this conversation about? Therefore, I allow myself to listen quite a bit for me to, A, to regain comfort in that language, and that takes a couple of minutes like anybody who speaks multiple language would attest to that.

Then the second thing is to engage effectively in a conversation. Most people, regardless of the language they speak, if you’re involved in a sales conversation with somebody, normally people come to talk to a sales individual to express a dissatisfaction, or to describe a problem, or to describe a situation they currently have, and they’re looking for help. They’re seeking help. We can’t just bombard them with a whole bunch of conversations. First we have to listen to, what is it that is painful for them? Then try to understand it really clearly, what is not working, and try to offer solutions, especially when you do it in two, three languages.

Fred Diamond: We’re doing today’s interview in March of 2023. Obviously, one of the big buzzwords all over the place is AI, artificial intelligence. Especially with your industry, I have to imagine it plays a huge role. Talk a little bit about that, and how has AI either affected your sales processes or how your sales team goes to market? Or has it made it easier, harder? I’m just curious.

Robin Ayoub: AI has been around for many years, and obviously every once in a while we see a little bit of an increment in evolution of AI. From years past, we’ve looked at not just AI, any technology that comes to the industry of either content in general, or localization in particular, as an assisted tool. It’s a tool that helps us do work either more effectively, faster, better quality, et cetera, depends on which content we’re talking about. AI, at the initial thought, it was thought to be, “Oh my God, it’s going to take away jobs. It’s going to reduce an industry to zero.” But that’s not the case at all. We have not seen that at all. There are various factors for why this hasn’t happened, and it will not happen in my opinion.

We talk about the fact that a human is always going to be in the middle of the technology, meaning that we are going to need people to harness the power of technology, engineer the technology, design, customize, et cetera. That’s A. B, I’m sure with time this problem will be solved, but currently speaking, there is certain types of content that requires a human to inspect, to assure that the quality of that content is good and accurate in the target language that we’re intending to. Human in the middle will always be around.

Now, if you were to think about the AI and all the technology that’s helping us, it’s a blessing, to be honest with you. Here’s why. Content has been growing year over year on an average of 20% to 30%, 40% in some years, depends on what’s going on in the world in a particular year. I remember the first year of COVID, 2020, that content in general grew like by 35%, 40% in some cases. If we were to think about the content that’s aggregately being created around the world industries, et cetera, and you were to say all this content needs to be translated, or a specific amount of it needs to be translated, we would require many more qualified translators than we currently have to do the work, and we don’t have those. The universities are not producing them fast enough. Technology, it’s a solution to offset some of that content growth that perhaps we don’t have enough people to get it done with. But it doesn’t mean that we are going to replace humans. Humans will always have a role. Professionals will always have a role to play in either, A, like I said earlier, designing, inspecting, making sure the machine is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and/or inspecting the output of those machines.

Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about who do you sell to typically when you’re selling localization language services. Give us a little bit of an insight into that sales process. Who do you typically sell to? Who’s actually the buyer or multiple buyers within an entity as well?

Robin Ayoub: Hits right to the point, and I love this question. I’ve never been asked this question before, I’ve never been asked to give the secret sauce, but here I am. There’s two types of selling in any industry, and localization is one of them. We can either sell directly to the user and say, “Mr. Customer, we provide X, Y, Z services. Would you like us to assist you and provide our services to your organization?” This is when the user says, “You know what? Timely conversation, great. Here’s a document for you to be translated, so please translate that.” That’s one way to do it.

The second way to do it, which is my favorite, is the strategic selling. I’m a very firm believer of the Miller Heiman process where you transform an organization by introducing a new solution, a solution that can have bigger impact on an organization, either reducing cost across the organization, streamlining a process, and/or let the organization focus on what’s core to them. If you go around in any organization around the world and ask them the specific question, is translation or localization core to your business? Most likely the answer is no. Nobody says, “It’s a core to my business and I’m going to invest heavily in it.” Even if you do invest in localization in your organization, be it a bank or a pharmaceutical company, are you going to invest to the same level as an organization who’s specialized in localization? Obviously not. My sales process is two-pronged approach. Talk to the user, see if we can do business immediately, and talk to the executive to see if we can transform an organization business model at the top.

Fred Diamond: Who do you typically sell to? Is it the business owners? Is it someone in content, or L&D? I’m sure it’s across the board, depending on what the company is looking to achieve.

Robin Ayoub: Because translation is such a tricky topic, it is not one decision maker per se. You have to have a conversation across the entire organization. Let me give you an example. If you’re a translation vendor for a bank, guess what? Marketing needs to be satisfied with this service. You need to have a marketing conversation. You need to have a conversation with the legal department because they need to be satisfied with the choice, et cetera. All the departments in the bank now become your decision maker, or pharmaceutical company, et cetera. Anybody can really now vote you in or out. You pretty much need to have a conversation with anybody who produces content, and if that content needs to be translated, which makes it more complex.

The localization industry is a, I don’t want to say is a high profitability industry. It isn’t. It’s labor intensive. It is not high profitability industry. The selling of it, in some cases, it’s complex. In some other cases, it’s not that complex at all. You just say, “I do translation, and if you need my services, please find me.” But we sell to a variety of sectors, like anybody else I guess in the industry. We sell to banks, pharmaceuticals, government agencies, manufacturing, engineering, a variety. It’s a horizontal service that goes across.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about something slightly different. Again, I mentioned before that you were elected in 2020 the President of the Canadian Language Industry Association. You were reelected in 2022. You’ve been doing this for four years. A lot of our listeners are sales professionals who want to grow their career. Talk about the involvement with an association as such, and taking a leadership position. A, why did you do it? B, how has it helped you in your career? Has it helped Lionbridge in any regards? I know what it’s like to be involved with industry associations, and it can take up a lot of time and energy. Give us some insights for the sales professionals listening who want to take their sales career to the next level, and why specifically this could be of value, something like this, in their own industry could be of value to them.

Robin Ayoub: A few years ago I thought it’s time for me to give back to the industry, to the community of language industry associations in Canada. I’d been involved in it at the time for almost 16 years, 18 years. I thought why not run and work with these with this association? I saw an opportunity. I think I wanted to improve what they’re doing, because I’ve known the association for many years, and I saw an opportunity to do something a little different, something a little bit better, and so I joined, and I ran for election and I was elected. That’s not the only association I’m involved in. I’m involved in a couple of others. What does it do for a salesperson?

I’m always hit by the notion that the salesperson is compared in most people’s mind to the last salesperson that you buy your car from. That’s not truly what a salesperson is. We talk about the distinction between professional salesperson and auto dealer salesperson. I’m not knocking anybody down, but what I’m saying is there’s a little bit of a distinction where we go in and we look at the world from a different angle. This is a long-term relationship you’re building. This is good reputation that you’re trying to build across an entire organization or entire industry in some cases. It’s not a closed end transaction where I sold something and I’m done with that transaction and that transaction is gone and I’m waiting for the next transaction to come across. When we talk about professional salespeople, we’re talking about them in the context where people follow people because of the reputation of who you are as an individual, like we’re talking today on this podcast for a reason. I read about your institute, I read about your organization. I felt something positive there, and that’s why we’re having this conversation.

Similarly, if a salesperson wants to increase their credibility out there, and they want to put some star rating on their reputation, on their careers, because everybody goes by star rating now, is to start getting involved. Getting involved in communities, and getting involved in associations, and the notion here is to give back to the industry. Give back to the community that you’re working in, to the industry that you’re working in, and contribute positively to that. This is not about me getting paid a salary or getting paid a commission. That’s not the only aspect of it. To maintain this, I need to give back to a community. I need to give back to somebody, to something. In this case, I chose the Canadian Language Industry Association.

Fred Diamond: I love your answer here for a couple of reasons. One is, at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, which I run, we are all about helping employers attract, retain, motivate, and elevate top tier sales professionals with an emphasis on women and minority in sales. But we talk about it as, if you’re a sales professional, what does a professional do? We talk sometimes golfers, they’re out there putting five hours a day, and at the driving range five hours a day, and they’re watching their weight and they’re watching what they eat and working on mindfulness, et cetera. Same thing with a sales professional. What does a sales professional do? They join organizations like yours because the professionals realize they need to be great at the processes of sales. But the great salespeople out there, the ones who are truly professionals and elite, Robin, they’re involved in the industries that they serve.

When people ask me, “Fred, what is your suggestion on how I could really elevate my career?” I say, become the expert on your industry. Understand what your customer is dealing with, understanding the resources, understanding the laws, the compliance regulations. Understanding the history of your industry as well, so that you then become a resource and hopefully what you’re selling is of value as well. But I appreciate your answer and it’s a great answer. Before I ask you for your final action step, you’ve given us so many great ideas, you’re one of the first sales leaders in the over 600 shows we’ve done who is based in Canada. I’m just curious, is there anything unique?

By the way, I want to let you know, I’m one of the only people from the United States who can name all of the provinces in Canada. I’m going to guess that there’s even some people in Canada. I can name them all, I can go through them all. FYI, and I think you and I talked about that once before, and Canadians are always very impressed that I understand Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Labrador, et cetera. But seriously, is there anything unique or specific about selling to Canadian companies that would be of interest to our listeners here?

Robin Ayoub: I’m glad you asked the question, and I’ve sold on both sides of the border. I’ll get to Canada in a second. What I found selling in the US is the individual or companies or businesses, if they see something they like, they make a decision for the essence of time. They don’t evaluate too much, they don’t analyze it too much. They do enough analysis to allow them to say yay or nay and move on. In Canada, I think we do a lot more analysis, and the sales cycle is a little longer. Analysis and investigation and back and forth. What I found when I sold in the US is like if I show the customer a service or something that they like, they can make a decision now or next few days, a week. If I do the same thing in Canada, that sales cycle could take even months.

Fred Diamond: Is it because of the snow or why is that the case?

Robin Ayoub: Well, what I take it back is they want to make the right decision. In Canada, because nobody wants to make the wrong decision, not just specifically to Canada, but any country, nobody wants to make the wrong decision. The risk tolerance for a Canadian decision maker is much less, because their job career, it’s all riding on this, and making the wrong decision will probably reflect negatively on them, if they selected the wrong vendor, or they selected the wrong product, et cetera. They take a lot of stock into that and they make sure that they’re absolutely making the right decision. However, I’ve seen it in the US like, okay, so you made the wrong decision, move on, let’s get another vendor in. That’s fine. In Canada it’s a little bit more detailed than this.

Fred Diamond: I’ve worked at Apple, and Compaq, and Compuware. Typically I was in marketing related roles. One thing I learned relatively quickly was the customer is probably going to be in the job for a good portion of their career. When you sell technology, you can move from place to place, and there’s layoffs and all those kind of things, so you want to be nimble. Although it is good in some cases to be with a place for your entire career. Customers typically don’t want to leave. If they’re a Director of IT, or if they’re a Director of Compliance, whatever it might be, when they have a good job, they usually want to stay 20, 30 years. You’re absolutely right. If they make a bad decision, the classic ones was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the $500 million ERP solution that didn’t work. It’s a career limiting move. That is a fascinating answer.

I asked you to briefly tell us your backstory. It is quite fascinating to listen to it. You’ve overcome a lot of adversity, some unique situations that most people who are listening to the show I’m sure haven’t had to overcome. You lived in a very challenging area for a large part of your early life and had to make some decisions that were very probably challenging and painful. But I just wanted to acknowledge you for your career success and the work you’re doing with the Canadian Language Industry Association and the service that you’re bringing to customers. Thank you for that and thanks for being on our show. Give us a final action step, something specific. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas, but something listeners can do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Robin Ayoub: The only thing I can say to your listeners, if they were interested in taking their sales career to the next level, be passionate. Be passionate about what you’re doing, and ask yourself the question, if you were to be doing this job for free, would you do it? If the answer is yes, you are in the right place. If the answer is no, you may want to check another job. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing.

Fred Diamond: I’m sure you don’t encourage people to do it for free.

Robin Ayoub: You got to do some soul searching.

Fred Diamond: That’s true. I gave a flip answer, my apologies. But for the people who are really successful, and we’ve spoken to over 600 of them, we talk to them every day at great companies at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, they’re really passionate about the service that they’re bringing to their customer. There’s a book that we refer to a lot of times. It’s called Selling with Noble Purpose. It was written by a woman called Lisa Earle McLeod. We’ve had her on the show a couple of times, and she basically focuses on the great salespeople are the ones that have a purpose, and with purpose comes passion. I want to thank Robin Ayoub for being on today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast. My name is Fred Diamond.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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