How Salesforce Drives a Global Localization Engine

How Salesforce Drives a Global Localization Engine
October 11, 2017
How does the world's leading CRM platform localize highly complex business software to make it easier for more than 150,000 companies across the globe to build stronger relationships with their customers? Join us to learn how Salesforce drives localization to new levels.
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Renato This week on Globally Speaking, we have our first return guest. Previously, she talked about her role and importance of the Unconference in providing a place for localization professionals to share ideas, skills, and improve the general IQ of the industry. Today, in a conversation with Michael, they discuss her actual job—her day job—and the challenges in running a localization group in an enterprise software product. And what she thinks we should be looking for in a strategic partnership. Let’s get our guest to introduce herself.
Teresa I’m Teresa Marshall. I’m the senior director of localization and globalization at Salesforce, which means I own and am responsible for all of globalization and localization efforts within the R&D organization of Salesforce.
Michael So you own all the localization within the R&D. That includes products. That includes…what’s the scope within R&D.
Teresa It includes all of product localization. So no matter what, like all the clouds that Salesforce has. It includes technical documentation, documentation that our support organization uses, especially in direct communication to the admins of Salesforce. It also includes our training product called Trailhead, which is a completely new animal for us. It includes any sort of products that are built on our platform that belong to Salesforce but not necessarily into a particular business unit, as well as all of the products that are mobile.
Michael Okay. So your background is not just…we’ve had you on the podcast before, talking about the Unconference and that area, but you’ve also worked for some other large companies in The Valley. Talk about the size of company and things you’ve learned in that time, where you’ve been.
Teresa So I actually started out as a linguist. And I started out as linguist on the vendor side, and then moved into program management and management all within localization. And I guess the biggest company was Google, which has been a while back by now.
Michael Were they big when you were there?
Teresa Well, they were just…let’s say they were starting out. There were about three people in localization when I started and 45 when I left.
Michael Yea. So even Google starting out can be bigger than some people’s.
Teresa Yes, totally.
Michael And if you could talk at a high level. What is localization at these big enterprise companies…what would you say is the biggest difference than what other companies may come up against?
Teresa That’s a really interesting question. I think it really depends on what space you are in. So the first sort of difference I think for me, in my experience but also just something that is consistently reiterated to me, is like it really depends on, are you on the business side of things or are you providing business software—B2B or B2C—or are you a consumer company.

So with Google, I came from a consumer company, right. So we were doing email, Gmail, and all of these other things, and calendar.
Michael So individuals have the chance to choose whether they use the product or not.
Teresa Right, and most of them, if you disregard the whole advertising part of it, most of them are pretty much free. So you’re providing a service or a product for free. Salesforce doesn’t. It’s not a free product. It’s a very highly sophisticated…it’s a business software, a business product. It means to be, and is, a lot of things to a lot of different people. So our customer is very different. So the role, the persona of our admin, of our end user, and how they are, as a population, using our software is very different than in some of the other big enterprises. So then, that probably makes a big enterprise not very much different than a smaller enterprise business software company.
Michael So there’s sort of similarities within the vertical?
Teresa Right. Exactly. Well the most obvious thing is if you’re a big enterprise is the scope that you just highlighted is huge. So we have not only all the clouds and all this sort of volume that we deal with, but we have a large number of languages that are driven not only by corporate marketing and where our corporate marketing sees the next target for us as a company, or where any corporate marketing would see that, but it’s also where our user is. Where are our customers, and where do they want to be.
Michael How many languages do you guys support at the moment?
Teresa Right now, 34 that are actually localized in two tiers. And then we have about 65 where we provide the ability for the customer to build on top of our platform.
Michael Okay, you said 65.
Teresa Sixty-five.
Michael In addition to the 34?
Teresa In addition to those, yes.
Michael And that’s sort of like self-localized. The customer wants to do it?
Teresa Those are primarily provided so that our customers can build on top of our platform. Primarily in terms of custom apps. It’s basically the grammatical structure that you would need for those languages to be grammatically correct in the display, in the UI.
Michael Okay. I remember years ago, the first time you and I even talked, you had lunch with me to basically tell me I don’t even know enough to understand what you guys are doing at Salesforce. And it’s taken me about 10 years, and I think I may be starting to understand. And it has to do with that grammatical structure around your UI.

You all were early on into this area of having custom fields and being allowed to have this dynamic content that users can change, and generate their own terminology for, essentially. And that created unique, very customizable challenges in your localization team.
Teresa Yea, I think the easiest way to describe it is like if you have your regular interface. Let’s use an email program as an example, and you said “I don’t want to call ‘Inbox’, ‘Inbox’, I want that to be ‘My Letters’ or I want that to be something else.
Michael The “Great Folder of All That’s Important” or something.
Teresa Exactly, so in our software, you can do that. You can go in and you can rename a particular object or that particular item to fit your business jargon, to fit your sales process, to fit your personal preferences. And that’s reasonably easy to do, something that we all struggle with. Concatenations; you can do that. Dynamic substitutes in the UI, but it becomes really difficult when you talk about other languages that are case-sensitive and have gender, and all these kinds of things. So we actually developed a grammar engine that helps with that, and we have those grammar engines in those 34 languages that we localize, plus the 65 that we support. And here’s the really cool thing, we just open-sourced that, actually.
Michael Oh, that’s great.
Teresa So, that is available for anybody to use, to contribute to, to take a look at and say “this is all good”, or not, or propose improvements.
Michael Which would be hugely valuable for smaller companies, for startups, for people who are just now entering into it. They may have aspirations of being 34-plus languages. To be able to get a grammar engine that allows them to understand the rules and the structures out of the gate with you all. That’s great. Where can people find that?
Teresa It’s in Salesforce public open source gate hub, so you can find that, but we can certainly find the URL. It’s been published. We are actually going to talk about it at Unicode as well. So there’s going to be a number of presentations and a blog that is coming out about that.
Michael So, we talked about some of the sort of intricacies of what was happening at Salesforce. I think some people in your position would say, because we have such unique challenges—at least however many years ago when you started at Salesforce and when it was unique at that time, it may be less now—we are going to find the premiere company in the industry to support us as a partner for language, and here are the top 5-10 companies, and we’re only going to consider them. And it seems like a lot of companies start thinking that way. We’re an enterprise company and we want to work with enterprise-style companies. You actually took a very different approach to this. Can you talk about that?
Teresa Yes, I think there’s two things to remember too. We weren’t quite the big enterprise that we are today when all of that started, but I think it’s still applicable.
Michael Roughly how many languages were you supporting then?
Teresa So, I want to say we were at 10.
Michael Okay
Teresa And the interesting part, how all of this came about is really that one day or so the story goes, our CEO woke up and said “I want my customers to be able to rename everything. We shouldn’t dictate what the sales process looks like for them or how we call it, so you need to make this rename-able.”
Michael Let’s double the number of developers and start our whole process over again.
Teresa Sure. And the person who owned localization was smart enough and went in and said, “That’s impossible. You’re going to ruin anything that is localized; anything that is translated and pretends to be localized.” And so they said, “Here are two of the smartest engineers. Go figure it out.” And it was a massive undertaking, even when it was six languages or 12 languages, whatever it was back then. Because it required a complete rewrite of how message strings are written, leaving out all of the grammatical details. Just having to rewrite your entire UI is a massive undertaking, even if, at that point, it was a much smaller company; a much smaller product.

So within that effort, it was also clear that you can’t just hire six linguists that do that. You have to scale that. So with some background in localization project management, the owner went out and said ok, we’re going to find somebody who I can trust, where I can have a direct conversation with a linguist, because I don’t know what the grammar structure is in Russian. There’s only so many books I can read in a week to figure that out. Specifically, we have about a day and a half to write the grammar for a particular new language. And so, that was really the start of a vendor relationship, going in and almost pretending to be working directly with individual linguists, rather than with a big sort of powerhouse of localization services.
Michael So the partner was able to step aside and let the linguists come up to the front and do that?
Teresa Right.
Michael And that’s what you all were looking for, was that type of relationship.
Teresa Right. So it was less on the brand and the style and the tone, and it was really having conversations about “how does possessive work in Finnish” and of the thousands of cases that you have, which ones do we need. Because the grammar engine takes a look at nouns and articles and adjectives. We don’t deal with verbs. There’s a lot of within the conventional understanding of a grammar of a language that we completely disregard. But we sort of focus it on what do we know, or what do we need to know in order to make the UI work?
Michael Because those three factors, as soon as you add verbs to it, it becomes too complex.
Teresa We don’t allow the renaming of verbs. So you can’t say “open this” and say “I don’t want to call it ‘open’, I want to call it…I don’t know, make it up here or whatever. I can’t come up with a good example. There’s just some standard fields that are always the same and they have to be always the same. And they’re typically by now standardized across different products as well. When you apply a change, you say “apply” and when you send something, it’s “send”. It’s not “post” unless it’s actually posted in the sense of a social media post or something. So there’s a standardization of the UI language that happened that has nothing to do with individual companies. And so we saw that we don’t need to worry about those, because the renamed noun that’s part of an overall sentence. The sentence itself still gets translated just how it would be if we didn’t do renaming.
Michael Was that a decision you all were making from a business perspective and would benefit you all, or was it also what the customer was asking for?
Teresa So it was primarily…like what we determined as renamable is always sort of top-level entities, if you want to call it that. The standard objects that we have within our business software, and we’ve been trying to be as open as possible so that it has a big benefit to the customer, but restricted where either the complexity of a language would be too difficult to deal with, and too, almost like distracting. If you look at our various CRM-focused part of the software, the big objects are “Accounts” and “Leads” and “Opportunities” and “Contacts”. And those may change, and they change very quickly in the sense of, like if you’re a business. If you’re healthcare, maybe you don’t think about “Contacts”, maybe you think about “Patients”. And then, why do you need to teach your end-user? The person that you have…your salesperson, or whoever you have working with Salesforce or with that program that you have to remember that Contacts is actually our Patients. Why not be able to go in and say “I want to call this ‘Patients’”? And that’s how the idea was born.
Michael Actually, in that space, that’s very much a strategic advantage because you have entire sales processes, customer-service processes centered around how that industry talks about itself, how they do business. All the jargon. It was a little bit of both. It was a business decision for you all and also what the customer was asking for. So you found this partner, who was able to serve these needs. Get you to step out of the way. And they happen to not be one of the larger companies in the industry. Do you see that as being a unique advantage? Because in general, I hear a lot of conversation—we’re actually having a panel on this coming up—that it’s how do small companies not get treated like second-class citizens by the larger providers in the industry. How do these startups get the attention? Whereas, you’ve kind of done the opposite.
Teresa Right. It was maybe quite not so much the opposite, but I think what happened on the one hand organically, and on the other hand just because of need, basically, is we were looking for a partner who would be interested enough in this kind of work when we were not the big enterprise. We weren’t the thousand-pound gorilla in the room who could demand anything. We were a reasonably sized company with something really complicated that we knew was going to take extra work that is hard to teach and you have to re-teach and re-instruct and check and re-test and everything like that. That is beyond regular translation. Software translation is never that easy, but we were upping the ante on that a little bit. When we actually talk about what our translators have to do on the UI, we sometimes describe it as linguistic engineering, because you have to add attributes to the strings that would never be there and are very specific to a particular language. What we found was a partner who wasn’t the same size as us, but was interested in a medium-sized business. I don’t know whether we would technically qualify for a description of a medium-sized business back then but this was about 10 years ago. We definitely weren’t as known as we are now. We’re not one of the big consumer product companies out there, where everybody is just clamoring to work with them. It’s helped us in two ways, because pretty quickly most vendors knew we had a solid partner, and we’re complex and we didn’t want to…it didn’t open us up to this constant barrage of “hey, you should be working with us”.
Michael Some of what I’m hearing from you is less about company size and…good business practice, good customer-focused practice. The two things I would simplify what you said down to are: get out of the way and let the translators speak—have that connection—and the second is don’t be afraid of complex problems. If you’re willing to enter into complex problems, regardless of what size your company is, you may be able to engage a more sophisticated, a more mature program, or a program that is growing—that could grow alongside your company.
Teresa Yes. Because of the complexity of what we deal with, what was always really important to us is to make sure that this is a partnership. The success of my vendor is ultimately my success. You know that I had very few people internally who worked on localization or our infrastructure. And there was no way that we could have scaled to over 30 languages with three people internally. I think what differentiates us from a lot of the other big enterprise localization teams is that we are a handful of people. So we can sustain and grow our localization practice and our localization efforts because we have a partner that is truly a partner and not seen as a supplier.
Michael And your partner has probably grown at least to the extent that you all have as a business, if not more, so you’re able to keep your internal employee number lower, and they’re able to scale.
Teresa Like any sort of vendor relationship, the advantage for me is that I have a core team in-house, I have a core team on the partner side, and a team of resources around that partner that scales up and down to whatever we need. It wasn’t “oh let me hire 10 people” and then the business goes away. We were fully taking advantage of outsourcing our work.
Michael Shifting gears a little bit, starting this 10 years ago, you guys have had this, what would now be considered more consistent, straight-lined growth pattern. A lot of the companies that are coming out now are looking more for that hockey stick type of growth pattern. The Ubers. The Pinterests. I think Pinterest went into 32 languages in six months or something like it. They took the world by force. Do you see a difference from where you are and how to achieve the same goals of growth but in a much shorter period of time?
Teresa Well it certainly was an advantage that we ramped up relatively slowly but at the same time if you looked at the number…
Michael Did it feel slow when you were doing it? It probably didn’t.
Teresa No, I think what was fast for us is not necessarily going from zero to 32 languages. It was more like, here’s one core product, now we have this plethora of clouds and business units around it. That’s where this explosive growth came in. It went from one kind of streamlined product to sort of this broad, you know…
Michael The number of acquisitions and what’s been brought in by the sales…
Teresa Would I go about it the same way? I think from an approach point of view, how to approach a vendor and how to build that partnership, I think it would be the same. The biggest difference in how I look at my partner versus how partners are presented to me; purchasing presents suppliers to me; or how we dealt with this at a previous employer is really…I consider our vendor a partner. It’s not a supplier. We’re not supplying water coolers or pencils or something like that. This is really high-skilled work. And wherever you can build that, that’s where, that’s how I would approach that. It could be a big localization vendor or it could be a really tiny one that is taking the chance of saying “ok, they’re really going to give us the business” or something. But I think it’s the fundamental structure of how you look at that relationship and what you think that relationship should be. And it’s going to sound a little bit like the company line, but we have a very long-term view. We’re not necessarily into the hockey stick, right? In our language decisions; in our decisions on how we approach complex issues or something like that, it’s never “let me fix this for tomorrow”, it’s “let me fix it for the next 10 years”.
Michael I would agree with you that the value of thinking long-term. If you’re only thinking about the next year or two and market penetration, there’s so many more questions that come up very quickly and can actually interfere with your business if you’re not. So thinking strategically further down the road…being a first-mover is great, and I’ve supported companies who’ve done that—and that’s a strategic advantage—but it’s also a way of “how do we continue to support that”? Pre- and post-sale support are huge. Customer service. What is going to happen with your knowledge base? If you’re moving that fast and trying to get into 100 languages in a year, your whole knowledge base isn’t going to be translated. So then, do you have the technology to understand what people are needing from your knowledge base to only make sure that they are being fed translated materials of the best, of the top articles?
Teresa Right. Again, this is the differentiation between a business product and a consumer product. You can get away with throwing out a consumer product and saying “we don’t have that documentation about it”. I can’t do that. I can’t go launch a product in Japan and say “oh by the way, there’s now developer documentation or end-user help available to it” because as soon as you start paying for a product, you have a different set of expectations about what you get from that. And most commonly nowadays, you look for documentation and you want to be able to go on Google and say “how do I do X in Salesforce” and get that information in your language presented to you at a quality level that is adequate.
Michael Yes. One of the hot topics right now—Slator just put out an article about Translations.com. They had in their user agreement that whatever you have translated on that domain will become public knowledge. Whether people read the user agreement or not is a whole other question. Whether we do that, and whether user agreements are written, and if they’re readable. But it has brought security to the forefront again. What lessons do we need to learn, or what questions do we need to be asking as people in localization about security?
Teresa I think it’s a really good question, and I have to admit that I’m not familiar in complete details with that article. But trust and security is something that is huge at Salesforce. I have the advantage that I can, as long as I play by our rules, I know that trust is in place.
Michael And you all were one of the earliest cloud adopters. The early conversations you were having with the market is the cloud is more secure than your own software. And so you are believers in that aspect of it, but localization and security, you know the strings are not…they’re just out there in the ether. They’re not connected to anything really sensitive, are they?
Teresa Like I said, I think we have both an advantage in the sense that I don’t personally have to worry about that as long as we follow our rules and everything like that, but that has also been really tricky sometimes. So when we say we need to have an environment that our linguists who are not in our systems can test. How do I get that set up? That’s safe. That isn’t just out there. So we had to work with our security teams to get that in place. And that makes it really hard, especially if environments are changing really quickly and stuff like that. There’s a lot of overhead for us in that, but it sort of came with our DNA that we logically fell into the same kind of practice. But I think that if I didn’t have this kind of gigantic operation of Salesforce behind me, it’s like, what is really, truly sensitive and what can you isolate that it’s not an issue. We had recently a conversation about when we first started providing localized help for—and this was ages ago at this point—it was all behind the customer login. And then everybody in the industry saw that thanks to the search engines, customer behavior, when they look for information and help in developer content, they don’t go to that portal and login. They go to Google or whatever and they search. And so why would we try to impede that kind of easily discoverable content?

And so we took that out. So now our help is just available. So if that help is available in preview, the source for my translations are no longer really that interesting. When we push some UI out in preview, is that really still that sensitive? So what we have done is, our source files, for example, are still protected and everything like that. You can’t just grab them anywhere. But the source files for our strings…you can’t do anything with that. And so we lock down anywhere where there would be a security threat, but we’re not super-protective of, let’s say, the help source files because most likely it’s on the web already. So really differentiating where the security threat could come from versus what is just content.
Michael And with partners, do you guys have regular audits by your InfoSec of systems and all of that, and then they say you have vulnerabilities and come up with an action plan? So there’s a regular check and balance there?
Teresa Absolutely.
Michael I know on a regular basis I get regular questions about InfoSec, and I turn them over to our team and say, “Hey guys, how do we measure up? Are we willing to agree with this?” There’s that conversation. I do feel like it’s an area, with all the conversation that’s happening, of “I need to be more educated”.
Teresa Yea, and I think so often, localization, whether it’s about what you mentioned earlier in terms of customer support and pre- and post-sales and stuff like that, localization and a good localization manager becomes the conduit for a lot of these conversations. I don’t own pre-sales or post-sales, but I need to…it’s my responsibility to say “hey, we’re launching this product in Japan. Who’s going to be answering that phone in Japanese when the customer has an issue”? And it’s not my decision whether we have that person or how it’s financed or whether it’s even there. But it’s my responsibility to say, “Logically, you need somebody there.” And it’s the same for security. It’s the same for legal.
Michael Logically, but also strategically.
Teresa Absolutely.
Michael And I think if we in our industry started realizing the strategic value we bring to organizations, it’s the future. It’s the future for marketing. It’s the future for product. Because we have people who are great at understanding one or two locales with their specific domain knowledge. But when a localization person comes in and has this larger perspective—and they’re not going to know every market perfectly—but they’ll have some people in region, in country, whatever it may be to really help guide these teams that are building the future for our companies.
Teresa Absolutely.
Michael That’s a hugely strategic position.
Teresa It is. And it doesn’t always mean that you have to be in every meeting that is on the C level or in every meeting where these discussions take place. But I feel an advantage for me and my team is being able to go in and say, “Wait a minute. You over here need to talk with the person over here on the other side of the company to make this successful.”

End of conversation

Teresa Marshall

As vice president, globalization and localization, Teresa Marshall drives globalization and localization-related efforts across Salesforce, including internationalization, localization management and development of features designed to enable global Salesforce deployment. In 2009 she joined Salesforce as senior localization manager and led all product localization through a period of intensive growth. Since 2015 Teresa has led both globalization and localization for Salesforce. Teresa started her career as a German linguist and has been working in localization for over 15 years. She has held program and operational management positions at a number of Silicon Valley companies, including leading the Google localization team. From 2010 to 2014 Teresa was an adjunct member of the faculty at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) and taught in the translation and localization management program of the Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education. From 2014 to 2016 she was on the board of Women in Localization. Before joining Salesforce in 2009, Teresa managed localization efforts at both Google and PGP in Silicon Valley while teaching at MIIS. An active member of the localization community, she has been the organizer and cohost of the annual Localization Unconference in Silicon Valley since 2009.

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