Renato Beninatto is a corporate strategist and analyst with nearly 30 years of executive-level leadership in the localization industry. Renato Beninatto has forged a reputation for visionary leadership as the co-founder of Common Sense Advisory, the industry’s foremost market research firm. He served as the Vice President of Sales at both ALPNET and Berlitz, where he drove global growth and profitability.
Renato Beninatto offers strength and sharp perception in predictive analysis, motivational management, and customer-centric sales that continue to inspire his peers in the industry. His signature straight-talking approach has made him a sought-after speaker on industry trends. A native of Brazil, he serves on the advisory board of Localization World and remains an active member of several industry groups worldwide. Most recently Renato Beninatto was the CEO of Milengo. He is presently the President of ELIA (European Language Industry Association).
CSOFT recently sat down with Renato Beninatto to talk with him about his plans for ELIA, life as an independent consultant (yes, he’s taking clients) and upcoming books he’s writing. We all know Renato’s 30 years in the localization industry indeed make him an expert in our space, but did you also know one of his favorite hobbies is country-hopping? He’s traveled to 54 countries so far, with about 120 to go. Renato says that meeting new people and visiting new places to learn about culture “still fascinates me.” We’re not ones to judge, but this seems far more exciting than his old pastime—collecting dictionaries.
We heard that last September you were elected as the president of ELIA. Can you tell us a little bit about this group and what it brings to the table for organizations involved in localization? Also, in your role as president, what kind of plans do you have for the organization?
Renato Beninatto: The European Language Industry Association (ELIA) is the brainchild of some Italian organizations that wanted to create an organization that would focus on training, networking, and system development. I was involved with ELIA from an early stage—I was a speaker at their first event while I was still at Common Sense Advisory. I was very impressed with both the atmosphere of the event and the value it generated for its members. I first joined the board, was later elected vice president, and then president.
Because ELIA is a non-profit association, we determine the price of a ticket by how cheaply we can execute the events while still hosting them at a good venue and still being able to show everyone a good time.
The focus of the Networking Days are the breaks, the dinners. The content is very practical. We ask ourselves: “Does the presentation present something people can take to the office and use the next day?” For example, at the next event, we are going to have presentation skills training. Many of our participants tell us they would love to share their experiences, but they feel ashamed or not up to giving presentations so we saw a need for this kind of session. We will also have a presentation on hiring people across borders. For instance, how does a German company hire someone to work in Spain?
What are some of your upcoming ELIA shows?
Renato: We are hosting an event in May in Stockholm and another in November in Greece that we haven’t even announced yet. You can be the first to know about it!
At the Stockholm conference, I’m doing the Bulls Eye sales pitch. We first did this in Dublin with great success. We set up a fictitious situation, where people have to give sales pitches, then the judges decide who did it best. After, we open it up to the audience for either positive feedback or constructive criticism. It’s a live classroom with a real world model.
Do you have any specific plans as president?
My role as president is to make ELIA more dynamic. We want to create opportunities for members to network and share experiences. We will be doing some regional, one-day events in Croatia and in the Baltics. Instead of members only going to ELIA, we will also go to the members.
Overall, I have three major goals: focus on delivering education and networking opportunities to our members, expand our membership, and coordinate with other event organizers. I want to cross-check our calendars so we can add more value to the industry overall.
One of the frustrating things about the localization industry is the proliferation of events. There are too many events happening at the same time with very similar content. By coordinating calendars, we can make sure we are providing value. For instance, I will be meeting with the EUATC and ATA-TCD to ensure coordination. We also have partnerships with TEKOM and Localization World so our members can have discounts. We also have tracks we manage inside their events, so we don’t have to do our own; this way, we can leverage other events that are complementary to ours.
Now that you’ve left Milengo, what are some of the other things you are working on?
I’m writing two books. The first book offers advice from localization buyers on what they would tell to someone starting out as a localization manager. I’m almost done—I just need to write the commentary. This should be published in the next couple of months. The working title is The Voice of Experience in Localization.
The other book is more of a life project I’ve been working on for 5 years. It’s basically a compilation of techniques and tools for companies that want to “Sell in America.” I’ve put together how all non-U.S. companies can come here and hit the ground running for very little money. I hope to have this finished by April.
In terms of international companies trying to break into the American market, what kinds of numbers are we talking?
Renato: In 1998, 20% of the U.S. population believed they were part of the top 1% of top income earners. Americans think they are rich, so there is easier access to investment money.
Also, Americans don’t know geography. For instance, a company from Bulgaria wanted to position itself as a Bulgarian company. I said, “Why? Americans don’t even know where this is.”
Most companies try to sell their geography in positioning. This is irrelevant to the American consumer; all they care about is the quality of the product. This is very unique to the US. For instance, in China or Europe, people want to pick up the phone and reach someone locally.
Market size varies based on what you are selling; bicycles vs. translation vs. software—one of the things I’m showing is a bunch of maps with activity related to spending. The best locations to sell.
You’ve described the process of helping non-US-based companies sell in America as “reverse localization.” What do you think is the biggest problem international companies face when they try to sell in America?
Renato: One of the key messages I try to give companies is that it’s much easier [to sell] than it seems. Many subscribe to the “spray and pray” technique; they want to sell everything to everyone. By using free resources from, say, the U.S. government, you can narrow target markets and have focused messages.
All a company needs is 10-20 clients to double its revenue—you don’t need 8,000. And this is a much less daunting task.
Another common mistake companies make is trying to set up corporations, hire people in the United States, and have a very complex corporate organization. This is the way it works in other countries. You don’t need this to sell in the U.S.
For instance, I was talking to a company that threw away $300,000 in lawyers and accountants by trying to set up a corporation, and in the end they didn’t earn one dime in revenue.
In short—you don’t need to have a company here to have a bank account here.
So are you consulting these days and taking on new clients?
Renato: I’m a bit of a procrastinator. When I left Milengo, I was flooded with requests to help, so now I’m doing some consulting for a few companies. As one of my clients put it, I can see the matrix; people come to me with problems and I’m able to sort them out for them. I’m busy, but I have been taking on new consulting jobs on a three-month basis.
One company I’m working with has sales issues, another has technology issues, and another needs help with staff training, etc. With the staff training, I’m helping their staff better understand the service side of their clients.
You’re quite the busy man Renato Beninatto. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and offering insight into your life and business plans.
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