Vetting a Language Translation Firm

Biz Vetting

A new vendor calls to present their services. A natural reaction, brush aside the salesperson – knowing how unpleasant it is to vet a supplier (let alone two or more). After all – you already have one that satisfies your needs! I, myself have hit “delete” before listening to the caller’s voicemail. Then – one day I listened – causing me to open my mind. On one returned call, I learned of an interesting opportunity. Another returned call introduced me to a company I never knew existed – and with a little digging, I find out they had great services. My main takeaway from voice mails is – some good ideas and others – not so good. Bottom line: I now listen to all, few get a callback, yet, I still listen.

Before calling back, I have to VET this potential vendor. I am always on the lookout for methods that can simplify and expedite the VETTING process.

The following are a few “standard” ways used to vet language translation firms:

  • Analyze “salesmanship” approach
  • Request a “free test translation”
  • Request for Information (RFI)
  • Request for Proposal (RFP)

The “salesmanship” approach, a silver tongue devil takes the prospective client down the “yellow brick road” about their current project signing them on the dotted line. The Translation firm (the awardee) has not attempted to learn much about their new client. They are presuming (hoping) that things will be fine.

Requesting a “free sample translation” is usually part of the previous example. This “free sample” is sort of a safety net, ensuring that they haven’t fallen for a used car salesman. The vast majority of “free sample translations” have the following parameters.

  • One or two pages in length.
  • Word count of 300 to 800.
  • Normally in one language, maybe in two, rarely three or more.

The prospective client’s free sample translation method seems simple and fair enough to both parties. There is no expense on the client’s side and probably very little to the translation firm. The client can judge the translation on industry-specific terms. In some cases, the client can evaluate the translation firm’s desktop publishing, but rarely.

The translation firm’s advantages are:

  • Impressing the prospect to get this far, the salesperson gets “gold star” on the performance chart.
  • They can find the best translator to perform the test for the language requested.
  • Avoiding the RFI & RFP methods, or have they?

There’s a major issue here. Oftentimes, a prospective client will place a two-page marketing brochure or a safety data sheet into either an MS Word or Excel file, deceiving the translation firm into giving them a free translation of a real project. Language translation firms are leery of “free sample translation” requests. Sadly, this practice goes on quite often.

RFI’s and RFP’s are part of a far more in-depth vetting process. This method is best for companies with multiple divisions or complex needs in very technical industries. Many companies control their marketing, website, software; technical and legal translation needs through a single internal entity.

Side note; it’s best for all companies to make use of a coordinated translation effort. If the marketing and technical publication departments collaborate on awarding contract(s) to translation firm(s), their combined synergies may result in cost and resource savings.

Checked & VettedAnother method some companies have started to utilize is the “paid sample translation”. The prospective client has vetted the translation firm through their questions, looking into the background of the firm, salespersons LinkedIn profile, Twitter and other accounts. This method isn’t just about the quality of the translation but additionally the functionality of the translation firm. Now can the translation firm put its reputation where their mouth is?

The following are two examples of the “Paid Sample Translations”:

  • Client “A” projects parameters: 8,000+ words, two languages, 29 pages, InDesign graphic program, client A reviewers; in house-native speakers.
  • Client “B” project parameters: one language, 5,000+ words, 33 pages, InDesign graphic program, client B reviewers; in house native speakers. 

Client “A” materials presented were just half of the project. By doing so, “Client A” was able to evaluate two translation firms simultaneously. This client is looking at replacing an existing translation firm or adding one to their stable. The bottom line for “Client A” is they are looking for a long-term relationship – they don’t like vetting all that much.

Client “B” evaluated one firm on their project. This opportunity for the translation firm came via a salesperson presenting their firm in a positive light – both verbally and through emails with industry information.

In both of these cases Clients A & B were able to evaluate the selected translation firms on the following:

  • Did the translation firms offer adequate company and translation information?
  • Did the translation firm ask appropriate detailed questions?
  • Was the quote informative and easy to read?
  • Were they given ample time to review the quote?
  • Did the translation firm involve the client in the progress of the project?
  • At what stage did the translation firm start the review process?
  • How did the translation firm present the material for review and potentially edited?
  • How did the translation firm react to corrections or recommended changes?
  • How long was it before the corrections were implemented?
  • Was the desktop publishing completed to the client’s satisfaction?
  • Did the translation firm adhere to the quoted turn-around-time?
  • Did the translation firm implement a post-project follow-up and project evaluation request?
  • Was the translation firm easy to work with?
  • Did the firm not only adhere to the quoted charges but did they cause unforeseen expenses?
  • Were you able to communicate with the Project Manager on a timely basis?
  • Did the salesperson stay involved as your project moved forward?
  • Did the translation firm send an evaluation form regarding their performance?
  • Did the translation firm make any project follow up offers or suggestions?

These points are just some of the many a potential client can evaluate the prospective translation firm before making that long-term commitment.

The two case studies listed above are real. Client B gave the translation firm an outstanding review. Client A is still in their internal evaluation process, as of today, 8/14/18, things look extremely well for the translation firm.

By engaging the prospective supplier as part of the vetting process and spending a relatively small amount of money, these two companies were able to make a truly informed decision.

As I always state, I learn more from my clients by being the LISTENER – absorbing & comprehending what their “hot buttons” are – and building the relationship from there.

By: Jeff Jorgensen, Director of Operations,

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