The Importance of an Effective Supplier Questionnaire

Selecting an LSP is Personal

One of the main activities of the global content life cycle is the translation of original content. The specific target languages can vary by company, document type, and intended audience. Selecting the right Language Service Providers (LSPs) to support your translation and localization activities is a strategic decision. LSPs have a huge impact on your translated content quality and represent a long-term investment as well as commitment.

In addition, the impact of your LSP selection is often an emotional experience for those who use the services once the contract has been signed. To put it in simple terms, the relationship between you and your LSPs is symbiotic and personal. Your efforts enable the LSPs’ success and the LSPs’ efforts enable yours. A one-sided relationship will not produce the desired outcome, and will likely limit the potential for both parties in the long run.

Initiating Your Relationship

This symbiotic relationship starts with the bidding event. Or more precisely, with the design of a supplier questionnaire, which is essentially a sourcing questionnaire. One would think that most organizations carefully plan their procurement event and develop effective supplier questionnaires. Unfortunately, many organizations use a transactional and commodity-driven approach. This is not an uncommon approach for procurement departments. However, such an approach may not properly address the needs and expectations of the service’s end users.

The reasons for a transactional approach can be multifold. For example, your procurement department might not know any better and handles professional services like physical goods (manufactured goods). Or a transactional approach keeps things simple for the event organizer (the commodity manager). It also allows the use of commercial procurement tools such as Ariba and the like.

Some organizations outsource the procurement event altogether and hire a third-party supply-chain service provider. These specialized service providers then get rewarded for negotiating the best deal, which usually emphasizes low pricing. The risk of outsourced bidding events is that the chosen third party may or may not have adequate knowledge of the localization industry. This means that they may or may not effectively represent your needs. As a result, the bidding event could become a numbers game only that compromises quality and the received value.

Professional Language Services Are Not Commodities

Procuring professional services such as translations is particularly challenging when buyers equate them with commodities such as manufactured goods. Manufactured goods must meet specifications while professional services must address the needs and expectations of the service’s end users. This is a fundamental difference, and the only requirement that both categories have in common is to pay an appropriate price. Still, professional services are more complex than that and you should not reduce them to price and specifications alone.

Professional services are flexible. LSPs can package and price them to suit different objectives and agendas. Moreover, we tend to experience professional services as we use them. In other words, the experience with the service delivery is as important as the received benefits. The concept of value-adding services further highlights the flexible packaging approach that services can utilize. This very much applies to translations.

Know What You Need and What to Expect

Without asking the right questions and collecting the right information, you will not necessarily know what you are getting for the quoted amount. It might also remain unclear whether the received services are appropriate for the conveyed need. Because professional services are somewhat intangible until they are consumed, we often find it difficult to initially differentiate service offerings. Our initial selection then usually focuses on tangible features such as price, company size, and number of office locations.

For example, you might have negotiated a fixed translation rate for technical translations. You then submit a research article for translation to your LSP. Your R&D department wants to know the content of the article to support its ongoing research work. All you would need in this case is to understand the content. Since it is intended for informational use only and not targeting an external audience, you just need a simple translation. That is, you could utilize a simpler workflow and pay less to understand the article’s content.

If your relationship with your LSP is transactional and the contract terms do not distinguish between different translation needs, you might pay the price for a full-service technical translation. An invested LSP would work with you and propose a different workflow, which would address your actual need for translation in this case.

This example makes three separate points:

  • Make certain that you cover all your translation needs (the likely scenarios) and expectations in your request for proposal
  • Ensure that you maintain a personal and healthy relationship with your LSP to create an environment of appreciation and trust
  • Be aware that negotiated low unit costs may not guarantee appropriate pricing for all needs

Ask the Right Questions

I was personally involved in questionnaire design and have prepared hundreds of supplier questionnaire responses in past capacities. It always surprises me how often organizations refurbish almost identical questionnaires. These refurbished questionnaires likely make it into the organization as a result of personnel turnover. Although the needs across companies can be similar, the organization’s business practices and work environments are different. But even original questionnaires frequently include questions that add little insight or collect superficial details. Sometimes the poor quality of questions is due to a lack of knowledge about the localization industry. Or people rush through the process without taking the time to fully understand what is important.

Just like the bidding event itself, you should carefully plan the design of your supplier questionnaire. Your questionnaire should address all current needs in focus. In addition, keep in mind that the scope of your needs might be different based on the focus of the bidding event. For instance, you will likely have different needs for a one-off project versus a company initiative. The same consideration applies to a general request for proposal that must cover multiple departments and information types.

Mixing too many diverse needs that would involve providers from different industries is usually a recipe for disaster. The reason is that neither supplier would be qualified to address all needs, which also makes a comparison during response evaluation less meaningful. I was part of several of such hybrid events and all were canceled, reworked and then reissued as separate requests because of the mentioned reason.

A good questionnaire has a natural flow of related questions that tells a story about your organization, current practices, and your actual needs. The questions should be grouped into logical information categories to allow separate evaluation and scoring of responses to each category.

Stagger Your Bidding Event

If you intend to invite many LSPs to participate in your bidding event, you might want to break up the bidding event into multiple phases. For instance, an initial phase could be a Request for Information (RFI), which you would use to collect fundamental information from new (untested) LSPs. The fundamental information would identify the prospective LSPs that meet essential requirements to participate in the actual Request for Proposal (RFP). If you have not collected or recently updated the fundamental information for your incumbent LSPs, you could include them in the initial phase as well. By using a phased information collection approach, you can control the complexity and amount of information you will have to evaluate at a given time. It makes the event execution more predictable and manageable, both for your organization and the participating LSPs.

Conclusion

The quality of your sourcing questionnaire will define the fit of your LSPs. It will also help you better understand what you will buy and what value you will receive. Professional translation services are personal and the experience with them is affected by the relationship you maintain with your LSPs. We have all heard the saying: “You get what you pay for.” When it comes to designing supplier questionnaires, a more accurate saying would be: “You get what you asked for.” So, make certain that you ask the right questions to receive the right service and value. In a nutshell, the effort you put into your bidding event will also define the quality of the responses you will receive.

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