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Key Questions for Your Next Translation RFP

We see RFPs on a regular basis from companies conducting a vendor review. Most are very similar, but it’s clear that the people who created the RFP may not be informed on best practices for translation and of the localization industry overall, which is understandable, as it’s not likely their core focus.

Here are some questions I see that companies use in RFPs that may not be the best way to evaluate a vendor’s capability.

1. How many translators does your company have?

The large majority of translation vendors don’t maintain translators on staff as employees, and if they do, it’s a minimal number. They’re Key Questions for Your Next Translation RFPcontracted as individual freelance resources or as a team focused on one language.
I saw a press release for another vendor recently where they mentioned that they have a “network of more than 15,000 linguists.” This is for the most part a meaningless number. Any vendor can say they have 15K, 25K or more if they wanted to. But how many they’ve vetted, tested, and worked with on a regular basis may be a very different number.

Most multi-language vendors partner with single language vendors in local markets globally, which allows them to scale up and down as needed based on their current pipeline of projects. A multi-language vendor cannot maintain a staff of translators full-time to support all the languages they offer and for all of the subject domains they need to master (e.g., legal, technical, life science, manufacturing, and in more granular levels than this). As such, the translators/teams work with multiple translation vendors and are not exclusive. They’ll show preference to what vendor pays them better and on time. It’s possible some of the vendors in your RFP process are using the same translators.


2. Will you provide a sample translation?

A sample project as a test of a vendor’s translation ability is not a great indicator of their ability for many reasons. A sample project is not like a real project in that a glossary is not developed and approved to support the translation process. In addition, reference materials or product training have not been provided to support the success of the translation. Queries from translators to the client reviewers are not usually part of a sample project. Also, in a real project, it’s helpful to have a project kickoff call that includes the client reviewers. On this call, the review process and expectations can be discussed.

A sample translation should be a correct translation, but it will not necessarily be the best it can be without these other steps being performed. As such, it’s not a great test to demonstrate how one vendor can provide a better translation than another, as not all vendors will perform each of these steps in their workflow.


3. Do you have experience with clients in our industry?

As I addressed in question 1 above, the translators are not in-house for multi-language vendors. As such, vendors will review the qualifications for the translators and then match them up for the subject matter. It’s not a matter of if the vendor that is bidding on your project has the experience, but if they will use translators who have the appropriate experience. You can ask for resumes/CVs to vet the qualifications of the translators to confirm if they will meet your needs.


Here are a few questions I would encourage companies to use in their future RFPs as they seek to vet translation vendors. 

1. Can you provide a resume/CV for the lead translator for each language?

You can make this request per the reasoning described previously.


2. Do you have any integrations to simplify the workflow? If so, can we see a demo? What costs, if any, are to be expected for using the integration or any technology from your company?

While your RFP may address costs for translation, a vendor may seek to impress with tools they have, but it may not be clear on what the costs are to use the tools/integrations. Understand if you need to commit to a long-term contract to use the tool. Can the contract for the tool be ended easily?


3. Will the translation memory that is developed/managed by the vendor be our property? Will it be provided upon request?

Most translation vendors do respect that the translation memory that the client has paid for to be developed and managed is the property of Questions for Translation RFPthe client, and they will provide it to you without any issue. But a number of times, I’ve seen vendors push back on the client and say it’s not the client’s property. They’ll try to hold onto it to have leverage over clients to continue working with them. Usually, with a couple of requests, they give in and release the memory to the client. Make sure the vendors you are considering do not use your translation memory as a hostage tool.


4. Can we have a call with the key project management lead and other key account staff that we’ll be working with?

Ask them about communication expectations, handling of queries and issues, quality assurance processes and any other questions you may have. Yes, you can ask these within a written RFP, but a lot can be learned from a call with the team you’ll rely on for the success of your projects. When you hire staff at your company, do you only provide the job candidate with a questionnaire and then hire them? Of course not. You can still do a written questionnaire, but then have a call to talk with the vendor team for your account.

In Summary

In this blog post, I’ve put together some of the things that I feel are important to consider in developing an RFP for translation services. You should still ask for general information about the vendor and their processes, but considering these items will make your RFP more effective.