Whether your agency is buying from another LSP or selling to another LSP, you probably struggle with vendor questionnaires on a regular basis. Read on to find three helpful tips for buyers, and three for sellers. We’ll suggest some steps for working towards the standardization of the way we share internal company data within our industry.
Useful tips for both buyers and sellers
Those dreaded vendor questionnaires – who really has time for them? For agencies that are buying from other agencies, obtaining the appropriate information from vendors in crucial to the smooth operation of your project management team – but we all know that getting and distributing the information you need does not always go smoothly. And for agencies that are selling to other agencies, answering some of the questions might feel as if you’re being asked to fit a round peg in a square hole. But, at the same time, you know that each questionnaire presents a prime opportunity to promote your services and to show the client what differentiates your company from the competition. So, here’s the predicament: how to share all of your company’s relevant data without driving yourself crazy and dallying away precious time.
Our own agency, JAPANtranslation, sells to a number of larger MLVs outside Japan. (It’s about half of our business, in fact.) We find ourselves filling out these questionnaires all the time, so we know the frustrations involved. Recently, it got to the point where we were feeling hampered in our efforts to respond efficiently to agency questionnaires. So we decided to invest some time into studying and improving the process. Our objective was to uncover ways to make the process easier for both parties involved. We undertook a small research project, discussed the issue internally, and contacted vendor managers at various agencies to discuss the difficulties we’d been encountering. And, guess what? It was research time well spent! We’ve come up with some helpful hints for efficient information sharing that we want to share with you, below. These are just first steps. We hope vendor managers and sales managers at other agencies will join us in thinking out further steps we can take to standardize the way we share internal company data within the translation industry.
Okay, with no further ado, we offer the following suggestions. First, three tips for LSP-to-LSP buyers. And we’ve got three words of wisdom for LSP-to-LSP sellers, too.
Are you the outsourcing agency?
Tired of waiting around for late questionnaires and last-minute emails saying, “How should I answer this?” Our research showed that there are three extra steps that buyers can take to help vendors respond. (1) The questionnaire you send to agency vendors should be appropriate for agencies. You know that there are two main types of vendors of translation services: full-service agencies and individual freelancers. The data you collect from agencies won’t be the same as the data you collect from freelancers. So, it makes sense to adapt your questionnaire to the two main types of vendors. This means creating separate questionnaires or sections for agencies and freelancers. Think about it. Agencies are groups of people with various backgrounds, various roles, various skill sets, etc. And within each agency a variety of hardware and software is in use. Ask about capabilities that you’d expect from a full-service agency.
(2) Think about inserting explanatory comments that act as a guide to the response you’re looking for. Take, for example, the CAT tools and applications section of your questionnaire – very important to you as a buyer. If you provide a checklist of the tools you’re most interested in, you’ll be more likely to get a satisfactory response. Not only is it much less time-consuming for the vendor to simply mark the tools they own, but you can rest assured that you have the answer to the information that is most important to you.
And (3) don’t forget to include a section for additional information or comments at the end. Most vendor management database systems have a component for attaching documents, and it can never hurt to have additional reference information at hand, right?
And, if yours is the agency that’s selling…
First off, you have to realize that the client agency’s project managers are often in a hurry to identify and compare suitable vendors for outsourcing particular job inquiries. They just don’t have the time to read through heaps of detailed data and marketing materials from every selling agency. Sorry, but your agency is no exception. What they want is information that can be easily processed and quickly transferred to their database – the ultimate goal of this entire exercise.
Want to know how to respond better? We’ve got three tips: be concise, be efficient, and be perceptive.
If you’re a mid-sized or larger language services provider, an MLV with extensive offerings and capabilities, it may be difficult to answer questions regarding language pairs, pricing, and specialty fields, for example. Have you ever found yourself complaining, “Do I really need to list them all?” The answer is no – be concise and think about what the client agency needs to know and the information you want to promote. What are your strongest language pairs? What language pairs would the client be most interested in? Consider listing your local and regional languages first, and don’t be afraid to keep it short. The client doesn’t want to read through pages and pages of lists – they need the most relevant information, and they need it fast. Try providing a link to your full list or attach a separate document with specifics.
Do questions about in-house equipment, operating systems, and words processed per day have you thinking, “This is impossible to answer!”? You probably have several in-house computers with different operating systems and software, and your company – with scalable teams in various language pairs handling various jobs – probably processes too many words per day to calculate. But, remember that your client agency is most likely also dealing with individual freelancers, and really just wants to check for compatibility and capability. So, be efficient and don’t hesitate to list “N/A” for questions that just don’t apply to you.
You may come across sections where you just don’t feel comfortable using “N/A,” where you feel the need to input some sort of an answer. In this case, think about what the outsourcing agency needs to know and what their question is trying to get at, then satisfy the question by addressing the reason behind it. With simple comments like, “our in-house hardware is compatible with most other hardware” and “we can handle high-volume orders,” you can give the client what they need to know, without racking your brain to come up with numerical figures. Satisfying the need behind the question is sometimes more important than answering the question itself.
Any other advice?
The sharing of translation vendors’ internal company data with LSPs that outsource is a somewhat bothersome necessity, but it doesn’t have to be a big, laborious project. Take a moment to consider things from the other agency’s perspective, and communicate. We are far from standardization at this point, but if we work together, buyers and sellers can both benefit from the process. Leave us a comment and share your experiences, ideas, solutions – whatever you’ve got, please share!
Oh, and please ask us about our “Generic Questionnaire”!
Here at JAPANtranslation, we’ve developed a “generic questionnaire” – a snapshot of our company that satisfies the questions found on most vendor data questionnaires. We know that you don’t have all day, so we’ve got what you need to know now. We’re happy to share this with other LSPs. Contact Lauren using this form, and feel free to reuse the questionnaire for your own data!
About the authors
- Lauren Smith is JAPANtranslation‘s sales researcher. She works in Tokyo.
- Lawrence LaFerla is the division head for JAPANtranslation and blogger in chief at “Marketing on the Japanese web.” He works in sunny Osaka.