I have been answering translation RFP submissions (Request for Proposal) for over 15 years and I have seen far too many really intelligent people working for really great companies focus on the wrong parameters for evaluating the cost of working with translation vendors. Far too often the emphasis of the RFP is on the cost per word for each language.

We have even participated in reverse Dutch Auctions attached to these RFP’s. A reverse dutch auction is a real time auction hosted online where participants put in there lowest bid for each language on a per word basis. Of course right before your eyes the cost per word for each language keeps going lower and lower and lower……..and in my opinion, a race to the bottom.

What does being the low bidder mean in this exercise? I wonder if the low bidder is the company that invests the most in technology associated with saving you money in the long term? Perhaps does it mean that the low bidder is the company that invests the most in translation memory technology that will keep your translations consistent over time? Oh I see, maybe the low bidder is the company that offers online access to all of your financial information including open invoices, open estimates and the amount you spent per language in real time? Doubtful at best.

Translation is a professional service offering with real people and serious technology standing behind the product. Translation companies that focus on low price typically focus on cheap inputs, in this case cheap inputs being the cheapest translators and the cheapest technology.

If you are comfortable with your translation being handled by the cheapest translator using the cheapest technology then this typical approach to hiring a translator is the way to go. If you are interested in selecting high quality translators using technology that will help you reduce your translation expenses over time you should consider using questions like the following examples.

1. What percentage of your Net Income is reinvested into the infrastructure of your firm?

  • What types of investments have you made over the last five years in your technology infrastructure?
  • Do you use any collaboration tools to collaborate with your clients, project managers and linguists?
  • Do you use an ERP system to track costs per language, per vendor, per project?
  • Are you able to report this data to us by period (year, quarter, month)?

2. Can you generate a sample quotation with French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese (Simplified), Swedish, Hindi and Arabic assuming 20,000 total words with 2,500 words of 100% matches, 1,000 words of repetitions and 1,500 words of fuzzy matches. Assume the document is 200 pages in Adobe InDesign for the desktop publishing budget.

This question will show you how they typically offer quotations. Most companies will offer a detailed project description but only one line item for the actual dollar value. If I were a buyer this would mean two things to me.

  • They do not keep the data in their system on a per language basis so I won’t be able to get accurate per language costing information in the future.
  • The company has a veil around their pricing, even though I may have a written agreement in terms of cost per word I will have to do some extensive calculations to figure out what I am actually paying and saving per language.

3. Does your technology allow for our reviewers or people approving the text to work in your translation environment. If so, can you provide or host a demo showing us how the technology works? Can you take the provided document {go ahead and attach a sample document} and assign me as translator and assign my colleague as the approving editor?

Far too often in these RFP’s you will see the question phrased as “how do you handle client reviews?” This is far too open ended and doesn’t force the translation firm into showing you how the technology actually works. The best scenario is to ask them to set up a sample project. The method used by the firm for capturing client feedback could save you time and money.

4. How do you qualify your linguists? Please detail the typical way you recruit linguists and integrate linguists into your organization. Do you require any certifications?

This is a key set of questions in understanding the type of training, testing and qualification process the vendor uses to select their most important resource.

There are certainly other important questions to include in an RFP but in my opinion this set of four questions will help you cut through the typical marketing language that often accompanies RFP responses. The important point is to get to the information that helps you determine exactly what you are getting for your investment in translation services.

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