• Choosing the right localization vendor is important for globalization
  • Successful partnership relies on unique factors that characterize each company/vendor combination
  • Companies can maximize their chances of success by optimizing their approach to vendor selection

People frequently ask me to recommend localization vendors. However, I’ve learned the hard way that this is rarely a good idea. More than any other type of agency or business partner, I’ve found that with localization vendors, past performance is a poor predictor of future success with another company. I have recommended vendors that did a wonderful job for years under tough conditions and heard later that it didn’t work out. When I moved to a new company, I brought along my favorite vendors and found that I should have left some of them behind. Similarly, some vendors with whom I’ve had mediocre experiences with have been praised to the skies by other customers.

It’s oddly like dating — just because someone looks good on paper and was a lovely partner for another person, it doesn’t mean they’re the right partner for you. Certain factors can indicate whether you should consider them at all, but the warmth, trust, and indefinable spark that mark a strong, long-lasting relationship are very difficult to predict.

When you go beyond the basic criteria of qualifications, services, and pricing, there are several elements of a successful vendor relationship that are highly variable and over which you have only partial control.

The Project Manager

The project manager assigned to you has a massive impact on your experience. The vendor’s process and technology maturity also play a role, but the person is the real difference-maker.

With the right project manager, everything feels easy. They make sure that your projects are on time, the best translators are available, your regional reviewers feel respected and heard, and all the quality boxes are checked. The 10% surcharge is cheap when compared with what you get.

Other project managers, however, highlight exactly what you were getting with the good ones. The vendor’s process and technology problems become your problems. Returned files have issues that require extra quality control steps are added to your process. These project managers can be very nice people, but that doesn’t always translate into a great experience for you.

The Intersection Between Translators, Material, and Brand Voice

Your localization vendor most likely has a bank of translators for each country it supports. If your budget and volume are not large enough to justify dedicated translators, you may not have much choice about who translates your work.

When the translators’ skill level, domain knowledge, and voice are a good match for your content, they feel like an extension of your team.

Other translators just can’t seem to get it right, and regional reviewers may respond with dissatisfaction or outright rejection. The more rarefied your domain is, the harder it is to find the right translators.

How Much Does the Vendor Want Your Business?

A vendor who cares about your business will attend to your needs and flex to meet them. They may accommodate extra review cycles, visit your regional office to build the relationship, and even partner with competing vendors for some projects.

If your business is not important to the vendor, you’ll know it. They show no urgency about getting you what you need. Your emailed questions disappear into the void. When you need flexibility, the response is “Sorry, that’s the way it is.”

How to Mitigate Risk

Even in the best of times, localization is a complex process. People have emotional reactions to content, and localization often elicits strong reactions and judgments. This puts considerable strain on the bond between corporate and regional offices. Here’s how to maximize your chances of finding the right partner and avoid a nasty split down the road:

  • Be self-aware and mature. Understand your needs and (at least for localization vendors, if not for romantic partners) document them. Focus on becoming a rewarding and easy-to-work-with partner (For more on this topic, Forrester SiriusDecisions clients can review the brief “Conducting a Content Localization Audit” and the Core Strategy Report ”Localization: A Strategy for B2B Marketers.”)
  • Date multiple people before committing. When you’ve narrowed your selection down to a few vendors, run similar projects with each. Evaluate your experience, and the experience of your regional partners, against the three variables described here. Test multiple languages for each vendor to eliminate the variable of your own regional employees.
  • Give the relationship a chance to succeed. You don’t expect employees to succeed without onboarding and training and the same applies to localization vendors. A good vendor, just like a good employee, will pick it up quickly. When mistakes occur, they’ll be fixed and not repeated.

We spend a large percentage of our lives at work. The people and vendors we encounter there are important to our happiness and success. By understanding what we can’t control, and optimizing what we can, we increase our chances of making long-lived alliances, partnerships, and even friends.