The Vendor Manager Role in a Localization Team

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In the localization industry, everyone is familiar with the role of the vendor manager, particularly on the language service provider side.

Vendor managers are the individuals responsible for ensuring that providers have the best translation talent out there, building good relationships with them and ensuring that their needs are met and respected. But what about vendor managers on the buyer's side? What role do they play in their team? And how do you decide if your team needs one?

Vendor manager vs buyer’s vendor manager

I was tempted to start this article by explaining what the vendor manager role entails on both sides of the localization equation and try to draw direct comparisons. Along the way I decided against this dry approach that ignores the subtleties and intricacies of each role and how a direct comparison is not only inaccurate, but it does a great disservice to both roles and what their occupants do.

That said, a comparison of the two roles is inevitable because they share the same name, and the localization industry has used this term to refer to a very established and specific role that is an essential part of every LSP's operations. So when buyers start using the term to refer to the individuals whose main role is to manage the relationships with their vendors, we are required to distinguish which type of vendor manager we are referring to when the situation requires it.

From a terminology point of view, I was hoping we could come up with an alternative term that easily captures the essence of the buyer's vendor manager role without it being pretentious, misrepresentative or too long. Perhaps, this is something for the collective localization community to create in the future.

In the meantime, I will do my best to explain what the role of Buyer’s Vendor Manager (BVM) entails, share my own experience in the role, and walk you through some of the interesting challenges that the role typically faces.

Why a BVM?

In a typical localization team, localization managers oversee the localization process for the company. Their role usually includes (but is not limited to):

  • managing internal stakeholders
  • educating the developers and designers on best localization practices
  • managing the localization projects for the strings produced by the development teams
  • providing context for those strings and managing translator queries 
  • managing escalations from users related to localization issues
  • managing quality and delivery times to meet launch schedules
  • training translators on the products
  • managing the procurement of new translation vendors
  • and collaborating with the existing vendors on all matters related to the above-mentioned tasks.

It’s clear that this is a lot of tasks and duties, and each one of these tasks is worthy of several articles and books. The truth is that localization managers have to juggle all of these tasks on a daily basis, including those requiring direct vendor collaboration, like quality management, delivery management, and translator training among other things. These tasks are typically distributed between the localization managers, each to their own strengths.

This is where the BVM role comes in, to take charge of these vendor-facing responsibilities and streamline the communication between teams.

So, what does a BVM do?

When people ask me about my role as a vendor manager and what it entails, I would usually say “I facilitate communication between the internal localization team and our vendors”, which is the simplest form I could think of when trying to describe my role. If I had the floor and the attention and curiosity of the audience, I would say: “My role is to help our internal localization team achieve its goals by building efficient systems of communication, issue tracking, quality control, process documentation and workflow optimization with our localization partners (vendors), while reducing communication friction and establishing a collaborative environment that promotes a partnership built on trust and mutual goals”. I usually opt for the shorter version.

Just like the role of the Sellers’ Vendor Manager (SVM) is to ensure that the relationship with the vendors is respectful, productive and efficient, so is the role of the BVM. And if I have to choose a single aspect that a BVM needs to focus on at all times, it would be building a good communication model for their teams.

And just as your team has decided to consolidate some of their tasks into your role and identified you as the main point of contact for your team, your partners (vendors) need to provide you with a clear idea of who is responsible for what on their side, who to escalate to, who should be the first point of contact when things go awry or when we need to discuss and implement a new initiative, who is responsible for quality and who manages the linguistic assets for your team.

Granted, these roles are well established and documented on the LSP side, but in a world where the burden of communication is shared between different localization managers on the buyer side, and where buyers and sellers could be communicating across different time zones, platforms and channels, it’s very easy for messages to get lost and create unnecessary bottlenecks hence the need for a clear structure that helps everyone communicate efficiently.

The cost of miscommunication

In September 1999, NASA lost its $327 million Mars Climate Orbiter due to what can be criminally oversimplified as a “miscommunication” that occurred when the space probe reported measurements in metric: The software using those measurements was operating in imperial, without doing any proper conversions.

I believe that this type of miscommunication is also prevalent in the localization industry and that the role of the BVM is to ensure that everyone involved in the process is properly informed and educated on the common goals and the most appropriate ways to achieve them.

Think of it this way: LSPs deal with tens or hundreds of clients on a daily basis. Over time they develop their own management style that fits their goals and structure, including a standardized way of achieving said goals when collaborating with hundreds of translators and the companies they serve.

On the other hand, every company that requires localization services has its own requirements for localization that may not match, conflict with, or be borderline unattainable by and LSP’s established standards.

It’s very important to have someone who’s responsible for maintaining the expectations of both sides and ensuring that the communication is clear and that the goals are properly identified and used to create an achievable roadmap, so we don’t end up in a situation where one team is talking in metric, and the other in imperial. That person is the BVM.

You need one in your team

As I mentioned earlier, it typically falls to the localization managers on the buyer’s side to handle vendor-related tasks, each according to their own strengths; this is most commonly observed in small and medium-sized localization teams where the budget or workload doesn’t justify on-boarding someone just for this role.

However, I would like to argue that having a BVM for such teams is of great importance and could save localization teams a lot of time and frustration in the long run, even if it’s one of the localization managers whose main focus is on the relationship with the vendors

Think of it this way: if you have a football team where all the players share the responsibilities of running the football club, such as managing sponsorships, travel logistics and training schedules, how well do you think that this team will perform in their games?

This is exactly the case with most localization teams; the localization project manager's main responsibility should be to support the source material creators. They don’t need to worry about onboarding linguists, that’s the task of the BVM. They don’t need to worry about the details of how to measure quality, the BVM does. They don’t have to follow up for every escalation and issue raised with the partners, the BVM does. They don’t need to worry about how operations are running, the BVM does.

Now, I’m not saying that the role of the BVM is to act as a barrier between the internal localization team and the partners. Like a football player will undoubtedly interact with someone from the logistics team at some point and needs to understand their impact on the team, they do not need to get involved in the specifics of their operations, that’s someone else’s job.

I hope that I have been able to explain the importance of the role of the BVM in the localization team in this article, and I will delve deeper into the specifics of the role’s core responsibilities in future articles.


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