5 Things I Would Do Differently as a Vendor Manager

Having a mutually-rewarding relationship with your translation partners makes your business grow and glow.

If you asked me what I have learnt in my Vendor Management experience, this is the only golden rule I would conceive.

Good Vendor Management supports Language Service Providers to a much wider extent than mere recruitment. When adequately performed, this activity is at the core of the LSP structure and it helps not only to set the tone for the LSP’s relationship and reputation with the freelancers, but also to boost revenues, quality and responsiveness in the long run.

As laid out by Beninatto and Johnson in The General Theory of the Translation Company, an LSP can run VM either reactively or proactively.

Some LSPs opt for reactive strategies to manage their external teams, selecting or recruiting translation suppliers when the need arises. While this (potentially) reduces their efforts in the short run, it may generate a suboptimal response due to choosing the “quickest” option available rather than the “best” one.

Proactive Vendor Management engages LSPs more intensely and requires a dedicated team, yet it allows the team of freelancers and the company to move at the same speed and in the same direction.

Besides the big categorizations, there are actions and setups that are peculiar to each LSP and Vendor Manager and that may or may not prove effective in the given circumstances.

Keep reading to find out the 5 VM mainstream patterns that have not proven functional in my own experience. They might be food for thoughts for your LSP’s needs.


1. Untargeted onboarding

Many companies aim at having extensive and multifaceted databases, encompassing thousands of resources who could potentially be useful if a specific yet unusual project popped up.

Having several options available at one click clearly reduces pressure on the Operations teams. However, will these hardly-ever-contacted suppliers actually be there when you need them?

I have learnt at my own expense that the answer to this question is most likely a big NO.

Having a long list of resources in your database who never get work from you is not appreciably different than having no resources at all.


2. "Many resources" vs. "the right resources"

There comes the hard task of the Vendor Manager: juggling job allocation and operational risk management so that your company can rely on enough resources who get enough work. Too much or too little is equally not going to work.

Easily said than done: what does “enough” really mean?

Based on a survey I have run among freelancers in September 2020, engagement seems to be generated when 60-70% of their time is devoted to your company.

There is no secret to make this work: take a fair number of engaged vendors, add a buffer for sprint capacity and extra scalability, and the obvious return in terms of responsiveness goes without saying.

By keeping the size of your available pool at an appropriate level, you can always be responsive as an agency while safeguarding the loyalty of your chosen set of translators.


3. “Who are you?”

The VM/freelancers ratio is an uneven one. One Vendor Manager often represents the point of contact for hundreds of freelancers.

Losing sight on their experience, story and specific situation is way too easy, and that may undeniably affect the cooperation. When resources feel replaceable (quoting one of the comments from the 2020 CIOL survey), the communication with them is much weaker, they do not feel that sense of bonding and accountability underlying successful business relationships, and you are one step closer to losing their commitment.

Vendors are a precious resource and that is key to remember.


4. (Blind) account-based team structure

We all know that an account-based vendor team may be a valuable asset in the long run. Benefits range from consistent linguistic quality to leaner procedures and easier job allocation for the PMs.

I am pretty confident all of us have also experienced that a solid team consistently meeting customer’s expectations would severely fail on a certain project, to everyone’s surprise.

What happens is that different customer’s requests may require different teams, based on content, type of text or even peculiarities and practicalities of the project. The one-size-fits-all approach is likely to fail when the specific content does not match the translators’ skills.

Here the Vendor Manager comes into play. A strong grasp on the pool’s expertise, alongside a structured and comprehensive database showing your suppliers’ main skills, will provide the necessary visibility to support the Operations team and anticipate potential issues.

Setting up for open communication with your vendors will do the rest.

5. Hardball negotiations

Market pressure is high and falling back on hard-bargaining negotiations with translators may be tempting to cut down on purchase costs. No doubt it may be effective in the short-term. But what happens next?

Translators who are pushed to their limits feel undervalued and their engagement and sense of belonging to your company go lost.

Try being honest to your pool: share the information you can and frame your request. Communicating your good intentions is the first step to building a win-win negotiation.

Negotiate for abundance: shift the focus from splitting your cake to baking a bigger one. Relationships are built overtime and often much more comes into play in a negotiation than what is actually being negotiated.



Reconciling the interests and objectives of an LSP with the efforts to build a good relationship with the vendors is not easy, but that is where creative and effective solutions generate the highest profit potential. Let’s go for it!