E.g., 04/10/2020
E.g., 04/10/2020

Localization Vendor Selection 101: Best practices for selecting a localization service provider (LSP)

By: Nicholas McMahon (Jonckers) - Jonckers Translation & Engineering

11 September 2008

Managers of localization who are in a buying position are often caught in a conundrum. Purchasing departments expect that localization services are comparable across the industry and therefore compete for the lowest bidder. In contrast, management demands localization excellence that supports high global customer satisfaction ratings and local market buy-in. 

Buyers of translation and localization services are busy people with more important things to do than search for vendors. Yet they're under a lot of pressure to find top-notch resources that deliver high quality. The challenge will only grow as the demand for localization continues to grow exponentially in the coming years.

Many internal managers of localization clearly know what outcomes they like (and don’t like), but don’t necessarily know what lies behind successful relationships and results. Even with known quality relationships it is often hard for the responsible localization manager to say exactly what it is that contributes to the project success – they just know whether the vendor delivers the right stuff. Questions like, “What actually enables projects to be delivered on time and within budget by a given vendor?” or “What qualifications and process control are guaranteed to produce reliable quality?” often go unanswered within the localization black box. The lack of meaningful answers from vendors and buyers alike underlies many of the challenges the industry faces in making the vendor selection process clear and reliable.

So where to start?

The first seemingly obvious, but frequently misunderstood question is what do you really want? A low-cost get-to-market vendor? A high-cost quality-is-everything vendor? If only the choice were so simple! The buyer needs to go much further when considering the ultimate goal of the vendor selection process (whatever that turns out to be). Consider the following elements in deciding what you want.


What level of support do you want?


What level of flexibility do you want?


What level of human interaction does your team need?


What is your own maturity level – does it demand in-country project management for the languages or for the process control? A US-based PM provides greater communication for your team but has the same time zone issues you have with the linguistic resources.


What is your own cost/ quality/ speed balance?


What is your team’s requirements for localization education?

Knowing what you want will help you avoid clever sales tactics that will lead you down a sales path favoring a specific company. As an analogy, if I don’t know what sort of car I want – I can be led to a decision (some good, some bad) by the salesperson. The more I know about the type of car I want, the closer I am to getting exactly what I want. Take time to consider (especially when it is a new venture) what you and your team will need to be successful.  Quality should be a given.

The next suggestion is to understand the spectrum of choice. Simplistically, localization providers can be divided into three categories – small, medium and large. They all have value and benefits when matched with the right client and project needs. 

Small LSPs might bring in annual revenue of US$2 million or less, employ up to 20 people – usually from one office – and be single language vendors (SLVs). They may bill themselves as multiple language vendors (MLVs) by partnering with other providers. They may not have in-house capabilities in functions like engineering and digital publishing, but may be able to outsource those functions to third parties. In a business where relationships are highly important – largely because of the accumulation of institutional knowledge – the possibility of building a direct relationship with small LSPs can be attractive.

Medium LSPs, earning US$6 million or less per year and employing up to 60 people, sometimes have more than one office. They may provide a small handful of languages, offer some engineering capabilities, and often focus on niche markets to which they can apply deep industry knowledge. For this value-add, they may cost slightly more on a per-word or engagement basis. And for this reason, they may focus mostly on a small core of main clients, and may provide local support to locally oriented projects. Technically capable in some areas, they tend to be limited on cross-function needs (i.e. they know eLearning backwards-and-forwards, but may not be able to do audio recording to support the courseware.).

Finally there are the large LSPs that have multiple offices around the globe with a large number of employees; translate a large number of languages; and offer in-house capabilities in engineering, digital publishing and testing. They typically serve a wide array of industries, juggle many clients and various project sizes, have a large database of translator resources, and can handle large-scale projects of pretty much any type. 

In its report “Localization Vendor Management” (February 2008), Common Sense Advisory recommends evaluating LSPs on a multi-dimensional axis, including:

  • Scope/reach

  • Price/costs

  • Capabilities/depth

Of course, bear in mind the initial picture and direction for what you are trying to achieve from step one of the suggested path.

Within this framework, following are questions that may be worth asking to help match the right LSP to the need. In general, the questions in each list evolve from most general to most specific, depending on the project needs.


  • How many employees does the company have?

  • What is the size of their database containing translation vendor resources? 

  • Do they have staff in locations that match your project needs and deliver language quality?

  • Does the company have offices in strategic global locations?

  • Based on the company and project needs, do the attributes of a bigger LSP promise to be better? Or, is smaller better?

  • Does the company have project managers that are experienced, qualified, committed (not a lot of turnover) and responsive?   


  • What are their general capabilities?

  • What is their expertise in needed languages?

  • Do they have knowledge of your industry niche? 

  • Are they able to provide other value-added services that support the translation?

  • Are they able to provide consulting services? (Especially if the internal team is new to localization or is reaching for new frontiers and needs globalization strategy development.)

  • What is the scope and depth of their engineering services?  

  • What is the scope and depth of their publishing services?

  • What are their testing capabilities? 

  • Are they able to handle certain programs like XML? 

  • Do they have expertise in additional languages that may be needed in the future?

  • Do their subcontracted translators offer high-quality and low turnover? Are your problems are taken seriously, and addressed immediately and effectively?

  • Are they third-party certified to have systems and knowledge in place to provide excellent service and results?

  • Do they use proprietary or public technology?

  • Do their test translations meet standards? Do their processes and service during test translation meet your expectations, style, etc.?

  • Do they use effective file management, storage and transmission procedures that are accessible, fast and problem-free?

  • Do they have the experience and ability to provide needed formats, including eLearning, file types, etc.?


  • Do they offer competitive per-word rates, or value-added services and consulting that warrant higher rates?

  • Do they offer extra efficiencies that bring cost savings, such as translation memory and human resources in more economical markets?

  • Do they offer an appropriate and effective use of machine translation?

In addition to these elements, there are also a number of intangibles. Although a buyer of localization services may not be able to ask these questions directly, he or she can assess through experience and intuition.


  • Do they understand the importance of localization in the global supply chain? Are they focused on providing localization services that support global business goals?

  • Do they demonstrate an ability to catch bugs, errors and problems that others wouldn’t be able to?

  • Are they fast-growing in terms of staff, capabilities, offices? 

  • Do they demonstrate strength and quality because other companies are choosing them?

  • Does their client list include top-tier companies who are known global leaders, visionaries?

  • Are their solutions customized (not one-size-fits-all) and synchronous with your company’s strategy, needs, wishes, culture?

  • Do they provide regular information and updates, so you don’t wonder what’s going on? 

  • Do they answer questions promptly, and without making you feel that it was information that you should have known?

Further complicating the decision is taking into consideration the right number of LSPs to work with. In many instances a single vendor is enough. However, with work of a significant ongoing nature, it is prudent to consider a vendor balance or mix. Practices vary widely among buyers of localization services and in our experience the decision involves factors like finances, risk and control, time-to-market demands and function-specific needs. The final decision should be guided by your organization’s own internal requirements and metrics, but as a starting place to the number-of-vendors question, here are some factors our clients consider.

How important is the overall revenue expenditure to the business? If more than 10 percent of overall external expenditures is on one business component, it can be unwise to place your trust in one single vendor.  A problem could result in serious business delivery challenges as you seek alternatives in a critical path environment. 

If the expenditures (regardless of the 10% rule) are large enough, related decisions will be scrutinized at high levels of the organization. For instance, if the expenditure is large enough for the purchasing department to control and facilitate, then this often goes hand-in-hand for an unavoidable business remit for a multi-vendor strategy.

If neither the 10% rule nor the corporate directive rule apply, then considering and deciding on the classic pros and cons of single-vendor versus multi-vendor is the way to go. Offering one vendor enough project scale may provide both utility and cost-savings in the form of volume discounts and economy-of-scale.  However, this approach risks putting all of your eggs in one basket.

Whatever the correct balance in your vendor decision process, always consider the following factors in your final analysis:

  • There’s a tendency to let the vendor own the project assets. Take ownership and responsibility for your assets – even if this is just storing them. Make sure your selected vendor gives you ownership and delivers updated translation assets (TMs, glossaries and style guides, as applicable).

  • As you establish a relationship, be cognizant of the difficulty entailed in switching vendors. Have an ongoing policy of ensuring that no financial dependence develops – making service and quality the only ties to your vendor of choice.

  • If relationships are not cultivated, they may become stale, limiting the amount of innovation. Is your selected vendor investing in the relationship and supporting innovation?

  • Both sides can become blind to price competitiveness. It’s wise to regularly evaluate the real value of the service. What is fair market pricing for comparative quality and delivery?

  • Consider the investment you are making in the vendor selection and keeping the ongoing relationship healthy.  What training and support is offered? What level of personal meetings takes place? Even the best vendor selection can be meaningless if the relationship is left to wither.

  • During a sales cycle it is easy for an LSP sales team to go the extra mile, but are the LSPs actual team members personally committed to putting in the extra mile during the hard stretches of a project?  What evidence does the vendor show of this outside of the sales selection process?  Does the salesperson or the project manager tell you they are committed?

  • What strategic commitment does the vendor provide?  Is there anyone at a strategic level making promises or supporting the opportunity? Big companies often forget the interests of small ones, but the strategic investment and intent is no less important. Is this represented or addressed in the sales cycle or the early relationship?

In conclusion, the better you prepare and understand the situation you face, the more likely you are to be able to secure the best result. All too often clients approach us asking, “What can you do for me?”  This approach opens the door for LSPs to explain why they are the best, but it rarely results in the best possible relationship. The strongest relationship can only develop once both parties truly understand what is actually needed by the client. As a professional purchaser for many years, I think the best approach is to start by clearly defining what you want and what you need, and then let the vendor speak directly to those requirements Rather than “What can you do for me?” or “Tell me about you as an LSP,” I suggest something along the lines of:  “I need high consistency and quality but I have constraints and a production team that lacks global education. So, how can you solve this challenge?”

Nicholas McMahon is vice president, US, for Jonckers Translation and Engineering. A 2007 Microsoft Service Vendor of the Year as part of localization group LCJ, Jonckers delivers software, eLearning and multimedia localization services to the world’s leading companies. Jonckers achieves cost-competitive localization excellence through an ERP-controlled global network of wholly owned offices worldwide. For info visit: www.jonckers.com.