Unlike buying, say, a toaster, sourcing a localization vendor boils down to buying a promise: a quote to deliver certain services over the course of time. If you choose a disappointing toaster, you can probably swap it out for a new one on the same day.
But by the time you realize your localization vendor isn’t meeting your expectations, you’ve already invested a significant amount of time and money with that vendor. So how do you evaluate vendor quotes to ensure you’re buying a promise you can count on?
Trying to slog through multiple quotes is at best tedious, and often downright frustrating: especially when you receive two different quotes for the same project that are vastly different in price. It’s tempting to skip over the boring Q&A text and narrow your list of contenders based on pricing alone.
But your ability to trust the pricing rests entirely on key factors that are buried in that boring Q&A text. Here are the questions you need to consider to evaluate each vendor’s ability to make a promise you can count on.
1. Are the vendor’s assumptions documented?
Quotes, also known as “estimates,” are just educated guesses. A skilled localization project manager or solutions architect can quote out a project with a great deal of accuracy, but RFP documents and multi-vendor Q&A calls almost never cover all the “discovery” questions these roles would pose in a private meeting with all the key stakeholders.
Without comprehensive details, the vendor team can prepare an estimate based on certain assumptions that stem from their collective experience. Well-documented assumptions demonstrate the team’s depth of knowledge about key variables, as well as their ability to assess your needs. They also highlight ways that two quotes are not ready for “apples to apples” comparison.
Vendors that document their assumptions are inviting further conversation to help adjust the bid to your exact requirements. The resulting transparency helps both parties set clear expectations even before project kickoff, meaning you’re less likely to encounter surprises down the line.
2. Does the quote include the right amount of information?
A good quote is a fine balance between too much information and too little information. The information should be itemized in a manner that lets you know within 30 seconds what you are paying for, and how much it is going to cost.
I’ve seen “quotes” sent in the body of an email that have little more than a single dollar amount with a few sentences to describe the scope, and I’ve also seen quotes that are hundreds of rows/columns in an Excel sheet that take an MBA in finance to understand. The best quotes tell you what you need to know and offer the opportunity to dig into the details in a follow up discussion.
3. Is there a realistic work plan?
With each cost estimation, there should also be at least a rough schedule indicating key milestones and how many weeks or months each one will require, as well as a sense of the roles involved. There’s no way to understand the price quote without understanding the schedule.
The price of a store-bought toaster covers the cost of the resource time the manufacturer has invested to assemble the device. But if you’re buying the service of assembling a toaster, will you tolerate a month-long delivery commitment featuring a low-cost junior resource who first needs to read an electrical engineering textbook, or do you want an experienced tinkerer to deliver it this afternoon for a higher fee?
Localization offers many ways to tackle any given challenge, and each has a different effect on cost, quality, and turnaround time. Will your program have unpredictable handoffs that need immediate turnaround, or do you have a really relaxed timeline? Factors like those represent the difference between rush charges or overtime rates and cost savings from TM optimization. The only way you can tell what each vendor is quoting is by scrutinizing the proposed plan.
4. How well does the vendor understand the scope of work?
The content of a successful quote will be used to develop the contract or statement of work (SOW) document that governs the program, so there’s no room for confusion about what you are paying for and why. The vendor should demonstrate they understand your business objectives and break down your scope of work in clear, concise line items.
Sometimes, there is not enough room on a quote to provide detailed information, which is why it is important to always have a clarifying follow up call to understand the line items you see. For example, if you see line items for “file preparation,” the vendor should be able to explain what this includes and doesn’t include, as well as defend the number of hours estimated. Are you being charged a “project management fee?” Make sure you understand what that does and does not cover, since your idea of project management could be very different from your localization partner’s.
5. What’s the actual value of freebies?
Sometimes vendors in a competitive bidding situation may try to sweeten the pot by offering additional services free of charge. You should make it very clear that all items and services included in the scope should be represented within the quote, even if they are not being charged. For example, if a vendor is offering “free engineering services,” then the quote should outline the engineering services that are to be included, along with the real cost for those services, and then can be discounted for a net charge of zero.
This allows you to see just how much money you are saving, and, more importantly, how much extra that service will cost if the vendor decides to start charging for it. Just like accepting a “free offer” for premium channels with your cable provider: they may be free now, but you would like to know how much they cost in the event you begin to rely on services that are not perpetually free.
6. How will discounts affect your service level over time?
By the same token, vendors will sometimes come down in price in the form of a percentage discount. It is best to discuss any discounts with the vendor ahead of time to understand how that discount is being offered.
You’re not looking for an awe-inspiring story about how their proprietary automated solution provides synergies with the dynamic staffing performance model, or other marketing nonsense. A perfectly acceptable reason for a discount is that they have run their numbers and have received approval from their CFO to accept a lower margin.
Again, your goal is to assess whether the discount is real and sustainable throughout the life of the program, or whether you’re likely to encounter a nasty surprise when the vendor can no longer afford to discount your services. Devastating as it is to customer satisfaction, this happens all the time: the sales team wins executive approval to lower margins just to win a big name client or a big contract, only to renegotiate once the work starts bankrupting their organization.
Profitable programs get top priority. Assuming you want your work done well and on time, blindly pushing for deeper discounts at the contract stage increases the risk of dissatisfaction when it’s inconvenient to change vendors. Make sure you understand how each discount will affect quality, turnaround, responsiveness, and overall program support.
7. Is there sufficient evidence that the vendor can deliver?
A mortgage loan application requires evidence like pay stubs, tax returns, credit reports, and so forth to increase confidence in the borrower’s likelihood of repaying the promissory note. By the same token, the quote should contain evidence that your program vendor can deliver on their promises. Confidence-building evidence can take many forms, such as:
- Thoughtful questions and discussions that demonstrate the vendor has knowledge and experience approaching challenges like yours.
- Realistic work plans, schedules, and role descriptions with the right amount of detail.
- Case studies describing past experiences delivering positive outcomes to programs with a similar objective or scope of work.
- References and/or testimonial comments from organizations comparable to yours.
Examining the whole quote — not just the price table — is the only way to know whether you can trust the vendor’s ability to deliver on their promise to fulfill your objectives. Even when a quote is just a formality before kicking off work, if a vendor can’t prepare an organized, solid quote, then how much confidence do you have in their ability to deliver the program you want?