So, You’re a Vendor Manager…What Exactly Do You Do?

Vendor managers play a unique role at language service providers (LSPs). They are the liaison between the in-house team and the scores of providers, primarily freelancers and corporate subcontractors, handling outsourced linguistic work.

The general job title, however, downplays the very human elements of vendor management. As a freelancer’s central point of contact at the LSP, the vendor manager needs to ensure that the freelancer always feels connected and engaged.

From the start, it is critical that vendor managers establish positive rapport with the freelancers they court. Though 38% of respondents to a 2017 Slator poll said they find freelance linguists at trade shows, the practicality of this method depends on an LSP’s location and travel budget.

Vendor managers rely heavily on online resources to find promising new freelancers. Many LSPs funnel applications through their own website, which can be helpful but can also inundate vendor managers with irrelevant (or fake) résumés.

When vendor managers follow up with an applicant, or with a respondent to their job post on platforms like ProZ, addressing the freelancer by name, and mentioning one or two points about their specific experience that make them suitable for a project can make the freelancer’s first interaction with the LSP feel more personal.

Different LSPs have different policies on testing freelancers, but for those that regularly do, companies like rosalyn bring AI into the equation, promising to detect cheating on translation tests and help automate the whole testing process.

Still, there is room for the human touch. Vendor managers should set clear expectations for candidates by explaining the testing process and letting them know when they will receive their results.

Valuable Resource

Once a freelancer has been onboarded and is part of the LSP’s “network” of providers, the vendor manager should keep in touch with the vendor as part of relationship management. This can take many forms: surveys about the vendor’s experience working with the LSP, video calls to review recent projects, and newsletters that give freelancers a more holistic understanding of the LSP’s work.

It is standard for LSPs to provide style guides and instructions with each project, but what about training, or career development opportunities? In addition to helping freelancers feel valued, such opportunities help vendors provide higher-quality work, often using new tools.

EC Innovations Managing Director Vijay Suppiah told Slator that, in particular, “constant coaching and technical support have to be provided to translators who are based in emerging markets or developing countries.”

For LSPs in the US — nevermind California for a moment — offerings like these can blur the line between independent contractors and full-fledged employees. As a compromise, tutorials should not be required, and training materials might actually mean recommendations of other resources, such as podcasts, books, and articles. An LSP-specific option might be scheduling an optional video conference for freelancers with, say, the in-house language quality manager, who can answer questions in real time.

As they work behind the scenes, a freelancer’s contribution to a successful project can be overlooked. Acknowledging consistently outstanding work can go a long way in making freelancers feel appreciated. Recognition programs might include featuring top performers on social media, providing a glowing testimonial for a freelancer’s professional website, or giving a financial reward like an increase in rates or a one-time bonus.

Another way of showing gratitude: a catered lunch at the office. Local freelancers can visit the office, meet the in-house team and other freelancers in person, break bread, and talk shop.

In This Together

Vendor managers set the tone for an LSP’s relationship (and reputation) with freelancers; but nurturing in-house relationships is just as important. This is especially true for vendor managers who work remotely, apart from their colleagues.

Instead of email-only correspondence, video calls can remind individuals that they are working toward shared goals. Vendor managers should also be included periodically in other department meetings to understand how their work contributes to the LSP’s overall growth. Another option is a monthly meeting where project managers and vendor managers can discuss successes and challenges.

Project managers should understand the vendor-vetting process, including testing, checking references, and confirming credentials. This gives the PM more confidence in working with new vendors. When data and feedback from a PM point to issues with a vendor, the vendor manager should ask the PM for suggestions on next steps, and then keep the PM in the loop as they follow up with the vendor.

Although the role of vendor manager is often only created once an LSP has reached a certain size, a vendor manager — or vendor management team — is essential to scaling any LSP. Adding a human touch to vendor management can ensure that freelancers feel like people, not numbers; and that PMs feel like their vendor managers have their back.