Take the Plunge
How to dive into vendor management and enjoy it
By Camilla Amici
While reading Carmen Cisneros’ Take the Plunge — How to Dive into Vendor Management and Enjoy It, I had more than a few flashbacks to the year 2016.
This was the year I returned to work after my first pregnancy and had to discuss my new role with my managers, because switching from a full-time to a part-time position made it difficult for me to follow the same project management activity as before. After the first early-morning shock of having “abandoned” my 9-month old daughter in kindergarten, I was told, “You could work as vendor manager.” I quickly replied, “Yes, of course!” A few minutes later, a key question popped into my mind (which was still working pretty slowly due to sleep deprivation): “Okay, but what does a vendor manager actually do?”
Like me, many people in small-size companies have begun working as a vendor manager (VM) in recent years. In the past, this role was often seen as a sort of side-position, a function that came to replace or integrate something else, and that perfectly suited a part-time position. However, after several years as a VM, I totally agree with one of the first messages that Cisneros aims to spread with her book: Vendor management is actually a crucial function for every translation company.
This is because perhaps the greatest richness of every LSP is the team of people who actually do the work: the external providers. If the vendor management department works well and the external supplier pool is satisfied and tailored for the company’s needs, all the other departments would have great benefits and an easier life. But, how do we reach this goal?
This is exactly what Cisneros explains step by step in her book, which ought to be required reading for every new professional who falls into this role (plus, a good recap manual for more experienced VMs). Cisneros starts from the very beginning by providing info about the vendor management role — what are the key responsibilities, the skills to be developed, and the key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate if the role is successfully set up? If a new company should build a VM department from scratch, of course, they need to consider the company size and goals. In some big companies, there are vendor management departments with many people and job levels. But in other small agencies, this can be a one-man-or-woman job. Particularly for this last situation, if someone feels overwhelmed by the sense of loneliness, they can take a breath and start reading Take the Plunge for guidance into the role.
After analyzing the preliminary conditions, the book illustrates in detail how to dive into the role and be even more conscious of what needs to be done. Here, the new VM learns the importance of effective database management to make sure that it is always clean, updated, and filled with all the necessary information. This can be seen as a bit of a repetitive and mechanical task, but it is actually incredibly important for every stakeholder within the company: from the project management team in charge of choosing the project team members, to the quality team who have to evaluate the external pool performance. If a VM has no idea where to start with cleaning huge databases full of outdated information, Cisneros gives some practical advice on how to draw up a plan and have some productivity data in mind as a point of reference.
Once the existing base has been accurately organized, the good vendor manager can switch to another key activity: vendor recruitment. This is a continuous and multi-layered task, because VMs should not only be aware of what the company needs at that very moment, but also be able to predict what will come next. Of course, nobody has a crystal ball, and the VM has to rely on another aspect that Cisneros reports as vital in all her work: communication. Effective communication is always a key to success, so it is not just vital to be connected with every department inside your own company, but also having a good relationship with industry peers is paramount for making daily work more efficient and understanding where the industry is heading. For all these reasons, Cisneros and other colleagues also animate the Vendor Manager Group on LinkedIn, creating an impressive source of information and material to share with peers.
Communication is also the key when it comes to management of vendors. After having recruited and on-boarded new talents, the great challenge is to retain them and keep the engagement between vendors and company high. Cisneros explains how to make this possible, while she provides some useful techniques to assess conflicts and avoid losing the resource when problems arise. Thinking about my role, I have always thought that it is quite disappointing to only show up as VM when it is necessary to ask for discounts (and often we have no choice when asking for this type of thing). However, this can be balanced by giving something back — something more than just nice words. As Cisneros suggests, there are many strategies to keep vendors engaged, from surveys to newsletters, from recommendations to continuous professional development. And of course, the most powerful form of engagement is giving resources one simple thing: regular paid work!
This last point may sound quite obvious, but having read it on paper makes me feel as if we should remember this more often. In my opinion, it is all-around honesty. We can tell our vendors how nice and collaborative we are, we can share with them very useful information for their professional growth, and also fancy pictures on Instagram of how our cats are cutely napping close to our CAT tools, but we cannot pretend that such things are as important as receiving regular paid work for a freelance linguist. We can be pushed between provider expectations and customer requests with very little room for action, but we should always be honest with all the involved parties of what counts the most.
In 2019, I had my second child, so I am still struggling with sleep deprivation and wondering if my brain will ever work again at full capacity. However, I am pretty lucky because there are several things that I like to do, one of them is vendor management within my company. By reading Cisneros’ book I found some encouraging confirmation and new inputs to think about for the future. Now, after a sleepless night, if I feel a bit confused, I know that I can reopen Take the Plunge and have a guide to clear my mind and re-organize my schedule by setting the right priorities. And enjoy it.
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