In today’s global marketplace, your company can participate in competitive bidding processes worldwide. But when responding to a request for proposal (RFP) from a company in another country, you need to submit a compelling proposal that communicates clearly in their target language and avoids cultural pitfalls. 

When responding to a request for proposal from a client who uses a different language in the workplace, RFP translation is a critical component of any winning bid. The more polished and detail-oriented your proposal is, the likelier you are to be chosen for the project.

In this article, we will explore the challenges companies face when submitting proposals in a different language and what you need to take into consideration when including a translation step in the RFP process.

An overview of the RFP process

Government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private sector businesses all issue RFPs. They may use different names, such as RFI (request for information), RFQ (request for quote), or even tenders, but the process is largely the same.

The issuer’s goal is to receive competitive bids from various suppliers. Each bidder answers the same questions so that the issuer can make direct comparisons. They will issue a series of questions that potential suppliers need to answer, and there will also be supplementary documentation requests. The final proposal will likely need to adhere to specific formatting requirements and page limits established by the issuer.

The proposal generally needs to be submitted in the same language as the request, which means that RFP translation may have two components. First, the questions and guidelines may need to be translated so that your company can respond. Then your responses will need to be translated into the issuer’s language.

When it comes to RFP translation, details matter

RFP Translation Service

Have you heard the story about the rock band Van Halen and the brown M&Ms? When the band was touring, their contract included a requirement that each venue has a bowl of M&Ms backstage—with the brown ones removed. 

The reason? It was a way for the band to quickly test whether their contract had been read. If the brown M&Ms had not been removed, they knew they could not count on the venue to have read the contract line-by-line. It was their signal to review every element of the production—especially the dangerous pyrotechnic ones.

Formatting, spelling, and other details play a similarly critical role in the RFP process. If you do not dot every “i” and cross every “t” when trying to win a bid, how can a company trust you to deliver the service you say you will once the contract is signed?

As Yaniv Masjedi of the VoIP company Nextiva told an interviewer:

“When I put out an RFP for an audit, I absolutely need impeccable formatting in your proposal. If I’m going to trust someone with the keys to our company’s backend, they better be able to tiptoe in, execute, then extract themselves without a single bit of data knocked out of place.

If you are sending in a proposal that is improperly punctuated or formatted, how can I possibly trust you with this job? It might seem strict, but I cannot spare the time to monitor your every movement. I need a firm which demonstrates flawless work.”

When translating your proposal into another language, you need a trusted partner with experience in RFP translation who will flawlessly execute the demands of the RFP. Working with a language services provider that has an established quality control process will ensure that your translated proposal is closely reviewed to avoid any mistakes or inaccuracies.

Correct formatting is vital

The final document created during the RFP translation process needs to meet all the formatting guidelines laid out by the issuer—down to the font size, the margins, and the number of pages.

One of the first things a decision-maker will do is check the formatting to see who followed their guidelines. If you ignored their requirements, they are unlikely to have confidence in your ability to execute the project correctly, which may disqualify you.

Several years ago, a construction firm in the United States learned this the hard way. When responding to an RFP from the federal Department of Homeland Security, they submitted their proposal in PDF format. However, the department had specified that proposals were to be sent in XLS form. They had already provided Excel spreadsheets with built-in formulas that would allow them to compare pricing from different vendors easily.

Because this was a government contract, the firm was able to file an appeal. They lost their appeal, with the office ruling that an agency does not have to alter its process in any way to accommodate a vendor that failed to follow instructions.

Deadlines must be met

RFP Translations

When responding to an RFP, there is typically no wiggle room in terms of the deadline. Your ability to deliver the proposal on time—before you have even won the prospective client’s business—is indicative of how you will perform once you have closed the deal.

As a result, the RFP translation step needs to be completed on time so that you can submit the proposal by—or better yet, —before the deadline.

When you work with the same translation partner on multiple RFPs, they will be able to use a translation memory to shorten their turnaround time. Previous responses to RFP questions are often repurposed for new proposals. Having already translated similar responses enables translators to edit or re-use existing translations rather than translating from scratch. 

Cultural context and RFP translation

RFP issuers consistently place a high value on personalization. In the global market, one key component of personalization is understanding the cultural context in which the issuer works.

For example, say you are bidding for a contract in Argentina. The proposal needs to be translated into Spanish—but just specifying “Spanish,” while necessary, is insufficient as there are many dialects and regional variations of Spanish. You need an in-country translation team made up of native Argentinean Spanish speakers familiar with the local business culture.

Technical terminology necessary to explain your solution may vary from one country to the next. An experienced translation team will select the words that your target audience will understand and avoid any phrasing that may cause confusion or offense.

They may also be able to identify opportunities to improve on the original answers to questions in the RFP based on their understanding of the specifics of how people in Argentina do business. 

Polished RFP translations also boost a decision-maker’s confidence in your company. If they have not previously partnered with an international company, they may worry about potential communications challenges. Well-translated, culturally specific proposals will go a long way toward assuaging these concerns.

Clear and precise language wins RFPs

Decision-makers who review bids often spend a lot of time deciphering vague and confusing language used to describe a company’s solutions and processes. Ask any of them for advice on the RFP process, and they will tell you that clear language makes it easier to understand what differentiates your company.

RFP translation should be handled by subject-matter experts who understand the need for clear language. The better their technical knowledge, the more adeptly they will be able to translate your responses to individual questions. Similarly, they will be able to translate even highly technical supporting documents accurately. They will also ensure that your responses are concise enough to fit within any established page limits.

Because there is a language barrier, it will be more difficult for the recipient to pick up the phone and call if they need clarification during the bidding process. Ensuring that your answers are clear and precise is the best way to pre-empt potential communications issues—and instill confidence in how you will communicate during a project.

Accurate RFP translation enhances your credibility

JSI Telecom specializes in collecting and analyzing highly sensitive information for law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The organizations they work with demand a high level of security and conduct extensive due diligence before hiring vendors.

Given the high volumes of content, they needed to translate, JSI had attempted to use machine translation. However, the chosen system was not up to the challenge, and service delivery and business development were affected.

A senior technical writer from JSI explains that salespeople would be “standing in front of a client at a presentation and reacting to the translation on the screen. The quality was literally so bad our audience would laugh out loud.”

JSI could no longer afford to miss out on opportunities for new business, so they reached out to Art One to localize their software and documentation. When that process was a success, they then asked us to begin handling their RFPs. 

Suddenly, they were able to deliver fast, accurate proposals in a variety of languages, empowering them to win new business around the world. In their words, partnering with Art One for RFP translation was “a game-changer.”

Read JSI Case Study

Art One Translations has the subject matter experts, the quality processes, and the experience necessary to translate proposals into dozens of languages. We can translate RFPs for various industries, including software, energy, telecommunications, and manufacturing.

We pride ourselves on delivering accurate translations even on tight timelines. If a surprise comes up during the RFP process and you need a document translated on short notice, we are here to make it happen so you can close the deal.

Contact us for more information on how our RFP translation services can help you do more business globally.


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