I love the opportunity for new partnerships. Having been on both sides of the vendor & client agreement, I’ve enjoyed some partnerships so incredible that folks were often eager to work late – and then chum together afterward. Unfortunately, I’ve also been in situations where colleagues rued the day an agreement was signed.
In the end, high quality partnerships come down to trust. But if you rely on blind trust, you’re probably in for a rude awakening.
If you are responsible for signing up a new vendor, these 14 questions will significantly increase your likelihood of a great partnership experience and reduce the many business risks of a poor one. Some questions you can and should ask the vendor directly. For others, you will need to do your own homework. Here they are.
1. What is their core product or service?
For any new solution you are considering, it’s important to know if this is their core service (e.g. their “Big Mac”) vs. their new flavor of the week.
2. What results have their solutions produced?
Ultimately, you will be judged by the results YOU produce, with the assistance of your vendor partner. Don’t just research their offerings, research the outcomes as well.
3. How long have they provided the desired service?
It’s also important to know how much experience the vendor has. Are they “tried and true” or are they looking to get their big break by working with you?
4. What other work have they done with clients in your industry and in your situation?
Many business issues are similar across markets, but still – if your vendor has worked with similar clients and situations, they may come in with more familiarity.
5. What is their market position?
Is this vendor at the luxury or discount end of the market spectrum? Adjust your expectations accordingly.
6. What have other clients’ experiences been?
Don’t just take the sale rep’s word for things. Inquire of past clients – the more detailed, the better.
7. Do they have the capability/capacity to complete this work?
This is especially important if you have a lot of work to offload. The last thing you want is to sign a large contract and then have the new vendor struggle to staff it.
8. How will you partner throughout the project?
This speaks to the accessibility and flexibility the vendor will provide. Will you work together or will the vendor perform all the work? Will they be available if you want to meet? If you want to provide input, will they be open to it?
9. Can you contract for multiple phases instead of one full body of work?
If this is a new project, a new relationship or a mission critical assignment, it may be less risky for you to pursue a phased approach vs. shooting for the moon.
10. What is the price range for this type of service?
Price should never be the first, or only, consideration (there are much higher costs than price), but don’t wait until the last minute to inquire. Ask for a typical price range and then talk specifics once you think there may be a fit.
11. If it’s evident the solution isn’t working midway through, how will you course correct?
This conversation is less uncomfortable to have before an agreement than halfway through a contentious project.
12. If the solution doesn’t produce the anticipated results, will you have any recourse?
Again, you are being judged on results. Expect the vendor to hold you accountable (as they should). Do the same with them. Remember, the responsibility for performance oversight is yours.
13. If the solution produces results beyond your expectations, how will you scale it for additional capacity?
It’s important to risk manage for success, not just failure. If you may want to build bigger down the road, design the infrastructure with the potential to add-on vs. starting over from scratch.
14. If you love the service and want to extend, will there be any significant changes in personnel, accessibility or pricing?
If you are signing up with a new vendor, you may get the benefit of reduced pricing or special attention for the first contract. Then if you want to continue, the pricing may change or your favorite liaison may get reassigned elsewhere. Once again, it’s better to inquire about this upfront than be surprised down the road.
For those of you with significant partnership experience, what other questions would you add?
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.