Business Services, Clutch Report

B2B Partnerships: Questions to Ask When Interviewing Potential Business Partners

August 21, 2020

by Hannah Hicklen

If you’re looking for a new service provider, interviewing potential partners is a key step in the evaluation process. Their answers to these questions will help you learn more about their resources, reliability, and communication skills.

With what seems like an endless list of service providers on the market, finding the perfect partner for your business can be challenging.

As you begin your search for a service provider, you will likely have introductory calls with a variety of different vendors. The purpose of these calls is to find out more about these companies.

With additional information about their resources, reliability, and communication skills, you can properly assess, compare, and ultimately select the right vendor for your project.

Questions to Ask on Your First Call With a Potential B2B Partner:

  • What is the makeup of your staff?
  • How reliable are your services?
  • Do you work with other vendors?
  • How do you communicate with your partners?
  • Do you offer any guarantees?
  • Do you have references we can contact?
  • Can I see examples of your previous work?

By asking these questions, you can better determine whether a vendor is a good choice for your new project. 

What is the Makeup of Your Staff?

You need a service provider that can meet your specific needs. To make sure this happens, you need to ask for more details about the team.

As you go into your first phone call with a potential partner, keep in mind what skills your team needs to meet your goals and how many people you will require for your project.

For example, if you’re planning to develop an Android app, make sure that a potential partner has an Android-specific developer on their team and that they’re readily available. If the vendor only has 2 Android developers, and they’re working on other projects, your development project may be delayed due to lack of resources.

When you discuss the resources you require for your project, it can be helpful to have a complete scope of work. A scope of work can help identify what resources and skills you will need to meet your goals and how many people will need to support your team.

In addition to developers, you may find that you need a full team of designers, QA specialists, and a sales team to carry out the project from conception to launch. This image showcases how each team member has the specific skills needed to complete a certain area of the project. 

Team Graphic

Source: Octal IT Solution LLP

A team with varying skill sets, like this, can work together to bring the product to life. 

While the size of the staff doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality, it does impact how long the project will take and can impact cost. For example, a larger team may be able to work more quickly and efficiently but entail more labor costs.

Often, you can learn more about the team you're interviewing by scrolling through the company's website, finding a team page, and researching their qualifications through LinkedIn. 

How Reliable Are Your Services?

As you evaluate various service providers, you need to feel confident that the partner you choose is reliable. To assess their dependability properly, you need to know more about their delivery time and how quickly they’ll be able to fix a problem if one comes up.

By asking for time-related data, such as how quickly they respond to clients on average,  you’ll have a more accurate idea of what to expect by partnering with them.

Some companies track how closely they stick to project timelines, while others, such as web hosting services, record how frequently they experience outages and how long they last.

As a partner, they’re supposed to keep things running smoothly and have your back when things go wrong.

For example, think about what would happen if your website went down — how quickly will your partners be able to find the problem, fix it, and get it up and running again? The longer it’s down, the more money you lose.

By asking for data on their reliability and responsiveness, you’ll know that you’ll be receiving the best possible service.

Do You Work With Other Vendors?

When you hire a new service provider, you also become partners with their vendors. You need to know if they’re reliable as well. A great service provider can’t make up for another vendor’s shoddy work.

If you’re working with an ad agency, ask about the creative teams they work with. What if they hire an outside video production agency? You’ll want to see examples of their work to see if it’s up to par.

For other partnerships, it’s important you know what technology and service providers they work with most often so you can assess them individually and determine if they meet your needs.

To learn more about their providers, ask how long they’ve worked together and if they’ve collaborated on any other projects.

Ask more about who else they work with to get a better picture of what your project will look like.

How Do You Communicate with Your Partners?

Communication is key for establishing any strong partnership. Whether you’re starting to work on a project, or are looking for a partner to keep on retainer, how well you work together can have a huge impact on the outcome of your collaboration.

Outlining how you plan to communicate progress, make changes, or ask questions can limit miscommunication and disagreements later on in the engagement.

Keep in mind how involved you want to be with the entire process and communicate that from the start.

Communication issues can also arise if it’s unclear who you should contact if there are questions and how they will keep you updated on progress. Therefore, it’s important to ask if you will have a primary point of contact or will be working with the team directly and if you’ll be using project management software to collaborate.

By asking these questions, you’ll be able to compare how different companies communicate and determine which one would work best with your team.

Do You Offer Guarantees?

Some service providers offer guarantees to differentiate themselves in the market. While this may seem gimmicky, it can actually be a major benefit later on in the collaboration.

If they can back it up, it can make a huge difference in the service you receive, and if they fail, there is some sort of compensation.  

Often, guarantees are related to customer service. For example, IT service providers often promise to respond within a certain amount of time, which can be really important if you’re in the middle of a crisis and need immediate support.

If they do have a guarantee, ask more about what happens if they’re not able to meet their promises.

Companies that offer a satisfaction guarantee may provide a full or partial refund if you are not pleased with the final result, which reduces the risk you take when you partner with them.

Do You Have References We Can Contact?

If you’re seriously considering a service provider, verify they can provide services: Study their portfolio, read reviews online, and talk with former and current clients. 

Online reviews can provide independent insight into the quality of a company’s work, though interviewing clients yourself allows you to ask specific questions, giving you a more comprehensive idea of what to expect from a partnership.

Questions you can ask former clients include:

  • Did they consistently deliver on time?
  • How did they respond when challenges arose?
  • What was it like to work with them?
  • Were you satisfied with the results?
  • Were you unhappy with an aspect of their service?
  • Do you have any advice for me if I decide to work with them?

After just 1 or 2 calls with former clients, you can feel more confident moving forward in your own selection process, whether that means you decide to hire the service provider or not.

Can I See Examples of Your Previous Work?

To fully evaluate a potential partner, ask to see their portfolio. While reviews from previous clients can give you insight into the engagement, only you can determine if a service provider can meet your needs.

It’s likely that a vendor will redirect you to their digital portfolio, which showcases other projects they’ve worked on.

EIGHT25MEDIA, for example, features more than a dozen web design projects in its portfolio. 

Portfolio Example

Source: EIGHT25MEDIA

Interested parties can easily search on the type of project it is and click on the examples that interest them.

Vendors have different styles and strengths, and you may find that one service provider better suits your needs than another. 

By reviewing examples of their work yourself, you’ll have a better understanding of what your potential partners are capable of and how well it fits your own vision.

As you consider their work, also ask if the same team will work on your own project. A high-quality portfolio that meets your standards is a good sign, but the outcome may be different if there are other people working on your project.

Assess the Quality of a Potential Partner in the First Sales Call

In your initial call with a vendor, you need to ask questions that will help you evaluate the reliability of the firm and the quality of their work.

To determine if they’re the right partner for you, ask about the size of their staff and what resources they have on their team. Collect data that can help you understand how reliable their services are, how quickly they respond, and outline how you’ll communicate with them throughout the engagement.

Additionally, determine whether or not they work with external vendors so you can evaluate the quality of their work as well.

You can get even more out of the call by asking if they have any guarantees that will ensure you quality service while reducing your risk.

Finally, ask to see their portfolio and speak with a few of their current or former clients to verify what the service provider claimed during your initial call.  

After conducting several introductory calls with vendors, you’ll be able to narrow down your list of potential partners and move on to the next step in your selection process. 

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