The modern work world is obsessed with decentralizing and streamlining business operations. That means outsourcing and contracting work is par for the course for most businesses somewhere in their company operations. Smart leaders delegate as much as possible to third-party tools and services to free up resources, time, and energy to focus on whatever their brand does best.
While passing off tasks is a normal way to conduct a 21st-century business, that doesn’t mean it’s always effective. Here are a few questions to ask when you’re interviewing a vendor to ensure you forge the best partnerships for your brand.
1. What Problems Do You Solve?
Pay attention to the wording with this one. The question isn’t “What tools do you sell?” or “What services do you offer?” It’s focused on the pain point — your pain point. You want to know how a vendor can solve the specific problem or problems that you’re facing.
For instance, this is the approach that content partner Contiem uses to position itself. They start by stating that other companies provide the individual services they offer. However, only Contiem can deliver the unique solution of taking care of “all of your content needs.”
The company isn’t offering a specific service. It is providing a suite of services that it can adapt to provide content-specific solutions tailored to each client’s needs.
If you’re considering a vendor, make sure they aren’t presenting a specific tool or a cookie-cutter service. Consider if they can address the one-of-a-kind needs and challenges that have you looking for third-party help in the first place.
2. Do You Have a Niche or Specialty?
Another simple-yet-insightful question is if a vendor has a niche or specialty within their field of work. The answer you get can give you a few key pieces of information to help inform your decision.
For example, if a company has invested in a specific niche, it indicates that they are committed to providing excellence within that swim lane. Their desire to come across as an authority in their field of expertise means they will more likely be quick to help you.
A vendor focused on a specialty is also motivated to have cutting-edge tools or services to offer. They will want to keep you up to date with the most efficient and productive business solutions as a way to outshine competitors.
This principle applies to everything, from something as simple as choosing a workflow platform for a remote office to outsourcing complex tasks, such as distribution or supply chain management. Whatever kind of vendor you’re vetting, check to see if they specialize in the services they’re offering you.
3. How Long Have You Been in Business?
The age of a business is an insightful metric. Asking how long a company has been in operation once again gives you several key insights. In most cases (though not always, as we’ll see in a moment), an older business is a better choice.
For example, the communications world is ancient. From the Roman cursus publicus to the Pony Express, humanity has been experimenting with communication for millennia.
In the 21st century, past principles are running up against modern technology. A veteran company like World Wide Technologies — which has been around for 30 years — is able to use past wisdom and experience to pioneer brand new internal communication software for larger enterprises.
To be clear, age isn’t everything. The fact that a company is older may indicate stagnancy or a lack of innovation. However, if a company offers creative, effective solutions backed by years or even decades of experience, that’s a good sign that they know how to deliver on their promises.
4. Do You Have Case Studies From Past Clients?
In marketing, case studies are often used as an important part of the later stages of the sales funnel. In fact, 73% of successful content marketers use case studies.
Once a potential buyer has expressed interest, engaged with a brand, and learned about a product or service, an example of another customer’s success story can help nudge them to make a purchase.
When you’re interviewing vendors, the situation flips. You’re the one at the bottom of that funnel — but you can still use case studies to your advantage. As you consider signing on the dotted line, start by asking if the vendor has any case studies in the first place. If the answer is no, ask them why.
Perhaps they’re new and haven’t built up a track record yet. (In that case, see the previous item on this list.) If they’re well-established without case studies, that could be a sign that they don’t want you to see the experiences and testimonials of past clients. Either way, asking the question will give them a chance to explain, and you can use the answer to inform your decision.
Asking the Right Questions When Interviewing Vendors
Working with a vendor isn’t a one-time interaction. It’s a professional relationship that can go on for weeks, months, and even years. You want to make sure that every vendor you work with is a good long-term fit.
Asking the right questions during the interview process is a good way to ensure each vendor can function as an effective partner that will help you achieve your business goals.