Selecting a Great Business Partner


The traditional request for proposal (RFP) process doesn’t have to be traditional any longer. Let’s take a look at a process that answers all your questions, but through a new approach similar to hiring a key employee.

While an RFP can be an effective question set to learn more about a company, it often stops at just that. It’s time to make relationship building a key part of the process. After all, would you hire an employee without first meeting them?

To change how you go about finding a good business partner, it’s important to understand what it takes: Sound hiring techniques, a process for getting there and the best interviewing questions to help you arrive at your decision. This toolkit provides an all-inclusive guide to finding a partner who will work well with your people, instead of finding someone based on a questionnaire.

How to Select a Great Partner

A new partner needs to be part of your long-term strategy. Don’t skimp on the amount of time and energy needed to find the best candidate for the job. The following process will help you find that “great” business partner:

  1. Define the role. During this process, you’ll need to take an internal assessment of your company’s strengths and perform a gap analysis. Our gap analysis tool, called ResultsBuilder®, may help with this. When determining what role you need to fill, think about how much support you require, what your budget allows, and whether you’d like a local or national partner to support your organization.
  2. Source your network. When searching for a partner, it’s okay to talk to other sources. Try speaking with other partners your company already has to see if they work with someone who could be a good candidate for you. Get input from a trusted advisor, or even speak with previous partners.
  3. Conduct interviews. Stop sending a lengthy questionnaire to interview your candidates; great partners are built from great relationships. It’s important to get to know the people that make up the organization. Try having an informal meeting over coffee, or just ask high-level questions that won’t drain the person you are talking to. Just getting to know one or two people at the potential partner firm can help you make your decision.
  4. Evaluate finalists. The best way to see how a potential partner works is to provide a behavioral question. Give them a business challenge to solve that you’ve created or had in the past. Then ask for a presentation of the solution to your decisionmaking team that is limited to 30 minutes, including Q&A. Indicate how many presenters you prefer attend, and be clear that it is not a service and product presentation.
  5. Make your selection. Now it’s time to review the presentations and evaluate the solutions. Take in all the information you’ve received for each candidate and then think about the gaps you need to fill with each one. It’s also helpful to go back to where you defined the role to ensure you select the partner that will fulfill your needs. Once you’ve made a decision, communicate it to all participants.

Putting the Process into Action

Every process needs a timeline and checklist. The selection process for finding the right partner will take about 90 days to complete.

Day 1-30: Define the role

(Internal Team)

  • Determine if your future partner needs to focus on one area, or if they need to provide a broader scope of solutions.
  • Establish what capabilities are important to complement what you do well internally.
  • Find specific gaps with your current partner(s) that you need to fill.
  • Determine your budget and how you prefer to compensate (transparent fee basis, commissions, or a combination of both).
  • Gather referrals from your existing trusted partners and advisors (legal, CPA, real estate, PR, policy, etc.).
  • Document a present or past business challenge that the partner would be expected to solve as part of the selection process. This will be used later in the process.

Day 31-45: Source your network

(Project Leader Activity)

  • Hold informal meetings for three to four prospective partners to test the “feel” of those who have been referred to you by your trusted advisors.
  • Distribute a limited-question set to prospective partners for responses.
  • Select two finalists from responses to the limited-question set.

Day 46-75: Conduct interviews

(Internal Team and Prospective Partner)

  • Share the business challenge with each finalist. Provide guidelines for the presentation length, topic, presenters, etc.
  • Host presentations with limited presenters for each prospective partner where they present their business challenge resolution proposal, not showcase products and services.

Day 76-90: Evaluate finalists and make your selection

(Internal Team)

  • Review presentations and evaluate outcomes.
  • Review gaps to fill with each partner and which is the best fit for your needs.
  • Distribute any follow-up questions to each prospective partner and their references.
  • Communicate to all participants the final decision that was made.

Asking the Right Questions

Hiring top talent requires asking the right questions. Your partner selection should be the same. Find a quality partner by asking the following sample questions:

Casual discussions

If you’re having a more casual coffee discussion, we recommend these types of questions:

  1. Tell me a bit about your firm’s history and background. What do you pride yourself to be?
  2. Tell me about your firm’s future. Who do you want to be when you grow up? How do you plan to accomplish that?
  3. If I become your client, how will you get to know me?
  4. How would you support the ongoing professional development of our team?
  5. What would you want me to leave knowing today?

Formal discussions

If you want to deliver a more formal questionnaire, we recommend these types of questions:

  1. Describe the team that would work with our team. How would you select them? How would they function together to accomplish our goals?
  2. Give an example of how your firm is a leader within your industry.
  3. What is your service philosophy and how do you know that is what you are delivering? 
  4. How proactive are you in finding opportunities to enhance our employee experience?
  5. In your opinion, what are the two major challenges companies of our size face? How would you help us solve those challenges?
  6. Please share an example of a comprehensive employee experience strategy that you developed for a client, and describe the process used to develop, implement, and measure the impact of that strategy.
  7. Describe your standard package of services. How do you bill for these services and at what annual cost? What other services could you provide and at what cost?
  8. If you were to become our partner, what would the first three-, six-, and nine-months experience be for our team?

In Summary

If you are thinking about or are already in the process of finding a new partner, consider setting that old RFP aside. This new process will not only help you find a great partner for your organization, but will also foster a lasting relationship needed to accomplish your goals.

Selecting a Great Business Partner

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