To do screening well, you must be part detective work, part psychologist and part businessperson. You will be looking to quickly separate the noise from the best signals.
Part of defining what constitutes a good “signal” is going to be common across all participants and buyers. The other part will be tailored by your specific needs and operational characteristics.
Experience leads us to understand that some components of a partner are “must haves”. For each of these items, we’ll examine why they are “must haves” and what you can do to expose them.
The mandatory parts of the screen for me include:
Responsiveness – there is nothing more frustrating than waiting on a partner to respond from halfway across the world on a project you are working on together. Imagine that your client is waiting on a status report and, after repeated attempts, you have been unable to reach your partner. You might as well be starting from scratch.I test for responsiveness right out of the gate. Respondents that reply first are given extra points in my assessment. I then typically ask 2 rounds of emailed questions and note how thorough, relevant and complete the answers are and how quickly they respond. Early RFP responders who respond quickly to both round of my emails move to the top of the Responsiveness list.
Communication skills – closely related to Responsiveness is Communication skills. You will be likely considering vendors from around the globe. Do you share a common language in which you can both converse fluently? For me, the respondents must have excellent written English and passable verbal English. If I can’t decipher their responses or they aren’t understanding my questions, I need to strike them from the list.
Integrity – I define Integrity as “say what you mean, do what you say”. This is a tougher screen to build from casual questions, but should be watched for during the initial screens and should be explored during the verbal interview. I have found vendors who claim web-sites that they didn’t work on (or they worked on a peripheral piece, but didn’t disclose that). If a storyline seems to change or fall apart under closer inspection, then Integrity could be a problem.
Morality – We are entering a new territory of productivity and empowerment. However, as with the Industrial Revolution or the Agrarian Revolution before that, the opportunity for abuse is rampant. As business-people, we have responsibility to exercise new-found power with care and empathy for others. This should be a win-win-win (win for us, win for our partners doing the work and win for our clients). If its not, its not worth doing. I like to ask respondents “We wish to work with socially responsible companies. How will your employees benefit from this type of work? “ I am disappointed to find that many respondents choose to ignore this question. However, I have found great resonance with some who have answered with enthusiasm, describing their family-owned business or sending pictures of their team. Others have responded with humor, telling me that “It will make my marriage happier!” (from a two person, husband-wife team).In addition to answering important questions, these responses start to really convey the personality of the team.
Qualifications – do the have qualified experience in the line of work you are suggesting? What kind of formal training do they have? Although some of the best professionals I’ve worked with don’t have formal degrees, they are able to speak to their domain expertise as fluently as a PhD grad.
The optional components, which make up the personality and then form the basis of your relationship fall into the categories of:
Team size – some jobs are fine as one-man jobs, others benefit from a team. Also, this statistic speaks to the depth of your partner’s roster. Deep is good. Too deep – and you may be small potatoes to them.
Preferred working style – Are they straight “send me the spec and I’ll give my questions to you”? Are you? Or do they prefer an Instant Messaging panel up on the screen and throw questions back and forth at will? How formal are checkins? What is covered? Etc. This is a chapter until itself.
Flexibility – What happens if you change your direction? What if you need more work incorporated into the mix? How constrained is the current arrangement around “change management”. This one could cover an entire book.
Gauging how busy they are – A bit like the “Team Size” question, not busy is a worry, busy is good and too busy, you are a small potato in a big potato field.
Functional fit – how well does this partner fit your specific need? Some people have the right general experience, but really concentrate in an unrelated marketplace than yours. The closer the match of prior experience and specific skill matches, the better.
Personality fit – the least tangible but the most important. If you look at the world the same way, you and your partner can make magic together.
As an astute business person, you can probably think of many other criteria which may be suitable to add to your screening toolkit. However, screens will only take you so far. Many times you will need to rely on your intuition and, ultimately, in actual working experience with the partner.