14 Nov 14 6 mantras for choosing the right offshore business research partner

There are a large number of companies offering business research services across offshore destinations like India (which is the most favoured one), Malaysia, Philippines and several others. How can you ensure that you select the right offshore research partner?

Do they have relevant expertise and experience?
To start eliminating from the long list of contenders, you can check for the ones that offer the service you are looking for. Most service providers have fairly comprehensive portfolios published on their websites; but they probably have depth in only some of the services listed. So be sure to ask how much experience they have in the services you are interested in and figure out their real USPs.

Migration teams play a critical role in the success of an offshore partnership, so check if they have processes and teams for migration in your service area.

Also, don’t forget to take a longterm view on the relationship from the outset. So assuming that the relationship will be successful, are the potential partners capable of moving up the value chain and taking on more complex research services and processes?

Look for the right size
Why is size of the service provider important, you ask? If you are looking to offshore a small volume of work (even in the long-term) and you approach a large service provider, his interest in your account will be relatively low. Even if he does take on your work, he is likely to give it a lower priority as compared to his larger clients. You don’t want a partner for whom you are not important!

On the other hand, if you go to a small service provider with for a large volume of work, he is likely to give you a lot of attention, but he may take time to ramp up his capacity to service you. Also, if your business constitutes an excessively large proportion of his revenue (over 30%), his business risk rises. You don’t want to partner with a company that is likely to go belly up if your business to him fluctuates. So find a partner of the “right” size for your quantum of current and expected work.

Have you checked testimonials and references?
What kind of companies has the potential partner worked with in the past? Are they companies you respect? Many service providers publish testimonials on their websites. While these are good indicators of the quality of their service, it is better to ask for references and actually talk to the clients of the partner. They will give you better insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the partner.

Is there a cultural match?
It is important to ensure a cultural match between your organization and the potential partner. Organization culture is an amorphous concept. It encompasses many things such as how the employees dress and whether they are punctual, to the leadership style of the top management. Generally it is understood to include the organization’s vision, values, ethics, beliefs, habits, norms, policies and so on. Since it is not easy to define culture in precise terms, it needs to be judged fairly subjectively on the basis of your experience of interacting with the company.

Be sure to conduct a pilot study
It is always advisable to do a small test study with the potential partner before you become wedded to them. Most pilots encounter some hiccups in terms of the service actually delivered. This can be overlooked to some extent, as services normally do need a few rounds of feedback and refinement before they get streamlined. The pilot gives you a chance to see how easy or hard it is to work with the teams at the partner end, how they communicate, take feedback, respond in times of stress, and so on. It will also give you hints about what you might need to do at your own end to make the relationship work.

Can you trust the potential partner?
Trust is the most important aspect of partner selection. And most times, you have to go by your gut feeling and intuition on this. No matter how exhaustive your selection criteria are, and no matter how airtight your contract is, you will not be able to successfully partner with people you don’t feel you can trust. And in order to build the trust or evaluate whether you can trust the potential partner, it is important to interact extensively with the partner before you commit.

Face-to-face interactions with the partner are of course the most preferred mode for building this bond, but whether you can justify the expense of an overseas trip depends on the quantum of work you plan to offshore. For larger contracts, it is an absolute must. For smaller contracts, in our experience, teleconferences work well.

Would you like to suggest any other key selection criteria?

Varsha Chitale

Varsha led the competitive intelligence practice at ValueNotes. As part of her drive to educate India Inc. on the merits of competitive intelligence, she often conducted webinars and seminars on CI for senior executives of Indian companies.

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