Collaborative partnerships are often essential components of a successful business operation. Yet, “good” partnerships in business are about a lot more than simply getting along with the people on the other end of the line. Because the ability to maintain productive supply chain collaborations is potentially significant to your business, the suppliers you choose to partner with can end up playing a very prominent role in your company’s capacity for sustainable success.

It’s often said that people are reflected in the image of those for which they associate themselves. In regards to business partnerships, the same principle holds true.

Protect your company’s interests and reputation by being sure to investigate any potential suppliers before you partner with them. You can develop a better understanding of what you might be getting into by asking a potential supplier these questions:

How familiar are you with our industry?
It benefits many facets of the business process—from understanding to accuracy—to be on the same page as your suppliers. If they’ve previously worked with similar organizations to your own, they should have a better idea of what to expect and what will be expected of them. At the very least, the supplier should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the solutions or practices that are most relevant to your industry.

How do you approach communication?
Who will be your main point of contact at the supplier organization? How often will you be in contact with them? By what means? Will you have a person or team dedicated solely to your account? How will you be notified in the event of a problem concerning your requests? Find a supplier that is both proactive and reactive.

What quality control measures do you take?
Do you want to worry about your company being supplied with an occasionally less-than-stellar product? Investigate to what the lengths the supplier goes to be confident they can stand behind their work. Where applicable, also determine to what lengths they’re willing to go to admit a wrong and make a right.

What data security measures do you take?
No matter what industry your company or your seller’s resides in, you need to be wary of IT data breaches. Be absolutely certain that your private information will be handled with care by asking for concrete evidence of your supplier’s compliance with data laws and best-practices. If your supplier will have eyes on any of your sensitive data, have their relevant employees sign confidentiality agreements.

Is your business financially stable?
As direct as this question appears, it’s something of the utmost importance that you need to be able to determine—especially if you plan to lay the groundwork for a long-term, lasting arrangement. Whether you ask it straight out or find a way to bring it out of them, be sure that you aren’t climbing aboard a sinking ship.

What would your clients say about your products and/or services?
Here’s a question that may be better answered by the clients, themselves. Either way, talk to the proper parties to develop and understanding for the supplier’s competency, efficiency, and results. Follow through with this concept by also determining why former clients have ceased to do business with this supplier in the past.

Do you have the capacity to meet and exceed our requirements?
Some companies are so hungry to grow their client base that they overextend themselves past the points where they can deliver on-time for all clients. Set forth strong expectations so that your supplier understands they must have the capabilities to align with your needs, even if your requirements are subject to constant change and low lead times.

Can we count on you to deliver on-time?
No matter how proactive your company is when ordering from a supplier with enough time to offer yourselves a little bit of leeway, you still want to feel confident that your supplier realizes a sense of urgency is filling and delivering your orders. With the time-sensitivity of so many business activities, are suppliers that deliver late on their promises really the partners you want to be working with? Short of extenuating circumstances like severe weather or a trade embargo, late jobs are simply not acceptable.