This Guest paper was submitted for publication 4/27/13 and is copyright to David Harrison, © 2013.
This paper is an update of a paper originally published in 2008.
Published here October 2013.

PQQ = PreQualification
ITT = Invitation To
RFP = Request For

Editor's Note | Introduction | Corporate Background 
Competitive Advantage | Relationships | PART 2


Mistake #4 - Weak relationships with the customer and their evaluators

Twenty years ago, when I had just taken up my first position as a director of a contracting business, I was given a very good piece of advice from an experienced colleague. He said: "It's not what you know and it's not who you know that counts in business, it's what you know about who you know that really makes the difference!" He explained that you are better off having a smaller number of deeper more meaningful business relationships than a large number of shallow acquaintances that you see rarely and know hardly anything about. He advised that you should try to develop true business friendships based on mutual understanding, trust and a commitment to help each other succeed. I can testify that this has worked not just in business but in my private life too.

Human nature dictates that most of us have a preference for spending time with people who we like and trust. In the private sector, customers often decide with whom they want to place a contract before the tender is issued and usually find a way to achieve this even if their favorite supplier isn't the lowest price to start with. In the public sector, such bias is not allowed and evaluators have to be as demonstrably objective and fair as possible. Nevertheless, in my opinion, I believe that there is still some influence even if only at a subconscious level.

So my message is to target customers where you have a great relationship as this gives you a huge competitive advantage particularly in the private sector. If you don't have a close relationship yet with an important potential customer then start getting to know them straight away and certainly well before the PQQ, ITT or RFP is released, as it will then be too late. There are other good reasons for early interaction with customers that I will explain later.

Mistake #5 - Failing to build trust and rapport

From what I have seen, less than 5% of companies submitting PQQs just don't bother to build rapport with the customer's evaluators and less than 40% of bidders don't pay much attention to this either. This presents an opportunity for others. Most customers in the public sector are faced with a dilemma. They are highly sensitive to any claims that they have been biased or have treated anyone unfairly and as a result it is often difficult to speak to them once a PQQ, ITT or FRP has been issued. On the other hand they also want to make sure that all applicants and bidders fully understand their requirements.

The compromise they usually adopt is to stipulate that all bidder questions will be recorded in writing preferably by email. And all answers will be circulated to every bidder unless it is agreed that the subject matter is commercially sensitive to the bidder raising the question. This arms length approach underlines the importance of getting to know the customer before PQQ, ITT or RFP release.

It isn't impossible to build trust and rapport with a customer through written communication and one should still try but it isn't the same as face-to-face communication. Fortunately there are still two or three opportunities to meet the customer and their representatives that should not be ignored. These include pre-tender open days, mid-tender interviews and site visits. Not taking up these invitations is foolish as it sends wrong message and is a missed opportunity to gather intelligence and build relationships.

I know that time is limited and it is difficult to prioritize tasks but even if you don't think that you need to visit site to assess the work content then think again. It's not just about checking the scope of work even though that is really important. It is also about sending a message to the customer that you are interested and enthusiastic about their project or framework. This is what most customers are looking for.

You also miss the opportunity to build rapport and gain a better understanding of the customer that could give you an edge over your competitors. You may also find out who your competitors are as customers like to minimize disruption and take all bidders around site at the same time.

If you don't already have an excellent relationship with the customer then how do you go about building one? Well, the foundation of all good relationships is trust. It is that precious and fragile ingredient that takes a long time to build but can be shattered in seconds and needs to be nurtured carefully. Trust is also the main building block for partnering and collaborative working. If you are targeting a framework contract then if you cannot demonstrate that you can work collaboratively and develop a mutually beneficial long-term relationship then you have little chance of success.

Partnering has been around for many years but most companies and people are poor at it! I believe this is true for most customers, design teams, contractors and suppliers. The problems arise from a fundamental lack of understanding, commitment, behaviors, skills, processes and tools to make it work. Proper partnering is not cushy or complacent, it is demanding and challenging, but in my humble opinion it usually delivers more value and reduces risk for all parties concerned.

Is partnering and collaborative working dead? For some it is, but fortunately for others it is still alive and kicking. These people require bidders to submit a quality submission. This is a signal that they are very interested in how the bidders propose to add value and manage risk and partnering plays an important role in this.

What I have noticed is that the companies who score highest on their quality submissions also have a good grasp of partnering and have processes in place to help them. They can also provide examples that demonstrate their commitment to make it work. I use a simple but comprehensive and effective system for helping my own clients introduce partnering to their projects, frameworks and business. It produces results consistently and also creates great content to use in PQQs, ITTs and RFPs.

Customers who select their contractors, consultants and suppliers based purely on price are not looking to adopt a partnering approach. Those customers are looking to select on best value or the most economically advantageous bid (which incidentally is the preferred approach of Government and public sector customers).

In Part 2, David Harrison will cover



Mistake #6 - Not asking the right questions before the PQQ, ITT or RFP is issued


Mistake #7 - Unstructured business development, "capture" and bid processes


Mistake #8 - Insufficient planning and preparation

PQQ and Bid Teams


Mistake #9 - PQQ and bid teams under resourced


Mistake #10 - Little commitment shown by key contributors



Mistake #11 - Not understanding customer's needs, standards, expectations, constraints and concerns


Mistake #12 - Misinterpreting the procurement process, instructions, questions, scoring and selection criteria

Competitive Advantage  Competitive Advantage

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