Five ways to beat less-qualified competitors

Have you ever lost a tender that you felt sure you would win? Seen a contract go to a competitor that you believe isn’t up to the job? Been frustrated when the customer made a poor decision that you know will cost them time, money and headaches in the long run?

Unfortunately, competitive tenders are not a foolproof way of selecting the most qualified supplier.

Despite the many layers of personnel, protocol and probity that sit around the competitive tendering process, mistakes can be made that cost good suppliers work – and end up costing buyers even more than they bargained for.

Last week, Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) tabled a report into Victoria’s failed education portal, Ultranet. The Ultranet project was scrapped in 2013 and is estimated to have cost taxpayers up to $240 million.

IBAC found that the tender process seeking a company to create the Ultranet technology was improperly influenced by Darrell Fraser, a former principal at Glen Waverley Secondary College who rose to become deputy secretary of the education department. IBAC’s report alleges that Fraser manipulated procurement processes to ensure the Ultranet contract was awarded to the CSG/Oracle consortium, companies with whom he had a long-standing relationship.

According to The Age, experts close to the Ultranet project had warned that CSG – then a little-known Darwin company – was a “dud” with no experience in delivering a project of this magnitude. The Ultranet crashed on the day it was launched, and was still plagued with problems two years later, by which time only 10% of Victorian students were using the technology.

Most customers aren’t corrupt, but they aren’t immune to making poor decisions either.

So how can you, as a supplier who wants to do the right thing, help customers to make the best choice – and avoid being caught in a similar situation?

Start by thinking of yourself as an equal; as an advisor to the customer.

In this role, your pitch isn’t just about you. It is also designed to help the customer combat the risks that they might face if they go with a less than ideal option.

Here are five ways to do it:

  1. Know who your competitors are: not just your “peer competitors” (the firms you know, and who have a similar background to you) but other, more left-field options that the customer might be considering.
  2. Understand what these competitors will be proposing, and why.
  3. Analyse their “trump cards” – the issues they’ll be playing to their own advantage – for weaknesses, and come up with arguments to rebut them.
  4. Without naming names, explain the risks in alternative approaches, and give practical examples when these approaches have not been successful in the past.
  5. Don’t descend into muck-raking. Remember, you’re doing this with the customer’s best interests (and your own reputation) in mind.

Above all, help your customer to understand the risks of alternative choices, and give them the ammunition to ask the right questions of other suppliers who may not be right for them.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Is it time to pimp your proposals? Stop wasting time and money on proposals that go nowhere. The Pimp My Proposals program will give you the feedback, content and structure you need to build compelling proposals that win business. Learn what you’re doing wrong, and how to fix it. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.