Can you set the agenda to be sure you win the contract or specification?

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The classic way to win public sector “open bid” projects is to set the rules in advance — to your favour. That is, the organization sets out the RFP or tender proposals with clauses and wording pre-arranged to support your business. Even though technically, anyone can bid the work, the scores will almost certainly favour your organization, and you’ll win the “open and fair” competition — but if only the other competitors knew the story behind the scenes.

We can argue all we want about how it is to “wire” and pre-set bids, but the agenda-setting game ultimately (if done right) is truly the most effective marketing win you can achieve.

Consider for example the war over specifications.  If you can insert wording in the specifications documents requiring contractors to use your product/technology, they may not like it, but it doesn’t matter who wins the job — you’ll receive the call and supply the resources.

Further down the process, you might be a contractor who has worked with the public agency on many similar projects.  You and the tendering organization know each other well, and you’ve achieved efficiencies and reliably delivered the work. The “low bid” competitor will just be a hassle — and any moneys saved up front will cost more longer-range. So is it so wrong to help the owner draw up the tender or RFP documents so that when they are released, you’re almost certain to win the bid? (And this stuff is even more powerful in the US, where Qualitative Based Selection — or the Brooks Act rules — apply, requiring price to be given secondary consideration.)

Now these concepts can, and are abused, and there is a fine line between healthy co-operation and corruption. I certainly know of enough cases where things have gotten messy, indeed, when contractors and design professionals have fostered relationships with clients with gifts, event tickets, expense-paid vacations, and the like. When the corruption is exposed, if civil action isn’t enough, sometimes the police are called and criminal penalties levied.

My view is that the right way to play for this level of competitive advantage requires much patience, effort and good-will. If you are an insider (that is you have worked well with the client in the past), there seems to be nothing wrong in my opinion to use your advance knowledge of future projects and initiatives to help set the stage to continue your advantage. If you are an outsider, you may gradually work your way “inside” through sub-bidding opportunities, or possibly engagement/participation in relevant associations. (And you may know NOT to waste your time responding to RFPs from organizations where you know the game is stacked against you.)

You should through the process have a clear and comfortable view of right and wrong, and responsible and understandable ethical policies. These may allow you to buy a coffee (or even a modestly priced lunch) for a client/potential client, but set the limits so you know that the $10,000 first class vacation should not go forward. It’s fine to preserve your advantage; it isn’t good to be hauled away in handcuffs.

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