Recently, in searching for blog ideas, I observed this headline on a social media posting:
HOW TO GET INVOLVED WITH MORE PRIVATE SECTOR BIDS, PLANS & SPECS
Sounds pretty good, especially for someone seeking to grow beyond the insanely competitive “low price wins the job” public sector work.
The link took me to a video promoting a commercial leads service.
The organization undoubtedly is credible — I won’t name it here, in light its competition with McGraw-Hill Merx and DataBid.com, the two leads services for which we have strategic alliances. However, unless I was a complete neophyte to the industry, I probably would have been disappointed with the results, even if I didn’t have competitive alliances to consider.
Sure, the leads service will provide data on projects in different private sector environments, and some may be suitable for you, but without a whole lot more knowledge and insight (or in the relatively rare situation where you offer a highly specialized and hard-to-replicate service), the leads you discover through any commercial leads service will likely lead you down the path of wishful thinking and false hope/expectations (and this includes the services I recommend, so this is not a “dis” against the advertising competitor.)
Here is the problem: With some exceptions, by the time the posted opportunity reaches the leads service, insiders already know about it, have had plenty of opportunity to prepare/nurture relationships, and in some cases, even “wire” the RFP or bidding documentation so they will come out top on the so-called objective evaluation criteria.
Of course, you won’t be able to prove this – and most of the time, there is no nefarious or illegitimate manipulation happening. It is just that there are relationships and institutional memories and these don’t magically appear out of a leads service document or instant bidding opportunity.
The news here represents both a problem and opportunity for your business. The problem: If you need work NOW and are desperate for opportunities, and are hoping somehow to get off the treadmill, the alluring leads service advertisement will take you down a frustrating path, that could become an endless drain especially if you are fixated on submitting tenders/bids cold on jobs for projects that you maybe technically qualified to do, but for which you have no previous relationships or connections.
The other road requires quite a bit more discipline, patience, and delayed gratification. You use the leads services with other information to build a perspective/core group of serious potential clients. You then look at the longer range strategic plans for the institution and see if there is significant interesting and relevant work likely for you down the road. Then, with this data, you start the long, challenging and somewhat unpredictable process of developing your relationships with the key people in the organization.
Are there ways to accelerate the process? Yes, in these circumstances:
Your service is truly specialized and isn’t easy to copy
Here, you can either chose to approach/align with a local player who knows and has the relevant relationships with the institution/organization, and consider a joint submission. This helps the connected partner in proving the specialized/technical knowledge and gives you an “in” with the people and personalities associated with the organization. (Say you specialize in aquarium design and construction — and local agency in a city far from you is planning a project. Tying up with a local architect or contractor — one you know from the leads service has won business from the relevant agency in the past — will give you an edge over going in cold.)
You can mine your association/referral network
These results work best if you build a reputation within your local or regional chapter of a national client-focused association, and then have connections with other chapters (and may know some of the individuals from national conventions or working groups). Again, you can pick up the phone or send an email to discover the relevant contacts and connection points within the target organization, or in some cases, the relevant local strategic alliance partner (see above). You have the chance to put your foot in the door, but not in a way that would cause the person on the other side to want to slam it hard and crush it before you go any further.
As you can see, these approaches can achieve quick results if you have already built the expertise and/or relevant association or community relationships, but they aren’t the magic “one click will fix it all” solution to your marketing and business development challenges. Alas, in my opinion, there is no escape from the patient, long-term approach to relationship and expertise/reputation building you need to do. The leads service may provide you names, dates, and bidding closing deadlines. The service however won’t provide you with the relationships and insider knowledge you really need to win the work.