Stuffed up? How to win your next contract

By Caroline Boot, Plan A and Clever Buying

THE ROAD FROM purgatory to redemption is tough. Let’s face it, we’ve all made mistakes on contracts. So how do you recover when your client most likely knows – darn well – what your shortcomings are?

Based on direct feedback from tender evaluators, this article gives practical answers to this difficult question.

When you or your team have performed badly or made errors of judgement, there are three possible courses of action when the next tender is up for grabs. Two of them will almost certainly do even greater harm to your reputation. But one course of action, perhaps surprisingly, can not only give you the chance to win back the next contract, but can actually give you the opportunity to score higher than your lesser known competition.

Option 1: Don’t bid – don’t go there.

It’s tempting, if you’ve really made a hash of the last job, not to bid at all. After all, why go to the bother if they have seen your worst side – surely there’s no chance that you’ll win a repeat contract.

If you pick this option, you’re sending a very clear message to your client that you no longer want to engage with them. That may be somewhat true, of course – particularly if you think you have been judged unfairly. But you should remember is that client organisations, especially in the public sector, have revolving doors and short memories. It’s quite possible that a previous personality clash will no longer be the issue that it was.

What’s more, many councils are keener than they’ve been for a long time to attract more companies to bid. They’ll be disappointed if you don’t bid, and they’ll consider you are no longer interested in winning any kind of work with them. If there’s an invited tender in future, you might find yourself off their Christmas card list.

Option 2: Sweep it under the carpet.

Perhaps the evaluation team won’t know the gory details about that train wreck performance on the last contract. Besides, they have to judge your bid on face value – ie, they’re not supposed to bring personal knowledge into their marking, are they?

Sadly, by taking this option you’re most likely to set yourself up to have your credibility even more damaged. The New Zealand contracting industry is a village, and the chances of one or more of your referees knowing all about your previous mistakes are high. If they express reservations about their willingness to contract you again, you have not only lost this contract, but you’ve lost the trust of your client by trying to cover up your past failures.

You’ll do damage not only to your scores on this tender, but also on future tenders to this, and other clients that they know.

Option 3. Confess everything.

And make your lessons learned shine as an unrivalled differentiator. Amazingly, you can turn your past disasters into unbeatable competitive advantage, if you are clever. By front-footing the aspects that went wrong on a previous contract, carefully analysing the contributing factors, and explaining – in detail – the measures you have / are putting in place so it will never happen again, you’re putting your bid in pole position to blitz your competitors on risk mitigation.

If your mistakes were recent and relevant to the contract you’re bidding for, then you can bet your bottom dollar that your client is under the thumb screws not to let it happen again. Choosing a new contractor is effectively the devil they don’t know. There’s a real risk that the new contractor will make the same mistakes – or worse ones – on the current project.

If, however, your bid demonstrates honesty about your previous shortcomings; thoughtful and constructive analysis on future risk avoidance; willingness to be accountable; and most of all, dogged determination not to let it happen again, then the opportunity for creating trust and respect is far greater than your competitors can match.

This is a brilliant opportunity that’s only available to you if you’ve stuffed up. Use it wisely, and you’ll see the benefits! Good luck with your tenders this year.

In my recent discussion with a tender evaluator about the results of a tender evaluation (part of their assessment for the NZQA Procurement Certificate), here’s what was said:

“One of the suppliers had worked with us on the previous contract, and they’d made a terrible mistake. It resulted in safety issues and major backlash from the community. But what was interesting was that when they tendered for the follow-up contract, they made no mention of the problems they’d faced (and caused) previously. As a result, we scored them very low.

“It was such a pity because if they had explained what lessons they had learned from that earlier disaster, we’d have considered them far better informed about the contract than their competitors, and they could have scored much, much higher than their competitors.

“By not mentioning it, our suspicions that they were not being honest about other parts of their bid were raised. We didn’t think we could trust them and they were at the bottom of the scoring, when they could have been at the top. Opportunity lost, big time.”

This article first appeared in Contractor May 2017.

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