How to Lose a Contract in 3 Easy Steps

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© WavebreakmediaMicro – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting. Debbie gets it exactly right. Pay attention, folks!

From time to time I’m approached by a business owner who has just been blind-sided. They’ve been a long-term service provider for a customer and just learned that they no longer have the contract.

And they don’t know why.

Most often this has happened when the contract went back out for bid, usually through the RFP (Request for Proposal) process, and the service provider prepared their own response. I’m called in to perform a postmortem and provide feedback with the goal of preventing a recurrence with other contracts.

Many business owners might assume that they were simply underbid (i.e.: another vendor low-balled their price to win the contract). The truth is; that’s rarely the reason.

What are 3 of the main reasons that long term vendors lose contracts in the bid process?

They got complacent.

Any procurement manager will tell you… complacency in a vendor is a contract killer. The vendor works hard in the first year or so of the contract to bring innovation, quality initiatives and cost control strategies into play. And then they ride the wave for the remainder of the term.

It’s not that they’re lazy or even bad vendors. They just get comfortable that all is well within their contract and relationship and that everyone is happy with the status quo.

When you read their RFP response and distill it down to the main messages, it says, “We’re great, you know we’re great and we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing…because hey, it’s working.” Unfortunately, their competitors have done their homework and suggested new approaches and offered added value in their responses making the incumbent’s proposal look pretty darn blah.

Another tactic that drives customers crazy is when long-term vendors save all of their ideas and innovations to submit with the rebid process. Instead, a better approach is to show steady improvement over the entire term of the contract. Your customer then sees you as consistently bringing value to the table. Then when it comes time for the contract to go out to bid again, you can cite the great initiatives you’ve implemented and offer a few more that you’d like them to consider moving forward.

The best piece of advice I can give a vendor who already has a contract is this: At least once each year, sit down and take stock of what you’ve done for your client lately. Where did you bring value, suggest cost control or improve quality? If you haven’t, find ways to do it now before the contract goes out to rebid.

They assumed that they knew it all.

At times, being the incumbent has its drawbacks. They’ve been immersed in their customer’s business so much so that they lose perspective and believe that they already know everything there is to know about them.

Because the vendor thinks they already know, they don’t read the RFP documents carefully. They make assumptions and miss key elements for the response.

No matter how good your relationship is with your customer, you should always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game. Read it carefully, ask questions and follow the instructions to the tee.

They assumed that the client knew it all.

At times, an incumbent won’t explain responses fully in an RFP because they assume that the client already knows about their business, what they do and how they do it.

There are three reasons why this is a bad approach:

  1. The people reading your response may not know you. The truth is, your main contact; the one who loves you; may not be the decision maker in the bid process. Changeover in decision makers is also commonplace in today’s business world.
  2. Most RFPs go through a scoring process. Each set of answers to questions is scored against a pre-defined process to come up to an overall score. It’s a process that was designed to ensure objectivity in the review process. The bids with the highest scores make it to the finalists list. If you don’t provide full answers to questions, how can you be scored properly?
  3. Incomplete answers look sloppy and lazy. You don’t want your customer to think that you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to answer their questions properly.

Use incumbency to your benefit

Being the incumbent in the RFP process can be a huge advantage as long as you understand that winning and keeping a contract starts long before it goes out to bid.

  • Consistently show value (and make sure that your customer knows about it) while you have the contract. Document it so that you’ve got the information readily available at bid time.
  • Always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game.
  • Don’t assume that you know everything. Read the RFP document carefully and follow the instructions closely.

Don’t assume that the people reading your response know all about you just because you’re their current vendor. Answer questions fully as if they didn’t know you.

I’d much rather help a client win back a contract through the RFP process than explain to them postmortem why they didn’t.

This article originally appeared at http://www.echelonone.ca/apps/blog/show/44087958-how-to-lose-a-contract-in-3-easy-steps and was reprinted with permission.

Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a Canadian RFP consultant and business writer. She helps business owners win new clients and grow their business by helping them to plan and write great RFP responses, business proposals, web content and marketing content. You can find out more about Debbie at www.echelonone.ca.


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