Business Management - How to win work by partnering

In an environment of local decision-making, partnership can offer a way into public sector contracts if you identify common strengths and standards and check the package adds value Leslie Kossoff advises.

Shared thinking can open doors in both public and private sector contracting and selling - image: Istockphoto
Shared thinking can open doors in both public and private sector contracting and selling - image: Istockphoto

If you are already or are thinking about selling or contracting into the public sector market, you need to make sure that what you are offering gives them every last little bit of what they need. All in one package.

The coalition Government says that it wants and needs to centralise as many services as possible. This means placing giant orders rather than a bunch of separate tiny ones to get economies of scale and avoid the duplication of manpower and requests - particularly from multiple providers.

It is recommending that to GP groups too, as it systematically takes greater control of commissioning and purchasing for the NHS.

Simultaneously, the Westminster set has said that they are devolving - for which read, abdicating - responsibility to the local level, making them responsible for buying what they need and cutting the services they don't.

That's where you come in. Because, particularly at the local level, as you look at contracting, it may well be that by partnering in some form with other, related providers you can be that resource. Here's how.

Expanding your offer

The first thing you need to do is look at the context in which your service is seen by your customer. Specifically:

- If you were to look at what you provide as if it were part of a supply chain, what would precede and succeed you?

- Now go a few steps beyond. Continuing to use our metaphorical supply chain, don't just look at the immediate context, but put your organisation into an even larger context by looking out the next one, two or three steps in either direction. What do those providers provide? How do they complement what you do - and vice versa?

- Next, take all that information and create a general category. This is not necessarily the one that conventional wisdom would tell you to slot yourself into. Use the information to assign a name to what this broader service or product category provides based on the value it (and you) will deliver.

- Now start looking at who, in those surrounding steps, you would like to do business with.

Selecting your resources

Key to this process - for your customers' success and your state of mind - is selecting the right resources with which to work.

You have already identified what the services are that need to be part of this expanded "package" that you are offering. Now, it's time to make sure that you are selecting resources you can trust to uphold your reputation the way it would be were it your people doing the work with you overseeing them directly.

This is one of the two most difficult aspects of partnering and should never be taken lightly. The second will be addressed in my next article. To make it easy on you, let's get to the questions which are, in fact, all about you:

- How do we measure quality?

- What systems do we have in place for our customers and our own management that ensure that quality is being delivered even when one of us is not there at the site?

- What feedback systems do we have?

- How do we respond to customers' requests and complaints?

- What is our reputation in the industry and the client community?

Why you start there is because the more you know and have codified your own systems of quality assurance, the easier it will be to determine whether the providers you meet conform to your way of thinking.

They may not have the same systems in place - in fact, they probably won't. However, by knowing the underlying logic and processes that you have in place, you are better set to determine whether those resources will work to your criteria.

That will lessen the pressure on you and create higher value for your customers.

Value and expansion

While the purpose of this process is to determine how to win immediate contracts, the outcomes are much more far-reaching.

In putting together this structure, what you are actually doing is identifying how to create value for your customer that exceeds the value they receive from individual providers.

You are solving a problem for them by making their lives easier. They won't have to manage, oversee - or even interview - multiple providers, because you'll be doing that for them. You'll cut their time and expense - both in budgetary terms and by helping make them more productive on a day-to-day basis.

The more you think in terms of value - of your own and your soon-to-be partners' products and services - the less you will conveniently fit into an established "category" and the more opportunity you will have initially and going forward.

When you begin, for your customers' purposes (and, since we are talking public sector and bureaucracy, this particularly applies), you'll give them the categories that fit their budgetary line items as a guideline.

In value - both in how you talk about what you do and how you provide it - you'll be opening the door to them asking you, "What else do you provide?" Give them the chance and they'll tell you what your next steps should be.

What that shared thinking will do is open doors for you in both public and private sector contracting and selling that were always there but previously unknown to you.

What's next? Structuring the relationship. See you next month.

Leslie L Kossoff is the author of Leadership Quantified - see

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