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Better off together? Partnership bidding for public services

2016 and 2017 sees many public service spin-outs face the prospect of re-tendering for their core contracts. To mark this milestone, we are publishing a series of articles on bid writing and business development. Read the sixth in the series below.

When you are assessing a new ITT or project brief, you may find that you are well-placed to deliver much of what is asked of the supplier, but have a number of areas of weakness that count you out.

This leaves you with two options: either you decide that it is not for you, or you seek a partner (or partners) to bring additional expertise where you fall short.

If you decide to plump for the latter, how do you go about it? What things do you need to think about when choosing a partner?

Obviously the right partner has the skills, track record and brand. They should bring something distinctive to the bid – something you don’t have. They shouldn’t simply be a replacement for the bits that you don’t want to do, or the commissioner will rightly ask what the point of partnership is.

Sometimes potential partners might be obvious – they might be well-known in the area, or you may have worked with them before. If so, it is worth acting quickly as it is likely that you won’t be the only one to approach them. Do this at a senior level – CEO to CEO – as that is where the final decision is likely to lie.

Once you have established contact, begin discussions as soon as you can. This includes identifying the lead partner, agreeing how the relationship would work, and divvying up workload.

The most vital ingredient for any partnership is trust. Check that your partner is doing this for the right reason, it sits fits within their strategic objectives, and that you aims are aligned. Ask yourself, ‘can we work together? Are our ethos and values compatible?’

Personal relationships can’t be underestimated in this. However, a note of caution: be wary of investing too much in a single person. People move on, and organisations change. Alongside the personal relationships, you need robust agreements and a memorandum of understanding between organisations.

Do your due diligence too: check that there isn’t any conflicts of interest or that your potential partner isn’t about to go bust.

From a commissioner’s point of view, partnership bids can be a blessing and a curse. Whilst two organisations may bring something to a service that one partner could never do, they also involve an additional level of risk. What if the relationship breaks down? What if tasks get lost in the gaps between the organisations?

When you are formulating your bid, say how you will work together, your plans to communicate with each other, and outline the formal processes you have in place to ensure effective project management. You should also include information about how the partnership would work with the commissioner: who the day-to-day contact will be and how reporting will work.

Like any relationship, there are no hard-and-fast rules about what makes a successful partnership. The most important thing is that you are happy with the deal, but a close second is that your partner is happy with the deal. Without this you are unlikely to succeed.

 

For more articles in this series click here.

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