It’s easy to find opportunities; the real challenge comes in the next chapter when we’ll look at choosing those worth investing in. Ideally the buyer is genuinely open and hasn’t talked to other suppliers. It’s not so good where the buyer already knows who they intend to buy off and is conducting a competition because they have to. Even when the decision isn’t made your competitor may well be trusted, know what the buyer wants and what they need to say to convince them. The key to finding good ‘quality’ opportunities is having a good network.
Building up a network
The best sorts of opportunities tend to be those with organisations and people you already know. Not only are they are easier to filter (see the next chapter) because there are fewer uncertainties but the processes of bidding and delivering are also more predictable. The closer you are to the buyer the easier it is to see to what extent competitors have prepared the ground. Understanding them also makes it easier to get a full picture of what they really want and how they will judge you and your proposal.
There is no substitute for meeting and listening to people, so get out there at meetings and conferences and ‘work the room’. It’s a good idea to have a few one-liners to introduce yourself and some friendly questions to ask. Try exchanging cards, you’ll notice that if you give someone a card they will usually feel compelled to give you one in return, and then note what you learned on the card so you can record it later.
As your networks build you’ll be able to use your contacts to get introductions to new contacts, the only real danger being that you’ll forget why you started to build the network in the first place. But even so, I’ve never heard anyone criticised for having too large a network, unless what’s really meant is that it’s a collection of contact details rather than a network of people who would be happy to talk. Nurturing a network needs more work than building it in the first place, so remember to keep in touch with your contacts. One approach is to group them by areas of interest and let them know when something relevant happens, another is to review contacts regularly and look for reasons to contact them.
Your network should have a mix of potential customers, people they listen to, peers and depending on the size of your organisation sub contractors or prime contractors. The aim being to know who to call to:
- see what opportunities are in the pipeline,
- understand what a buyer really wants,
- assess how the procurement will be run, and
- where appropriate to build consortia.
Sub and prime contractors can be very useful as they are often not directly competing with you and have good industry and customer knowledge.
Joining an industry organisation, such as TechUK or the CBI can help you in four distinct ways:
- Building and maintaining networks
- Communicating ideas that your organisation finds embarrassing
- Gaining intelligence about opportunities and potential buyers
- Improving your profile with potential buyers and others in the industry
You also gain from its efforts to improve the reputation of the industry and its relationships with those influencing buyers, such as, in the UK, the Office of Government Commerce and the Cabinet Office.
For you to gain value from being a member of an industry organisation costs a lot more than the membership fee. For example it’s necessary to go to meetings and events to build relationships and hear intelligence. The skill is to identify the right meetings and be ruthless in deciding what to attend.
Advanced warning (Prior Information Notices)
If you don’t have advanced warning from your network you may get it from a Prior Information Notice (PIN) posted in the European Journal. Having advanced warning gives you time to look into what is most likely to achieve the buyer’s objectives and whether it’s your type of business.
Advanced warning also gives an opportunity for lobbying, directly or via an industry body, for the buyer to alter what they want to buy or the way they plan to go about buying it. It also gives time to build relationships with the buyer and to be creative about what will maximise outcomes.
Opportunities advertised in the European Journal
If the first thing you hear about an opportunity is finding a Contract Notice in the European Journal (often referred to as an OJEU notice) it means that the buyer is:
- following the spirit as well as the letter of competition law and not giving any potential supplier an inside track,
- very confident they know what they want (rightly or wrongly), or
- has already been talking to other potential suppliers but not you.
In general the more buyers want a commodity the less need for consultation. For complex or bespoke projects gestation starts a long time before the OJEU notice is issued, and it’s probably too late to join. If you are still interested you should try to talk to the buyer to understand what they are actually looking for and the projects history. Unless you feel that the competition is really open, the buyer is going to be reasonable to deal with and you have products or services that are a very good fit to what is wanted you will probably be wasting money by going further.
There are specialists that will search the European Journal (OJEU) on your behalf and extract opportunities relevant to your industry or likely to be a good fit to your capabilities. You should expect to get a good feel for what is happening in the market (the journal announces who wins what) as well as a feed of suitable opportunities. The service provided by Kable to their “Direct” clients in the information and communication technology industry (ICT) is a good example of a standard industry service. Clients have access to a web site containing intelligence on what is happening in the market plus short summaries of opportunities linking to the full contract notices, they can also receive regular emails as prompts. Members of Intellect can subscribe to a Business Enquiries service to receive regular emails containing all ICT related tenders in the OJEU.
For the Do-it-yourself enthusiast, “Tenders Electronically Daily” can be used for periodic scans of Prior Information Notices or when you’ve heard a rumour and want to find the Contract Notice. This European Union website isn’t particularly easy to use but does have powerful search tools and can be configured to send emails when interesting opportunities appear.
Although it’s not easy to get reliable statistics most successful companies rarely apply / bid ‘cold’, i.e. unless they have been involved earlier in creating or shaping and consequently have a good understanding of the real needs.
 Confederation of British Industry