Procurement Question of the Week – the best of the responses

Just to remind you of this week’s QOTW;  "What can organisations do through the 'partner selection' /procurement process, particularly for complex service type contracts, to make sure they end up with a provider who will really behave as a 'partner' ?"

A tricky one I thought; so I was delighted to get half a dozen high quality replies. But with apologies to all the serious comments, I do think our friend ‘bitter and twisted’s suggestion was perhaps the most creative;

Hire a magical mindreading unicorn who will look deep into their souls and determine if they are truly pure of heart.

Daniel Ball  of Wax Digital said that ‘Businesses are either partner-centric or they are not. This is fundamentally something within the organisational mindset and not something that can be imposed ...” I agree with him although I have seen cases where a business can work well in partnership with customer A but not B.  There may be something about the chemistry.

“And the only way to uncover this is through proper due diligence, researching the prospective supplier organisation to understand how they work with their other clients and whether those relationships demonstrate the collaborative qualities you are demanding”.

He goes on to mention performance management tools which can also support successful execution of the contract – but they can’t overcome fundamental mismatches.

Craig Lorne points out this is one of the most difficult tasks for any organisation.  He highlights Tidd’s approach (which I confess I don't know; off to do my research).  He argued that partnerships work best when:

  • the alliance is perceived as important by all partners
  • a collaboration ‘champion’ exists
  • a substantial degree of trust between partners exists
  • clear project planning and defined task milestones are established
  • frequent communication between partners, in particular between marketing and technical staff
  • the collaborating parties contribute as expected
  • benefits are perceived to be equally distributed.

Market Dojo came up with a very useful list of actions that can be taken.  They’re all ideas I would fully support.

Ensuring the RFI / RFP is extremely robust and fulfilling would be the first step. No good going out to market with a wish-list that doesn’t accurately reflect what you are searching for in a partner. To share the risk, think about mentioning a gain-share or some kind of incentivisation to ensure both parties objectives are neatly aligned.

Incentivisation should be both short-term and long-term, to keep the relationship fired up throughout the contract....References and case studies from potential providers are very important, particularly if they are based on the same industry or requirements as yours. Remember to ask what they learned from the experience.

Face-to-face meetings (if possible) during the selection process also greatly help, ensuring that everyone who would be on the “team”, whether behind the scenes or otherwise, are present. ...Finally, if the opportunity presents, take them on a trial basis. .....Based on all of the above plus the trial itself, you should be in a great position to pick your “partner”.

I would add to the RFI / RFP point and suggest that being very clear what you are looking for in your documents is essential – laying out as clearly as you can what you mean by ‘partnering’.  And placing a high amount of stress and significant weighting on these factors in the evaluation methodology (whether we are talking public or private sector) is obviously sensible if you are serious about the issue.

Flo looked at it from an EU regs perspective (assuming this was a public sector client), and highlighted that, however much you want to apply ‘softer’ assessment criteria, you still have to stick to the EU principles in your selection process

“I reckon the EU Rules would apply to the extent that the partnership may be categorised as a services concession rather than a services contract (in which case the ‘full’ Rules apply). Whether this is correct or not, the public body status of the non-UK body, assuming that it is located within an EU Member State, will have to comply with the Treaty’s fundamental principles of non-discrimination, equal treatment, transparency, mutual recognition and proportionality. And as we’re seeing through the courts, the greatest of these is transparency, therefore, the requirement would have to be advertised in order to ‘generate genuine interest’. This means that, unlike a private organisation, the non-UK public body can’t simply have a look around and invite a number of potential parties into discussions”.

And perhaps we’ll finish with Bitter and Twisetd’s more serious point in the absence of the magical unicorn (but still, one feels, borne of hard experience...)

“Or, make sure the termination clauses are right and you have a back-up partner – or three.”

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Voices (2)

  1. John Doyle:


    Re QOTW – partner selection. I do think the magical mind reading unicorn is probably the best solution. I am just completing an article on the partner behavioural team assessment approach we used to select a logistics/infrastructure partner for the MoD in Afghanistan. I wanted to make a reference to the magical unicorn. Is it OK?

    ps if you are interested I can email you a two pager description of the approach – I would value your comments


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