To Trust or Not to Trust? That is the Question!

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How we dealt with the turmoil

I have not enjoyed the pandemic. Like most people, we adapted to the circumstances we were faced with and tried to carry on.

You may think that I am a bit ‘sad’, but I get excited by procurement and its challenges. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to spend time looking at the bidding and tendering environment for both sides for many contracts. I spent time with different parts of the Public Sector, who needed to act as both buyers and occasionally, sellers. I was able to see what they had to do to buy what they needed. I saw how they dealt with the many bids they had to evaluate. I found out how they would then justify their choice of the winner.

It seemed to me that the different processes used by the buyers and sellers were disconnected. Often, the people writing the tender questions were not the people who would use the products and services. The bid team responding to the tender was made up of hostages from across the business. Mostly, they were technical experts, not employed to write sales text. They were only on the team because they were ‘available’.

Typically, the bid writers were not writing in response to the client’s needs or questions. Their responses were not presenting what the bid evaluators had to score. In any case, many of the evaluators were not experts. They, too, were only selected as evaluators because they were available. To make matters worse, the service delivery team on the supplier side would only become involved after contract signature. Little wonder that Public Sector procurements routinely went wrong! There was a lack of trust from the buyers towards the sellers. They thought the sellers routinely broke (and would break) their promises.

Going into the pandemic brought more incongruities. Buyers and bid teams were all working from home. Life was condensed into a screen supported by an occasional Teams or telephone call. Working hours became very flexible. All the contributors became isolated. Excuses blaming the pandemic were rife. The entire process became even more poorly joined up.

This physical isolation probably did not change our ability to help our clients improve their bids.  Of course, I still get excited about working out how a business can win. This is the fundamental reason that we do what we do. However, the home working reduced our motivation to be engaged.

Instead of trying to improve the connection between buyers and sellers, we were just doing the jobs we were paid to do. The personal rewards of seeing the “lights come on” in the eyes of the people we worked with had gone. Even though we still had the incentive to go beyond the brief, the opportunity to do this was much reduced.  I have found that no computer tools can ever give the added value which comes from direct, face-to-face communications.

In terms of the bid documents, evaluators and decision makers were still relying upon trust as a key element of their buying decisions. Here I am using Neil Rackham’s (author of Spin Selling) definition of “trust” which, in a sales environment, is created from three elements: Candour, Competence and Concern. Rackham pointed out that trust is also linked to the time people spend together. I like this definition as I think it gives us some important pointers about how we should create our tender responses.

If we get on with our buyers, a good interpersonal relationship makes it easy for us to discuss the issues the buyer has. If the buyer perceives us to be frank and open about our ability to help, this creates trust. If the buyer believes we are expert, this creates more trust. Then, if the buyer can see that we really understand the problem and its impact upon his or her business, we become even more trustworthy.

We can try to do all these by writing powerful text and having Zoom calls. However, these communication methods are not nearly as effective as talking face to face. When working remotely, the non-verbal parts of communications are muted or missing. As the pandemic continued, we found it was more difficult to leverage personal relationships to get the information we needed.  Evaluators became dispassionate; this is what we did not want! We wanted to create bias towards our clients and their solution.

So, what do I take away from the last couple of years embracing a new way of conducting business? I discovered that we can be as (if not more) efficient through remote working. However, remote working reduces the overall value of what we can deliver. We can still do the job we are paid to do. Moreover, we can probably do it a bit more efficiently. But many of those intangible benefits, which we would normally get from close personal working, are lost. For me, working like this is less enjoyable and I am less enthusiastic about getting involved.

We have found that when we work remotely, bouncing around ideas between us does not work nearly as well. It makes it more difficult for us to tease out the ways to get better connections between the buyers and sellers. Innovation is diminished. This reduces bid effectiveness. Most of all, working like this is less fun!

More importantly, the relationship with the client became difficult. We have had to work much harder to prove our worth. We have had to prove our trustworthiness in every aspect of our written submission because the text has been the only route to do this.

Luckily, the tide seems to be turning. We are now starting to return to work in our clients’ offices. We are planning to hold courses in hotels and conference rooms. We will be working where we are physically alongside the people we are working with. We can look people in the eyes when we make a commitment and be believed. The sparkle is already coming back!

This article was written by Andy Haigh .

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