When an award is “pre-wired”

On Thursday this last week Matt Handal of Trauner Consulting Services, Inc. sent several marketers that I have a great deal of respect for a draft of the article “Learning to Accept the Three Card Monte.” The article discusses the practice of “pre-wiring” solicitations by procurement professionals.

It caused quite a stir, including two great posts at the Construction Marketing Ideas blog (including the thoughts of Ellen Moore at Aker Systems in Houston and Frank Lippert of David Evans and Associates, Inc.). This led me to two questions that I believe must be answered in light of the article:

Is it ethical to benefit from a “pre-wired” solicitation?

To start, lets differentiate two types of pre-wiring. The first is “Incumbent Pre-Wiring” and the second is “Illegal Pre-Wiring.”

What most people perceive as ‘pre-wired’ is often simply an existing incumbent relationship that has exceeded the client’s expectations to a point where they do not want to take on the additional risk of trying a new company. Incumbent Pre-Wiring is a good thing as it allows clients to maintain relationships with firms that best meet there needs. It ensures that clients receive the best service throughout the project and it is the mechanism that allows clients to refuse to hire a firm that does not meet expectations. One thing to note about incumbent pre-wiring is that it still allows for other firms to compete for the work in the framework of fair procurement.

Illegal Pre-Wiring is another story. It is the practice of illegally manipulating procurement rules or results to ensure that one firm wins. Let’s be clear here: it is not ethical to benefit from Illegal Pre-Wiring.

How should you respond when you see a “Pre-Wired” solicitation?

If you are dealing with an Illegal Pre-Wired solicitation there is only one answer, you should have nothing to do with it. If you want to debate this issue just look at the governing bodies of every professional discipline (AIA, PE, LA, LS, CPSM, etc…), all have very strong ethical guidelines and, if not followed, can result in the loss of licensure or certification.

If you are dealing with an Incumbent Pre-Wired solicitation as an outsider you need to evaluate your goals with regard to pursuing work with the client. Remember, relationships are everything in business and you should evaluate the pursuit from that standpoint. I do not believe that you should put together extensive or specialized marketing materials simply as a brochure. Rather, focus on developing a path that you can follow that will result in a strong relationship and the opportunity for obtaining work.

If you are dealing with an Incumbent Pre-Wired solicitation as the incumbent, congratulations! You have succeeded in developing a strong relationship with your client that is based on trust and (most often) strong performance. Do everything possible to make certain that your client follows ethical standards of fair procurement, and enjoy.

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