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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Better prime-sub relations start with trust

While respondents to our WT Insider Report survey on the prime-sub relationship found plenty of areas to criticize prime contractors, it wasn’t all bad.

More believe a good relationship is hard to establish – 35 percent – and a significant number – 21 percent – said a good relationship was getting easier.

The main reason cited was improvements to project management systems and other processes.

“Teaming has become much more necessary to win contracts, and truly successful prime contractors have been the ones that know how to assemble and work successfully with winning teams,” one commenter wrote.

The current tougher business environment with more intense competition was cited as a driver of better working relationships. Interestingly, for those who see a troubled relationship with primes also cited the budget as the reason.

It made me think that perhaps the real driver is how primes and subs react to budget pressures. Some react with more of a problem solving approach and are more proactive. While others, I believe, hunker down and take a “ride it out” approach.

It reminds me of the discussions around lowest-price contracting. Some folks see it as hurting their business and the government, while others see it as an opportunity to bring innovative solutions and form a closer relationship with customers.

It’s the proverbial glass half-empty or half-full scenario.

Relationships are mentioned several times in the comments (Let me know if you want all 1,500 comments and I’ll send them to you: nwakeman@washingtontechnology.com). Commenters referenced both relationships with the prime and relationships with the customers as critical to having a good relationship with your prime.

“It’s all about building the relationship and trust,” one commenter wrote.

Several times, the words "value" and "reputation" came into play. “Positive customer feedback has also aided in improving relations as perceptions have assumed a more positive perspective,” a commenter wrote.

“Our reputation is growing, and more of the prime contractors see a value in working with us," another wrote.

Several also talk about small business requirements driving primes to form better relationships with subcontractors.

And finally, several commenters talked about improved communications and information sharing, which is another view that is polar opposite of those who see the prime-sub relationship as being more difficult these days. They complained that there isn’t enough communications and infrastructure.

I suppose part of it is who you are and who the prime is. Like dating, some combinations are doomed from the start.

But the discussion in the survey comments very much fit with my conversations with several executives from large prime contractors who said they look for subs that can bring value to a project or solution.

One exec warned about primes and subs that have too much in common. You want to avoid that. When there is overlap, the prime will take that work nearly every time.

Like much of the report overall, the lesson is to enter into relationships where there is communication and a clear understanding of expectations. And, of course, get it in writing.

If you haven’t already, download your exclusive WT Insider Report on the Government IT Partnering: The Subcontractor Perspective, and let us know what you think.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 01, 2013 at 11:33 AM


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