Prime vs. Sub: More similarities than differences

Now, with two exclusive WT Insider Reports completed, some important lessons can be drawn by looking at the prime-subcontractor relationship. There are signs of health and of trouble, but mostly, these signs point the way to gaining a competitive advantage by being a better partner.

We’ve now completed two Insider Reports focusing on the prime-sub relationship.

In the first one, we looked at the relationship from the subcontractors’ perspective, and in number two, we study the issue from the primes' point of view.

Each can stand on their own as valuable research reports, but it’s when you look at them side-by-side that you can gain some of the most valuable insights.

A version of this comparison is in the second report itself, so I’ll probably repeat several of themes from that section.

But I first I feel like I have to crow because we knew these two reports would connect well together, with one contrasting the other; however, the similarities are what intrigue me the most.

What was overwhelmingly obvious is the importance that both sides put on partnering. Despite some rocky moments and important areas that need improvement, neither side is walking away.

Both want more long-term relationships.

Both want more transparency.

Both want more teamwork and collaboration.

And both see a gap between the value they put on important attributes such as teamwork, process and industry perception and the performance they are getting in those areas.

The gap is widest when the subs rate the primes for these attributes, but a significant gap exists on both sides.

Teamwork had the widest gap. From the subs' perspective, the importance of teamwork rated 4.6 on a five-point scale, but the performance rated just a 3.4.

From the primes’ perspective, the importance of teamwork rated a 4.3, and the performance of the collective group of subcontractors was 3.7.

But in the prime report, we also asked the primes to think of their single best subcontractor and rate them.

That score came out as 4.6 on the 5-point scale.

The best subcontractors outperform the value that primes place on teamwork.

We saw the same positive performance gap for customer knowledge, industry perception and process.

In other words, the best subcontractors deliver more value to the prime, and ultimately to the customer.

To me, the performance-value gap can serve as a compass for primes and subs who want to be a preferred partner. and in today’s market, that’s critical for success.

The verbatim comments that we received also indicated the passion that primes and subcontractors feel about this topic.

All told, we received over 2,500 comments to our open-ended questions.

Our research partner, Lodestar, told us they had never seen a response like this; these aren’t just one or two word answers, but full sentences and even paragraphs.

It is obvious that the people who participated in the survey took it seriously and put a lot of thought into it.

I’m proud of that because it reinforces our decision to explore this topic in our first WT Insider Reports.

One of the things I love about this market is that companies are both primes and subs. That probably explains some of the similarities between the two reports.

But in today’s market, companies are being battered whether they are acting as a primes or subs.

Companies can’t control government priorities or the budget or wipe away the uncertainty that has plagued the market.

These conditions are the tide that all companies must swim against; however, you can control your partnerships, and how you can make the partnerships more valuable.

In both studies we asked: What is the most important thing a prime can do better, and what a sub can do better.

The answers were nearly identical – more openness and transparency, more flexibility, more teamwork and more responsiveness.

Subcontractors want to be brought in early during a bid to help shape the proposal and help the prime win.

Primes want subs willing to build technical expertise, and the infrastructure needed to support their business.

Mostly, they want to trust each other, and they recognize that it is in both parties’ self-interest, as well as in the interest of the customer, that they work well together.

These two reports support our position that by focusing on teamwork, communications, process and customer and technical expertise, you can gain a competitive advantage and land yourself on more teams and build those long term relationships.

You can be the preferred prime or sub.

It really is the basics – honesty, communications, consistency and doing what you say you are going to do.

In a market this tough, if you can deliver that, you’ll find success.