The One That Got Away

I caught the proverbial fish and it was this BIG.

Back in 1999, I was working with a growing but still smallish system integrator out of New Jersey with 12 offices, who received an invitation to bid on a contract that was for a very large well-known government and commercial contractor. You can imagine our excitement as we totaled up the requirements for product and services, about 500 million. This was 2x the size of our current company revenue. And yes, every major 2, 3, 4 letter integrator was at the bidding conference. The room was filled with at least 50 inspired, or perhaps better-dubbed, conspiratorial bid teams.

We organized our bid team, attended the conference, pulled together all the elements to fill in the proposal, went over the paperwork about 100 times and couriered it over before deadline. We had no illusions that we would be called back – the competition was the elite, large, and had every edge. Yet, we did get the call to present. Only 6 were invited back for this bake off session.

We prepared and went in to give it a real shot. Initially, the 5 of us were invited in for a meet-and-greet with 20 from the prospect’s team. What followed was 90 minutes of presentation and a lengthy full-court press in the form of a Q&A. We left. And we left feeling good even though we knew our flyspeck status on the competition’s coat. Yet, two months later we got called back again and were told they narrowed the selection down to three. Really?

The second meeting didn’t require a presentation; this was to be a full on Q&A. This team of 5 – we had our thoughts in line and our eyes on the prize. There was nothing to lose. We went in with realistic answers; we were even ready to decline unrealistic requests and handout some “no’s” to questions that were just not possible. We really were in the groove that day. They finalized and we left again, yet they couldn’t specify the contract award date. It could take as long as 3 months.

9 months went by and our small integration company was sold to a much larger one. We really forgot about the award as the on record sales rep could not get any indication from the closed process team at this prospect. We had moved on entirely when one day my mobile phone rang. I answered and the caller said, “Eli? This is Dave from [prospect] in Boston, and I wanted to give you the news right away.” I was surprised, but hey, I was smiling as I listened on. “We decided to award your company the entire contract – we need to set up meetings right away to go through contracts and paperwork – when can we start?”

This was crazy! We somehow won a $500 million dollar contract. I explained that the company had since been sold and the prospect said, “Well, that certainly changes things. We will get back to you.” We never heard from them again. That prize-winning fish may have gotten away, but one thing’s for sure: I caught it first.