The menacing tentacles of corruption affect us all in sales. Here’s one of my stories …

The minute I heard Agrizzi start spilling the BOSASA beans at the current State Capture Commission proceedings, my ears pricked up.

Here’s why:

At the time of the award to BOSASA of the many government tenders  – that we now know from the horse’s mouth were allegedly a ‘done deal’ from the outset – I was consulting to one of their major competitors – a major international facilities management company with unquestionable ethics and governance.

In South Africa, this international company needed to find new business – and fast. Our focus was specifically targeting lucrative, major multiple-site catering contracts. This included government facilities such as correctional services, provincial hospitals and more.

The team I worked with grew significantly in a short period of time. In addition to the seasoned team already in place, we also employed a number of new graduates, trained them, streamlined the sales process, implemented a company-wide CRM system and made significant improvements to impact their sales efforts. Over the months and years, we gained excellent sales traction.  A handful of major private sector bids worth many millions were awarded much to our delight. The 2-year pipeline started filling up with lucrative large opportunities of which the company was well-positioned to be awarded.  Or so we all thought.

When tailing off my involvement with the sales turnaround project  the national sales manager shared with me how they had been pulling “all-nighters for the past  weeks” in order to get their bids in for (another) major government tender issued at short notice.  I can’t recall the exact details.

I remember being a bit frustrated with what he told me because the team had been pulled off many other tasks on other bids that had been set for them in order to hit their new sales targets. However, I was assured that if they got the tender, it would be well worth the risk in delaying the other time-sensitive tasks.

We had also set up a bid department which included a full-time senior employee to manage bids as well as the creative process – this was not a simple “quick PowerPoint” type of presentation. The costs of submitting complex tenders (300-page documents)  ran into hundreds of thousands if you take into consideration the time and effort of the extensive senior team involved in getting right through to the final round of bid selection.

Needless to say, although terms like “preferred bidder” being mentioned, the company did not get that  multi-year, multi-million rand tender. The team was devastated  – so many hours burning the midnight oil, so much effort only to be pipped at the post.

Naturally, on a level playing field, it is a matter of “heigh-ho that’s how bids go”. We learn. We move on.   By the way, generally speaking I don’t think its worth bidding unless there’s a pre-existing relationship and/or at least insights into specs/needs etc.  Unfortunately, many organisations more often than not simply tick a box of getting 3 quotes for governance reasons even when they have already decided on which supplier to give the order to.  No-one wants to do all that work just to be “the third quote”.

Remember that ahead of RFQs or tender submissions – sales professionals have always tried to get the inside track. We’re all aware of wanting to influence relationships, product specs and buyer choices in our favour even before the tender documents are compiled etc. That’s acceptable.

BUT what isn’t acceptable is factoring into your bid the cost of buying luxury handbags and cars or paying huge sums of money in brown envelopes / grey cash bags to those senior people involved in awarding and/or influencing the bids. That is a criminal offence.

To hear all these years later confirmation of the many cash payments and ‘favours’  to those in high places ) just makes my blood boil. So much taxpayers’ money wasted.

And talking about money wasted, I know now that the team of top notch salespeople wasted their time and resources on submitting their bid.  And probably many other sales teams did too. Hopefully those involved will now get to waste their time. In jail.

In the sales profession, as in the procurement profession there needs to be zero tolerance for fraud, bribery and corruption.

Salespeople and sales leaders need to blow more whistles.  If you know about fraudulent activity, it’s your duty as a sales professional to contact Corruption Watch and/or the State Capture Commission with your evidence. Or send an anonymous tip-off to the investigative journalists at The Daily Maverick or Scorpio.

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