Hands On

Manager's Notebook

Most small-company owners chalk up the time and energy spent bidding on customer contracts to the cost of getting new business. However, if you're up against an incumbent, the customer may just be using you to get the competitor's price down. "Bidding isn't cheap," says Barry Nalebuff. Nalebuff and Adam Brandenburger, authors of Co-opetition, suggest these ways to make bidding pay:

Ask for information. Most companies won't share confidential data, but it doesn't hurt to ask for specifics, such as current costs. The way the customer handles your requests will also tell you whether the company seriously wants to work with you.

Ask to meet others in the company. You don't want to get stuck with someone who cares only about price. You want exposure to as many people in the company as possible; one might become your advocate.