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Blog: Telling Suppliers Your Project Budget by Bruce Duncan
Published 07/29/2015

There seems to be an unwritten rule that says you should never share your project budget with a market research supplier. It probably derives from a concern that letting suppliers know your budget is an invitation for them to take advantage of you. You will end up with three bids all on or near your budget whether that is the true project cost or not.

I see it differently. I’m my company’s chief methodologist and I spend a good portion of my time creating research designs that address client requests for proposal. I have a set routine. I start by creating a design that will meet the client’s needs as efficiently as possible. That design is then priced and compared to what we believe the project budget to be. If we are within what we think the budget is, I’m done. If we are above it I start trimming with a goal of giving the client as much as I possibly can for the money that they have available.

The problem with this approach is guesswork around the budget and the consequences when suppliers guess wrong.   In a world where clients are struggling with ever-increasing workloads, the proposal process is an opportunity to get some free consulting. It is an opportunity to get three teams of people solving a problem that you probably don’t have the time to solve yourself – creating an efficient research plan that will meet your needs.  When we don’t know your budget and guess wrong, it is a wasted opportunity for both you and us.

Knowing the budget is especially important if funds are scarce. This is where I get to use some of the tricks that I have learned over the last 40 years. If I can’t get you everything you want, how much can I get you? Are there things I can do with design, sample and analytics that will give you more than my competitors can? For me, this is a chance to show my stuff. For you it could be the difference between a successful project and one with inconclusive or worse, misleading results.

Let me finish with a word to those of you concerned about suppliers padding their proposals. As a methodologist, I’m going to aim for the most efficient design possible irrespective of your budget.   If I can come up with a way to do this project for less than your budget, chances are at least one of our competitors can too.   Knowing that, the only logical scenario is for both of us to bid the project at our true cost. In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace why take the chance of losing the project by padding the costs on a proposal?


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