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Tendering – are you winning?

By Stephen Mockett, general manager of Plan A Tender Specialists.
Not long ago, I was running a business where winning tenders was our life-blood and working with Plan A’s tendering team in the past few months has highlighted lessons for those gearing up to win tenders in today’s new ‘normal’. Here are my top six observations.

Too many companies aren’t ready to tender

Increasingly, we find companies are simply not ready to tender and have too much groundwork to do before they can reach the pre-conditions set by their potential client. 

And if they are putting this content together when the RFP’s already out, it’s too late. Quality responses take time to develop. Typical response times are too short for the level of evolved thinking which drives most winning bids.

Tender libraries are an asset and should be treated like one. They need to be developed, operated, maintained, and consistently upgraded cost-effectively. For tender library assets this means reviewing ‘currency’ and ‘boilerplate’ sections.

For example, how well will your library serve you in responding to ‘sustainability’ and ‘broader outcomes’ requirements? Are your ‘Relevant Experience’ and ‘Track Record’ reference project descriptions up to date? Will they score highly in the evaluation criteria? And, if you’re wondering about the new sustainability focus – as one CEO said; “Some clients don’t really know what they want – but I’ve found if you have good writers, you can score full points on this one by showing them what’s possible.”

Are your other ‘boilerplate’ sections accurate? Check what’s written on Resources, Quality, Health and Safety, Environmental, and Financial Management systems. Do they focus on benefits and value for the client? What about questions on ‘Continuous Improvement’ and IT data security processes and policies? 

Focus on client benefits 

This one’s a bit harder. How do you resist the temptation to ensure the client knows how good you are, rather than focusing on how you can solve their problems?

As one CEO puts it; “If you don’t know the real reason the client went to tender – you’re wasting your time.” The skill is responding to that driver. 

Sometimes it’s hard to find the client referred to much at all in tender responses. This suggests that the respondent doesn’t really understand (or doesn’t care about) the client’s business, risks and development strategies. The evaluators will have little confidence that it will be a true partnership going forward.

Not everyone checks their work

It is rare to see a strong unique value proposition or ‘win theme’ supported and reinforced throughout tender documents. Selling your key differentiator (from your competitors) from a variety of angles is key to a strong, well-reinforced proposition. This means repeatedly re-interpreting why they should choose you, in every section of your response.

It’s also essential to answer every question directly and confidently. Don’t let waffle scuttle your evaluation scores. Review your answers thoroughly; not only for accuracy but also to check you’ve provided sufficient evidence and detail to back up your high-level claims.

Third party endorsement is king 

Although reference checking varies from agency to agency, not all tenderers put enough time into referee selection. Your referees are inevitably going to be asked about areas beyond the associated project; even if just to provide context. 

It’s critical that there is some comfort they will back up what you’ve written in your tender response. Will they give the same reason for that contract extension or final cost? What will they say about project management, personnel, subcontractor management and competencies? What about ability to innovate to problem solve and control costs? If there’s been a problem, disclose it in your tender and describe the lessons learned. The back-up from your referee will either solidify trust in you or destroy it!

DIY isn’t everyone’s thing…

Tender teams must be open to consistent refresh to keep up with what have been substantial changes. In today’s new tendering environment, we often see internal bidding teams who have traditionally cut their teeth in ‘hard dollar’ contracting models forced into bidding for Quality-Based tenders, which are more and more prevalent as Broader Outcomes, sustainability, and relationship-based contracting models gain ground in tender evaluations.

Don’t be tempted to put square pegs in round holes – focus on the writing skills needed to write winning bids in today’s world which are not always the dollar values.

Bid managers need to manage the bid!

Too often bids fail at the first hurdle – bid management. Don’t skimp on it.

Someone with authority needs to develop a clear roadmap of who needs to produce what deliverable by when; and then monitor progress tirelessly to get quality input from those in the field at the right time. Give the specialists plenty of warning and set early deadlines. Getting the information in late causes stress, lessens control over quality and introduces a piecemeal approach.

The quality of the information presented is everything, and ‘getting there’ requires a strong leader with a tightly aligned team. 

 If you’re wondering if your company has a tendering gap, there is a simple test: are you winning?

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