You will hear us say time and again that positioning for opportunities before they come out to tender is the single biggest determining factor in winning bids and proposals.
A key aspect of positioning is to research an opportunity thoroughly. Understanding as much as possible about the prospect, an opportunity, and the environment surrounding it is vital to successful engagement.
Benefits of research
Researching is a skill in itself that is well worth developing. It benefits us by:
Supporting an informed bid decision
Providing a basis for empathy with the client and their stakeholders
Helping us understand what makes them tick and what’s important
Helping us to shape our communications and documents for the specific buyers
Our top tips
try to understand the clients overall business drivers and the outcomes they desire from the service or product they are looking to procure
gain an understanding of their definition of what a good supplier or partner looks like
undertake some research on their key team members involved in the procurement and if they are an economic, emotional, or technical buyer
research any influencers over the client including any consultants and if there is a procurement function involved
gain an understanding of each key stakeholders levels of knowledge, capability and capacity, the key challenges or priorities they have in their role and for the opportunity
understand what their hot buttons are, concerns they may have and what their view is of added value is
get an idea of their perception of your organisation.
We are trying to build a picture of what is important to each of the people involved in the procurement and how they feel about your organisation. This information will be essential during the strategy phase should you continue to pursue the opportunity.
Examples of internal sources of information may include
people who work in your organisation who know or have worked for the client or your competitors, including your sales lead, delivery people and the wider leadership team beyond your sponsor
any client account planning documentation you have
any previous documents or feedback on bids you have submitted to them
and any publicly available information such as annual reports, articles or credit reports.
You may also wish to meet with external people who may be able to provide insight on the client. This may include:
We know that writing a bid proposal isn’t always an easy process so we wanted to share with you our top five things to avoid when bidding.
Bidding for the sake of it
In our research we have found a sad fact that the reasons for more than 85% of bid proposal losses through competitive procurement processes are known to the bidder prior to submission. Taking the time and resources to develop and submit a bid proposal is a significant investment for your business. Those resources could be put to use and add value elsewhere.
The introduction of a robust bid decision making process is almost always in any business improvement initiative. All high performing organisations focus their efforts on opportunities they will win.
If you haven’t influenced the client on an opportunity, the probability is that one of your competitors has. In most markets it is quite rare for clients to bring an opportunity to the procurement stage without having sought advice from suppliers, either officially or unofficially. During those conversations suppliers gain insight into the opportunity and influence the client, positioning themselves well for competitive tender.
You should consider that if you have not been party to conversations with the client prior to the opportunity reaching procurement stage, you may well be behind your competition.
Failing on the basics
Procurement professionals will tell you how they never fail to be surprised by the inordinate proportion of bids that fall at the first hurdle – compliance. People simply don’t follow the instructions and are ruled out.
So, always read the clients documents and instructions carefully. Highlight for yourself key rules and write them into a compliance matrix. Put the compliance matrix on the wall of your war room if possible. Make a special note of delivery instruction details and instructions for portals. Test the portal to become familiar with it. Write applicable key rules into storyboard templates for your contributors. This will help you ensure that you structure responses in accordance with the clients’ instructions and submit a compliant document. Plan to submit it early . . .
Not listening to the client
Another bid toolkit top tip – review the clients specification closely. Don’t assume you know what they are looking for. Take the time to read and review all available specification documents. Your contributors must develop a robust understanding of their requirements to ensure compliance, to build your solution and to be able to submit a sound commercial offer. Having the spec in mind when going to write provides clarity of linkage to the clients requirements and alignment of the language used.
Once you understand the clients baseline requirements – your contributors can highlight areas of your offer that are above their requirements as added value. This should all be covered by the storyboards in advance of going to write content in detail.
Padding it out
Avoid padding out your document, especially with generic brochure content. There is a natural urge to feel that the more content you have the better. Clients tend to feel differently. They are looking to see answers to their questions, challenges and issues quickly and easily. Don’t make them read lots of content that they haven’t asked for. It dilutes your proposal and its impact. Other than perhaps exciting additional offers or proposals, only provide what the client has asked for.
Time with your bid team is precious and a costly investment. You must maximise what you get out of it. Poorly organised, prepared and attended meetings are a drag on the bid and a waste.
In preparation for key bid meetings make sure you have:
Got the right people confirmed to attend
Booked an appropriate room
Materials available such as flip charts and pens
Booked an appropriate amount of time together
Issued documents in advance
All participants must have read and understood what the client requires and why.
If the bid leader or bid manager feel that a contributor has been assigned to the bid that is not capable or able to deliver what is required, escalate it early to your sponsor and get the person changed. It is better to make changes early than find issues later on.
The last piece of the jigsaw of proposal basics is evidencing each response.
The client needs to believe that your responses are accurate, possible, and true. Providing evidence in the form of case studies within your responses provides confidence in your ability to deliver and substantiates your story.
Selecting case studies that are directly relevant to the client and the opportunity is key and should be approached by thinking through the DNA of the example you wish to put forward, both in terms of the client themselves and the opportunity you are tendering for. Does it match the attributes of the client and the opportunity you are bidding for?
Recent and relevant
Make sure that your case study is as recent as possible and that it could be independently substantiated if the client wished to do so. Be careful not to include evidence that is not true or related to previous work that did not go so well. It is possible the client could find out and it could cause embarrassment.
A common and useful form of evidence is the use of case studies. When providing case studies we would advocate including the following components where appropriate:
Base data on the value, scale and perhaps location of the example. Perhaps include some statistics
Provide a brief description detailing some context, and perhaps some challenges and how you overcome them
Detail any innovation that was deployed in delivering the example, any added value derived for the client and how are you may have exceeded the client expectations
Make sure you overtly spell out why the example is relevant to the opportunity you are tendering. Draw some comparisons between the example and the opportunity.
Lastly include any quotations from the client on the example. Make sure that the quotes are agreed with the client of the example in advance. Don’t just make them up.
It is important to only include directly relevant case studies and to highlight why it is relevant to the client overtly. Never make the reader guess why you have included them. Spell it out for them.
Overall keep case studies focused, concise and to the point. Think through the design, using headers / signposting, images and ‘call out boxes’. You should be able to glance at the page and within three seconds understand why the example is relevant and how it supports the argument of your proposal.
From our research we have found that an insanely high proportion of organisations do not learn from their mistakes or past experiences when it comes to growing their business.
We find that this is most acute when it comes to tenders and proposals.
Organisations that progressively grow sustainably over time tend to be ‘learning organisations’. Win or lose, they always request feedback from the client, saving their organisations time and money in the long run by sharing what they have learned across their business – updating their approach, processes or content as they go.
There is a one-time opportunity to learn valuable lessons directly after submitting a tender or proposal; by asking for bid feedback. The client should feel like they owe you some considered insight into what you should do differently next time, with the efforts you have put into their procurement.
With public sector / federal procurement’s you may automatically receive bid feedback and scoring. Usually it is quite high level as the client will be quite risk adverse and not wish to attract any challenges to their process. Don’t be afraid to respectfully request further information. For instance, ask for your scoring per response relative to the highest scorer, with feedback on what differentiated their response from yours.
If appropriate, request a face to face feedback session, either formally or even better, informally. These are really very useful as you can read the clients body language when working through their feedback and they may tell you things that they may not have put in writing.
Think carefully about who attends any feedback sessions. It is quite possible that some feedback could be quite personal and relate to who you put forward and their performance, particularly in interviews / presentations. Take into consideration who will be on the other side of the table and what seniority of people you should send to the meeting. If you send someone too senior they may clam up, not senior enough and they may not take it seriously.
You’re looking to piece together a constructive evidence base of what you should do next time to win a similar deal. This can range from feedback on your people, your approach, solution and responses, to the look and feel of your documents.
Lastly, a word of caution. In a few markets and regions we have begun to see an increase in organisations challenging procurement decisions. It is true that we have seen an erosion in the quality of client documents and procurement processes in the last decade.
There appears to us to be a slightly increasing probability that mistakes have been made and poor decisions taken. It is fairly easy to pick apart clients processes with the help of a smart lawyer. We urge you to think carefully about how you tackle these instances. You have invested in their procurement, both financially and emotionally. But it’s all to easy to destroy long term relationships and streams of opportunity through knee-jerk reactions in the heat of the moment. Really do your homework on where you really stand and if there is a genuine issue. Where there is, approach it sensitively and consider how you might all win.
Organisations that acquire new business or funding through competitive award processes face a challenge – how do you select and bring together teams of people with the skills and motivation to submit winning proposals? And how do you create an environment that helps them to thrive?
There is an art to developing successful proposals both for a big one off submission for a key pursuit or repeatedly when looking to increase your win rate. But our research tells us that there is no single silver bullet. Simply recruiting a bid writer or employing a proposals consultant and throwing them in the mix will have limited impact unless you also tackle the following areas:
Leading by example
Firstly, our research tells us that winning deals and generating sustainable business growth starts from the top down.
We find that the biggest determining factor in the win rate and growth trajectory of organisations is the capability of its senior leadership to enable the business to differentiate itself and to proactively pursue opportunities that it could and should win.
Business leaders need to be seen to sponsor a robust and measured approach to securing deals and role model good behaviours. Leaders must support good governance and making good decisions, especially when deciding not to pursue an opportunity.
This normally manifests itself as a robust, well sponsored and understood bid / no-bid process, with consistent application and appropriate signatories.
Knowing your ‘why?’
The second element here tends to rest on a delicate balance of entrepreneurship with good governance.
The organisations that tend to grow over time seem to have a purpose, or a ‘Why?’ as outlined by Simon Sinek here: https://startwithwhy.com.
With a core purpose at their heart, they can effectively articulate the value that they bring to clients. Their brand resonates with clients and they position themselves with clients in advance of opportunities arising.
This raises chances of winning as well as supporting good governance, as opportunities are better understood earlier in the process which facilitates more informed decisions.
There are countless recognised texts, papers and even videos out there that outline how to write proposals. Some are very good indeed. But strangely there are no well recognised published bid or proposal processes, nicely organised in a logical and chronological stream.
Very often when consulting with clients we find that the second piece of work to implement is a new bid process.
Like any project, having well defined roles and responsibilities at the start allows all your team members to be sure of what is required of them and what is required of their fellow team mates. This drives efficiency and reduces the risk of overlap or gaps. Having a sponsored process for securing new business, provides the team and all their stakeholders with a clear road-map of how to get from the client enquiry landing to a successful compliant submission.
Broadly it will navigate the team through strategy, solution, story, writing, review, sign off and submission steps – driving quality of responses.
Tendering savvy – the skills and motivation to win
The forth, and less tangible, element is having a team with the skills and the motivation to win. It starts with the bid leader and cascades throughout the team.
The amount of times we end up dragging along leaders and teams who are wonderful discipline experts but sadly don’t understand clients, how to sell or win, or have the motivation to try is far more than we would like to admit to. Bidding is not for everyone. It puts people under the spot light and stretches people beyond their comfort zones.
When selecting your teams the leader must understand the opportunity and subject area; but must also be enterprising enough to see how to add value for the client and drive a good deal. It’s not an easy balance or one that comes naturally to many.
The same applies to the rest of the team to lesser extent. As many team members as possible must understand how to win business, with the ability to articulate the benefits of their proposals. This can be taught to a point, but we would urge that you pay attention to the make up of your team and ensure there is a good balance of technical know how and entrepreneurial spirit.
Innovation – the USPs and discriminators to differentiate a winner
In short – your team must have value to show the client that outweighs the value offered by your competitors. It is possible to create purpose built solutions for opportunities, coming up with great new ideas for how to deliver their needs better, cheaper or faster. But it is so much easier to do that if the baseline business pitching for the work already has embodied innovation and differentiators in it’s DNA to shout about.
Having unique differentiators sets your business apart. It provides interesting centre pieces for your proposition and exec summary and creates an excitement factor for your proposals; pulling on emotional buyer behaviours as well as satisfying commercial drivers. It attracts the buyers to look more closely at your proposals – as long as the USP is relevant to them and believable.
Keep your business moving forwards, searching for new ways to improve what you do. If you stand still, someone will take your place at the front for sure.
So in summary…
It is the responsibility of business leaders to create an environment where winning well can happen. They must focus on articulating your business purpose, role modelling the right governance behaviours, bringing together the right teams with the skills and motivation to win and arming them with the differentiators to do so.