A vital part of winning most big deals is a comprehensive proposal or tender document. The proposal may take the form of an estimate or quotation or it may be a more comprehensive proposal, setting out the credentials of your company.
Such a proposal should demonstrate how your company delivers advanced products or professional services to a higher standard and more cost-effectively than your competitors. Where there is a formal tendering procedure you will be responding to a very specific set of criteria that provides less scope for the promotional approach – indeed, marketing materials are usually specifically excluded.
Is it worth the time and effort?
Tenders are a subject of contention for many. One hears comments such as: “There’s no point in doing a tender, it takes too much time and, anyway they’ve already decided who they’re going to give the contract to so it’s a waste of effort.” True or False?
As with many things in life, both answers can be right; that is, there will be instances where it may indeed be a waste of time to do a tender. Equally, there will be occasions where you have no alternative but to respond to a lengthy invitation to tender (ITT), spending
hours getting it right but where your efforts may eventually be rewarded by a lucrative contract that could take your business into a different league. Tender exercises are normally a true and fair competition but, less often, they may be just a market testing exercise.
The ideal situation is where you are known to the customer beforehand. You can take steps to do that and improve your chances of success by finding out when, for example, local authority, NHS Trust or even major plc contracts in your area are coming up for tender.
To bid or not to bid?
Doing a tender should not be an out-and-out gamble, it should be a calculated risk. If you already have a relationship with the client and are interested in the opportunity then, clearly, you will want to bid. If the first you know about it is when the tender notice appears, that is less
clear-cut. Get the details and be ready to submit an expression of interest (EOI): this may take the form of submitting a prequalification questionnaire (PQQ) or, where this is not required, may simply be to confirm that you will be submitting a bid once you have decided to do so.
It is then that you and your colleagues need to have a good look at the ITT and decide: • Can you do what it asks for? • Can you give a credible statement of your capability in that area?
• Can you be price-competitive?
•Do you want to try and win it?
• Who might the competition be?
• Do you seriously think you are in with a good chance of success?
If the answers to all the above are positive then, and only then, should you decide to ‘go for it’. There is no point in being half-hearted about it – tender evaluators are very good at sniffing out those who are only going through the motions.
Learn from some winning examples
1. Your USP is what they are looking for – as a former photocopier salesman, the value of tendering proved itself to me when I won a deal with the Metropolitan Police for 44 high- volume copiers. My next two bids, submitted when I was the director of a new facility services business, were also were successful. The deals were worth over £1M a year and I had to recruit 22 people to provide mail and repro services on the client’s site. Beginner’s luck? Maybe, but we had taken the time to get to know the contacts and convince them we could do what they wanted.
2. Get the client’s financial director (FD) on your side – in another winning example the protracted tender exercise was about 15 months after an initial proposal had set the scene. This was an outsourcing proposal to a major consultancy, which would mean the transfer of several staff under transfer of undertaking - protection of employment (TUPE) legislation and re-equipping their printing facilities with new technology. For the client this was a strategic decision at board level and the board were very concerned about “outsourcing our intellectual property - the print room”. Luckily our senior contact within the firm, the FD, persuaded his colleagues that the print room was merely the means by which their intellectual property was transmitted to their clients. It was also badly in need of reinvestment that, in the proposed deal, would be handled by the outsourcing provider.
In both of these examples, the bid documents were put together in a way that showed that we really wanted the business and the proposition was totally tailored to the client’s specification.
Equally important, we spent time with the client beforehand and developed a real understanding of their requirements. These two factors combined will give you the inside track to a successful, winning tender.