7 ways to bid for contracts and win

By on October 13, 2014

Get to know clients ahead of time and prepare for tough questions, says Scott Keyser.

For many, bidding for business is a chore and a bore. Wading through a turgid tender spec and responding to a prescriptive format within a draconian word count is not exactly a labour of love.

But if you know how to work the process in your favour, you’ll come out on top when competing for business. And winning, as we all know, is pretty darn exciting.

Here are seven ways to score those contracts:

  • Build relationships beforehand

Most business development is reactive, but responding to onerous invitations to tender is playing by someone else’s rules. Not knowing the buyers, understanding what’s driving the opportunity or how many other bidders you’re up against is a random way of growing your business. The answer? Pre-empt the bidding process by pursuing your own business development strategy.

Identify the organisations you want to do business with, then build relationships with the buyers, ideally before they even think of issuing a tender. Invite them to lunch, send them articles or even ask them to speak at an event. You’re not stalking them, but giving them the opportunity to get to know you, your organisation and the value you can add.

You want them to view you as a trusted adviser. When you respond to one of their tenders, they already know, like and trust you, so you’ve tipped the odds of winning in your favour.

  • Look before you leap

Assessing your chances of winning and deciding whether or not to bid ? technically known as ‘pre-qualification’ — will raise your win-rate. You’ll avoid ‘done deals’ where the buyer has already chosen the winner and you’re making up the numbers.

To assess an opportunity, look at four things:

  • Is it winnable – do you know all the buyers well enough to tailor your response to them?
  • Is it deliverable – can you deliver the contract if you win?
  • Is it desirable – does the contract fit with your core business?
  • Is it profitable – will you make money out of it?

At the heart of these questions lies a paradox: win more bids by doing fewer of them.

  • Personalise the bid

Most buying groups feature five roles, and your bid should address the agenda of each.

  • The Boss – As the most senior decision-maker, they are interested in results.
  • The Money Person – Typically the finance director, they will assess your bid in terms of value for money and return on investment.
  • The Expert – Sometimes cast as the ‘geek’, they will scrutinise the detail of your proposal with their deep technical knowledge.
  • The End-User – This person wants to know how your product or service will affect them and their team.
  • The Guide – Often a procurement person, they focus on cost and rationalising suppliers.
  • Tailor your bid to each one and they’ll be more open to your proposition.
  • Run it like a project

A bid is a project: it has an output (the bid document or presentation), an outcome (contract award), immovable timescales (submission date), internal milestones (kick-off and review meetings, document drafts, rehearsals, presentation) and a scope (defined by the spec and tender documents). But, like any project, a bid is only as good as the person managing it.

  • Make it about them

To make your bid compelling, talk more about them than you. Every aspect of your bid –structure, language, focus and content — should have the client at its heart. Appeal to their self-interest and they’ll be more receptive to your message.

As for language, convert all the features of your product or service into benefits for each buyer. The client is more interested in what they will get when they appoint you, than in what you will do. And summarise all those benefits in a compelling executive summary at the front.

  • Practise pitching

The pitch is your last chance to persuade the client to give you the green light, so ensure they answer ‘Yes’ to these questions about you: ‘Do they offer us more value for money than any other bidder?’, ‘Do they understand us and our business?’, ‘Are they a team?’,  ‘Are they keen to work with us?’ and, finally, ‘Can we work with them?’ (The last one’s a deal-breaker.)

This may be the only time that all of them will meet all of you, so they’ll stress-test you, seeking reasons to reject you. The Q&A, in particular, is vital. According to research by Learning Point Presentations School, clients base only 25% of their final decision on the formal presentation and the rest on the Q&A.

That’s because they think they’re seeing you ‘unplugged’, thinking on your feet. But of course you’ve anticipated 90% of their likely questions and prepped your answers.

So if your slot is 60 minutes, prepare a 15-20 minute presentation, with the remaining time allotted to the Q&A.

  • Get the hard truth

Once the client has made their decision, get candid feedback. Otherwise, how will you learn and improve? Understanding how being on the receiving end of your bid made them think, feel and behave, and how that shaped their decision, will help you refine your approach and improve your submissions.

The key word here is candid. Too often clients fob bidders off with a boilerplate response that offers no useful insights. The main reason bidders get poor feedback is that the wrong people ask for it. So don’t send a member of your bid team – use a third party. Brief an independent research company to interview the client, teeing it up at the start of the bid process. The insights you’ll gain will help you win more business.

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