Our blog “Tender Bytes” is published regularly here
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Not missing the deadline
Most tenders these days are conducted on line. This means that the deadline is applied automatically. If the system shows that your bid was submitted a split second after the deadline you will be deemed to have missed it, and all your hard work will come to naught!
My philosophy is to avoid this as an absolute priority.
One tip is to check if you can submit a bid prior to the deadline and subsequently edit it. In my experience this is usually the case. If this is so then you could submit an early draft of your bid, and edit it later – in the knowledge that, whatever else happens, you won’t miss the deadline.
Ok. So I will just stop the business for a week and do it!
That’s how a lot of business people feel when a tender lands in their inbox.
They then desperately scan their diaries looking for a free period of time in which they can complete the tender. Invariably there is just such a period next week. But, of course, “next week” (like “tomorrow”) never comes. Eventually the tender deadline is “next week”. Aagh! Now is the time to panic.
This is the world of false horizons in which a good time to tackle the job never arrives.
So, of course, in my opinion, the right time to start the job is actually today!
The Dreaded Presentation
Consider these two scenarios:
Having completed the tender you are invited to deliver a presentation. The natural instinct at this juncture is to start to plan an impressive PowerPoint presentation and hit them with all your USPs. Off you go and create all sorts of dynamic statements and graphics.
You have reached the end of the tender process (no presentation). You have failed to win the contract, and you have received some feedback. This feedback shows that the prospect didn’t really understand your proposition. “If only we’d had the chance to explain it to them!”
Back to the first scenario … perhaps your approach should not be to “knock the socks off them”, but to take the opportunity to achieve absolute clarity (both ways) about your bid.
Have you ever submitted a tender with a limit on the number of words permitted in the response for each section? Isn’t it much easier to write 1,000 words on a topic than 300!
The temptation is to write the response without regard to the word count – and then worry about that later. The trouble is, that way you are likely to spend an inordinate amount of time cutting it down to size.
My tip is this; write a basic response that touches on all the key points, and aim to keep it well within the word count. Then build it up bit by bit, making sure that it is all relevant and, importantly, addresses the question.
This leads to one final point; keep checking the question. It is very easy to waste valuable words on good but irrelevant material!
Tendering to lose!!??
Have you ever looked through a tender document and wondered at some of the detail within the specification? The chances are this is because it has been written with the features of a competitor’s product or service in mind.
If this is the case it raises the question of whether or not it is worthwhile tendering. If the prospective customer has a close working relationship with your competitor they are probably only “going through the motions” with the tender.
My tip is this; think long and hard about this tender. If you go ahead you will probably have to be very tactical with your commercial offer to stand any chance of winning. Alternatively you may decide to submit a bid of outstanding quality knowing you are going to lose. Why would you do this? You could put yourself in a strong position for next time, using your submission as the basis for forming a relationship post-tender – starting with the de-brief!
It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it!
Tender questionnaires often stipulate the requirement to provide evidence of service delivery. In fact, scoring top marks is often dependent on this.
Tender responses, on the other hand, tend to be full of fine rhetoric about the quality of service delivery, with evidence being offered in the form of examples of where the service has been delivered, and sometimes as case studies. This is all good stuff, but does it really provide evidence that that the required quality of service will be provided on a continuous basis? I don’t necessarily think so.
I believe that what is required, even more than evidence that the service has been delivered successfully in the past, is tangible evidence of how it will continue to be delivered, at the highest level, month in, month out.
So, my tip is this; include plenty of relevant processes, procedures, charts, flowcharts, monitoring mechanisms, measurements against targets and so on. Outlining these and showing how they underpin outstanding service delivery will be extremely compelling. Case studies do not, on their own provide proof but can offer persuasive supporting collateral. A combination can be stunningly powerful!
But I’ve just answered that question!
So … you are working your way diligently through a tender document, writing responses. You have just answered the question, “What approach does your organisation take to the employment of local people? Please provide a specific example where possible.” You have told them all about how your approach takes into account the diverse nature of the local community, and how you will maximise the benefits to be had from local recruitment. Furthermore you have included an impressive example of how you have made this work in the past.
You scroll down to the next question and read, “What part will the employment of local people play in your approach to ensuring the delivery of sensitive and appropriate services to the diverse communities in the Borough?” “But I’ve just answered that question”, you think. You double check just to make sure, and find that the two questions appear similar, but are subtly different.
The difference is really important. You can infer from this that the tendering organisation regards each of these topics as significant in their own right – and will award points accordingly.
My tip is this; when this situation occurs take heed. It is an opportunity to address the key issues, and maximise your chance of success in the tender. It is not an excuse to submit two variations of the same answer. (Of course, ideally, you will have read all the questions through carefully at the beginning and spotted this.)
Don’t despair when this happens, rather regard it as an opportunity to outperform your competitors!
Putting together a tender response is a perfect example of when to use a project plan. A deadline has to be met. A number of people are involved. One activity depends on another. It can all go horribly wrong.
As the project manager it would be reasonable for you to expect that others, responsible for smaller elements, would make sure that they complete their tasks on time. After all, their task is not particularly demanding. On the contrary, quite often they de-prioritise their task, and it completely passes them by.
So, my tips are twofold. If you are the project manager always build in prompts to remind people of their commitments. If you are a contributor to the project be aware of the bigger picture and prioritise your task in accordance with the importance of the project as a whole. However insignificant it may seem to you it may be a tiny, but crucial, cog in the machine.
No! Wrong approach! Doomed to fail!!
We all know this, but sometimes it is very difficult to avoid falling into the trap. Much as you resent having to completely reschedule your workload at the drop of a hat, it is the only way to do it.
My tip is this; if you are going to submit a tender it will have to be completed, and completed well, within the next three and a half weeks. You have to work your schedule around it and all those other important and urgent tasks you have to do – not the other way round. If you don’t take this approach it will all be left to the last minute … and we all know the potential consequences of that!
Squeeze it in sometime?
So … an invitation to tender arrives. It needs to be completed within, say, four weeks. You are very busy at the moment, but should be able to find some time to look at it towards the end of next week – and hopefully do most of the work required. Next week arrives and some other stuff has cropped up. However the following week you should be able to find some time … and so it goes on.
Some You Win … Some You Lose
The outcome of a tender is binary. You win … or you lose. So is the outcome of any part of the tender process. You get through, or you don’t get through. There are no degrees of success. A marketing campaign, for example, could be fairly successful, relatively successful or not very successful. A tender can only succeed or fail.
So, there can be no half measures with a tender. If you don’t give it your best shot all the effort you do put in may be wasted.
My tip therefore is this. Decide whether you want wholeheartedly to go for a tender or not. If you do want to go for it, do it properly. Plan it well in advance and allocate the time and resources it merits. Then, when the outcome is decided, win or lose, you will know that you have done your best.
A Credible Business
Many SMEs would like to take advantage of the tendering opportunities that come from the public sector. In my view this is entirely reasonable, particularly given the government’s stance on making opportunities available to the smaller business.
However, all is not that simple. You might think that a small business that provides an excellent service, and has a great track record, would be well placed. Not so! There are many hoops to be jumped through and many areas of compliance to be dealt with. All of this is a big ask for the small business with limited resources, and many become disillusioned at the first hurdle.
It can be done though. It will require some investment in time and money, and the pay-off needs to be carefully evaluated. Once all the boxes are ticked, though, they tend to stay ticked.
My tip is this; if you think it may be an opportunity for you, think about it carefully, approach it thoroughly, and don’t just have one or two half-hearted attempts!
Now where did I put that …?
If you complete tender responses from to time you may recognise this feeling.
You might have previously created, in the heat of the moment, some material for a tender, submitted it and then forgotten about it. You are now doing another tender. You are pretty sure that the previously written material would be really useful, but you can’t find it, at least, not without wading through many files and much material.
My tip is simple. When you have completed a tender response take five minutes to bookmark the material that might be useful in future. This is the time to do it, when it is fresh in your mind. Create a hyperlink to this from a central index index for all such material, and in future you will not only be able to go straight to the right file, but straight to the right place as well.
All that earlier creativity won’t be wasted!
There are a number of reasons why a business may put a contract out to tender. They might be:
- Looking for a new supplier
- Obliged to (actually not wanting to change)
- Testing the market
- Looking for leverage with their existing supplier
- … or a whole host of other reasons
If they are not undertaking the tender process to look for a new supplier you might ask, “why bother?” You might be right! You might also think that the tender process is not a good way to win business as it overrides the opportunity for relationship selling. I, for one, am a firm believer in the power of relationship selling.
However, the tender process might, just might, be the first step in the relationship building process. By asking intelligent questions, submitting a good response, looking for a debrief and generally engaging with the process you can certainly make your mark, and potentially establish some useful contacts. Once these contacts have been established you may be able to develop those relationships over time and penetrate the organisation – all of which could put you in a winning position for next time.
So my point is; don’t just think of the tender process as a beginning and end in itself. It could, if you don’t win first time, be just the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.
147,000 words – not enough detail
This was feedback recently experienced by an organisation on failing to win a tender.
Actually, including all the appendices, the wordcount was very much bigger – but still not enough detail.
So, should they have written more? Actually, by simply stripping out extraneous material they would not only have reduced the wordcount but also exposed much detail that had become obscured. People who evaluate tenders don’t necessarily have the time or the inclination to wade through pages of unnecessary blurb – weeding out the irrelevant stuff just to isolate the information they asked for in the first place. Tender responses need to be written succinctly and to the point.
My tip, therefore, is this. It’s not how much you say, but what you say. Read and re-read your answers.
- If it doesn’t address the question, don’t say it.
- If it doesn’t answer the question, write an answer that does.
By the way, writing a 250 word response can be more difficult than writing a 2,500 word response!
You have worked hard at the tender, submitted your response and are awaiting the outcome – but there is no news!
- No news may be good news. (You haven’t been told you’ve lost it.)
- No news may be bad news. (If they are not talking to you they may be talking to someone else.)
- No news may simply mean there is no news. (They may not have moved forward with the project at all yet.)
All this is, of course, highly frustrating. You want to know where you stand, and if there is anything you should be doing. However you don’t want to annoy your prospect with continual phone calls or emails – and anyway, this would all come across as being a bit desperate.
So what can you do? Of course the very best solution is to have a champion on the inside, but that is easier said than done at this stage in the proceedings. (They need putting into place at an earlier stage.)
One ploy that I sometimes use is to send an email saying something like, “I am assuming that, because we have not heard, that we have been unsuccessful on this occasion.” This usually elicits some sort of response, often with clues as to what is happening. If they say something along the lines of, “We expect to make a decision soon”, they are probably negotiating with a competitor (bad news). If they say, “We haven’t evaluated responses yet”, that is neutral (no news). If they say, “We will be coming back to you and other bidders soon with some clarification questions”, you are still in the frame (and maybe it is down to the final one or two bidders – but they won’t say that) (good news).
So my tip is, if you have not heard, ask the questions – but be circumspect, and take care not to sound desperate. Then interpret the response. It may help, but it may not. If not, sit tight and hold your nerve!
Tender Byte No 12 : “The Tender Trap”
Anyone who has managed a sales force will know that sales people have a tendency to be bullish when it comes to sales forecasting.
What better grounds for being bullish than a pipeline packed full with tender opportunities? However, if these opportunities don’t turn into business they are worthless! Unfortunately, many sales people fall into the tender trap. Having competed for a tender and lost it they find that the winning company turned out to have the “inside track”. Our hapless sales person, considering this to be unfair, goes off in search of the next opportunity only for the same to happen again.
In reality the winning company has spent some time and effort researching the opportunity, developing relationships and preparing a bid plan founded on a thorough knowledge of the prospect and the factors likely to affect the outcome of the tender.
Our poor unfortunate sales person, now becoming desperate, and with no decent wins under their belt, has an inkling of this but is too busy responding to Invitations To Tender (ITTs) to have time to indulge in good sales building activity.
This is the tender trap!
My tip, if you manage a sales force, is to critically evaluate tender opportunities. Develop a strategy for when to bid or not bid, create a check list and make robust decisions about which are the right ones to go for.
Ensure your sales force is spending their time doing the right things, gaining the “inside track” and developing a leaner pipeline but a stronger stream of tender wins!
Tender Byte No 11: “Form Filling – Just a Question of Getting Around To It”
Invitations to Tender (or ITTs) can, at first glance, appear to be just another form to fill in.
ITTs, as well as PQQs, RFIs and all those other abbreviated documents, often arrive when you are busy (as if you are ever not busy). You probably browse through them, just so that you have a rough idea of what’s involved, and put them to one side to be dealt with when you have a little time available. All the early questions look quite straightforward; company address, registration number, directors’ information, bankers, insurance and so on – so when you look at it later it should be just a question of assimilating the detail.
Of course it often takes a little longer than expected to get around to it! However the clock is ticking (and nagging away in the back of your mind). Eventually you get around to it, and once you have answered all the straightforward, albeit time-consuming, questions, there is a dawning realisation that the bulk of the responses actually require a huge amount of creative input.
This is the moment of truth! Do you have enough time and resource available to complete the task within the deadline – and to complete it in a way that maximises your chance of success? After all, this is a competitive selling situation.
My tip is this; evaluate the task early and fully. Make sure you understand what’s involved and plan accordingly. Furthermore you should plan to complete the task ahead of schedule. You never know what you might emerge as you go through the exercise.
Tender Byte No 10 : “Exemplify”
Have you noticed a trend with tenders recently? Increasingly often, in order to score good points, you are asked for examples, and in order to score top points you are asked for well-worked examples.
Beware, this is not to be taken lightly.
A training certificate, exemplifying, for instance, the qualifications of your staff, is not it itself an “example”, and is certainly not a “well-worked example”. A well-worked example may be where, for instance, you describe a situation that you have encountered, what you have done to deal with it, what the outcome was, what the benefit to the customer was and what the long term effect on your business has been. In other words – a mini case study. What’s more, using the same example to support responses to different questions, even if it exemplifies different aspects, is not looked on favourably.
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this. If you respond to tenders regularly you will develop a library of examples over time. But in the short term there is much work to be done.
My tip is this; buckle down when you are next asked to produce examples … and provide some really good ones! That way you will be working up your library for the future.
Tender Byte No 9 : “Arm’s Length”
I’ve often been told that you can’t develop a relationship with your prospective client during the formal tendering process. There is a fair amount of truth in this – they certainly hold you at arm’s length inasmuch as all questions and answers are circulated for all to see, and everything is kept strictly above board.
However, simply asking intelligent questions – over the phone if possible – will begin to create an impression that could work in your favour later.
I’ve been asked by clients, from time to time, to follow up tenders that they have failed to win. I’ve even been told on such occasions that one of the elements that has worked in the successful tenderer’s favour has been the amount of questions that they’ve asked. This has clearly translated into achieving a high score in the tender submission. The point being, the more clarification you seek the better your chance of getting the answer right.
My tip is, be careful how you do it, but don’t assume you can’t develop a dialogue and establish a relationship during the formal tender process – and ask lots and lots of questions.
Tender Byte No 8 : “All you have to do is answer the questions!”
Tenders normally contain a set of questions. Some of them may sometimes seem a little strange, but logic would dictate that just writing an answer should be enough.
However, that may lead to composing an answer that fails to score well. Further analysis of the question could unearth deeper meaning.
Key points to consider:
- Why have they asked the question?
- What is the right answer?
- What information are they looking for?
You may be surprised by what you can glean. The real meaning of the question may be cunningly disguised behind an innocent looking facade! In order to understand this you have to put yourself in the mind of the questioner. What might you be looking for if you were setting the tender?
This may sound over-analytical. Getting it right may shed some light on what appear to be very strange questions, but getting it wrong may cost you the tender.
So my tip is – don’t just take tender questions at face value. A little detective work, some psychology and plenty of verbal reasoning will be of enormous value and could pay off handsomely.
Tender Byte No 7 : “The Value of the Lost Tender”
When you win a tender the value is clear to see. But when you lose one it may all seem like wasted effort. Clearly you haven’t won any business, and if you leave it at that there will be no further benefit to be gleaned.
However, if you regard all tenders that you submit as being part of the overall sales and marketing process of your business much more can be gained. Simply put – always ask for feedback. I find that people are usually very happy to provide feedback, and, although they probably won’t talk about specific competitors, you can get a very good measure of how you stack up against the competition.
Having received the feedback the question is how best to use it. What you are looking for is not just how well you answered that specific tender – but how you are shaped up as a business to address particular issues, and whether you are pitching your business effectively. So, getting feedback from a number of tenders and spotting trends is really important.
My tip is this: always ask for feedback. You may be surprised how much you get, and how useful it can be!
Tender Byte No 6 : “Write the answer … then read the question”
Of course, you should have read the question before writing the answer. However only reading it before you answer the question is very dangerous. It is surprisingly easy to find yourself answering what you thought the question was, only to find, on re-reading it, carefully, that it actually asked something else.
The temptation at this point is to pretty much make do with what you have written, and just change it a little. However you score no points for a good answer if it doesn’t answer the question! If it requires completely re-writing that is what you will need to do.
My tip is, read the question, re-read the question and read it again. In fact, keep on referring to the question until you are fully satisfied with the answer.
Tender Byte No 5 : “Closely Related!”
Formal requests to tender are invariably full of complex questions. So much so that the natural inclination often is to find an answer as quickly as possible to each question and move on to the next one.
Finding an answer can involve scouring the various pieces of material you have and finding something on the topic in question. Once found this material is copied and pasted into the answer – job done!
Or is it?
If this material is simply related to the topic and doesn’t answer the question it will simple not do – you will score minimal points (if any), and run the risk of failing to reach the next stage in the bid process.
So my tip is simple. Read the question carefully … and make sure you answer it!!
Tender Byte No 4 : “Similar Question : SameAnswer?”
Do you ever read the questions in a tender document and find that a question appears to have been asked twice? Often these questions appear in different sections of the document.
Your reaction may be, “These people are incompetent,” and you simply deal with it by offering the same answer twice.
BEWARE – this is an easy trap to fall into.
These questions have probably been posed by different people, both inputting into the tender document. Each one will be looking for something different. The difference will become apparent on examination of the subtleties of the way the question has been asked. In order to compose the best answer it is best to really establish what he question is trying to get at.
My tip, therefore, is not to take questions at face value. Make sure you really read them thoroughly, and submit a carefully thought-through answer for each.
Tender Byte No 3 : “Start at the End”
The good thing about a formal tender response (ITT, PQQ etc) is that you know absolutely when the job has to be done by. So when putting the project plan together it is very straightforward to start at the end and work back from there.
However, the temptation when starting a complex task of this nature is to start by getting on with the big elements, and deal with the leftover bits of detail later. Caution – it is these bits which may be the most time consuming, or which, even more importantly, may require a lead time. If you leave them to the last minute, and the lead time exceeds the time left, woe betide!
My tip is, plan all the tasks from the end back, and work out which ones need starting first. Once started you will then be able to get on with the big elements with the comfort of knowing that everything is under control.
Tender Byte No 2 : “Demystifying the TLAs (3 letter abbreviations)”
The world of formal tendering is full of buzz words and acronyms. Formal opportunities come with all sorts of labels. These can be broken down into those where you are invited to pitch for contracts, and those where, at this stage, they just want information from you.
The TLAs used include:
ITT – Invitation to Tender
PQQ – Pre Qualification Questionnaire
RFI – Request for Information
RFP – Request for Proposal
RFQ – Request for Quotation
What’s more, if you are new to tendering, this is just the first encounter you will have with a whole new world of phraseology and terms that can be completely mind-numbing!
Future Tender Bytes will be designed to provide tips and hints into this world – and ultimately demystify it!
Tender Byte No : 1 “Wired Tenders”
Interesting discussion on LinkedIn between bid writers. They always try to work out if a tender is “wired”. In other words – has one bidder managed to get the tender written in such a way as to favour them!
From a sales manager’s point of view the perspective is different. A good sales person always tries to get to a prospect prior to the tender process in order to do just that. A very good sales person spends a lot of time doing this, and does fewer tenders. They achieve much better strike rates by doing this, and win much better deals.
Poor sales people, conversely, fall into “The Tender Trap”, and are always so busy completing tenders that they never have time to get any wired!
“Environmental Awareness” has become “Sustainability”, “Equal Opportunities” has become “Diversity”. I wonder what the next buzzwords will be?
I am seeing a huge amount of tenders offering cleaning contracts at the moment. Helping companies with submitting winning bids for these is becoming more and more frequent.
Security tenders are not as common as cleaning tenders. Nevertheless I am seeing a large ammounts of these too – daily! Helping companies with submitting winning bids for these is also becoming more and more frequent.