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Katy Berrill is the Director of Bid & Tender Support. She and her team offer a range of bid and tender support services to their clients including a bid search service, bid strategy reviews and bid writing and review support. Katy shared with us some top tips on getting a bid strategy right.
Please can you tell me a little about your company and expertise?
Bid & Tender Support has been in business for just over three years. We support companies who are tendering for work in both the public and private sector, working predominantly around construction, technology, education and the NHS. As well as helping companies write tender responses, we also provide a search service to help companies use systems like OpenOpps to ensure they have access to all new opportunities in the market place. Our Bid Strategy Review service was introduced to help companies stay on track when bidding for work and continually improve the approach to delivering winning bids. Our services offer an end-to-end solution for clients looking to win work in both the public and private sectors.
Can you give an example of the sort of tender response strategy planning work you do?
In relation to a single tender, it starts with having a really good approach to shortlisting which tenders you should be going for. The tenders are going to have to be relevant and meet your criteria, in terms of size, location and type of work. This will give you a really good foundation for the work that follows, making it worthwhile investing time and resources in preparing good, relevant content. If you go for tenders that aren’t well matched to you, you’ll find it hard to get references and case studies, and to write content.
From there, look at your existing relationship or knowledge of the buyer. If it is extensive, use the bid kick off and planning stages to capture everything you know about them. If you do not have a relationship and little knowledge of them, either work out how you can organise your team to research these things to include in the response or this could be a no-bid deciding factor.
In the first stages of coordinating your response, gather all relevant parties from your company who need to contribute to this bid. By sitting around a table and discussing ideas, inputs and solutions to the client needs you will build a high scoring response. During this meeting, agree a timetable for input of information to allow your bid writers time to draft responses and coordinate internal bid reviews.
By doing this, everyone will be working to the same brief, deadlines and win themes throughout the bid.
Do you also look more broadly at the overall strategy for bidding within an organisation?
Absolutely. People and information are the two biggest areas in terms of strategy. We help our clients get organised as a team, looking at who you will need, how they should be managed, and how the team should communicate. A lot of time can be wasted during a bid process on this nitty gritty stuff. This also helps you to understand what your capacity is not just for delivering the work but the actual bid response.
The other critical resource is information. You need a library containing things like up to date case studies, policies, accounts and insurance policies. When a bid comes in, with a good library you can quickly go through it and work out what you’ve already got and what needs to be a priority in terms of content creation and research.
You also need to build a wider strategy around contract goals. There needs to be a good understanding here of your market, likely win rate and ability to deliver to ensure you plan a sensible but sufficient amount of bids per month to achieve overall business growth objectives for the company.
When you look at win rate, what kind of things do you get companies to focus in?
It’s really good to understand what your win rate is and how that’s broken down. Always get a breakdown of the scoring and feedback, because that will give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. We’ve had clients before who win everything they go for, due to a high weighting on price and their ability to be competitive and they’ve never been tested on the quality side. However, if they’re ever in a situation where price is only 30% of the weighting, they have to be ready for when price isn’t going to win them the job.
Another common cause for falling win rates is lack of strong, contactable references. This is often pass/fail and without sufficient relevant references and case studies the whole response could fail.
A lot of public sector buyers have learnt the hard way a low price does not always result in a good service with corners cut. The quality response is there to support the proposal you have put forward, giving the client confidence not only that you will deliver on budget but that you will provide value for money in terms of quality.
If you’re a company that’s previously done lots of business in the private sector and you want to move into the public sector, is it worth doing a review of your strategy?
Definitely. We do strategy reviews for companies that haven’t tendered in the public sector before. We look at how they perform in the private sector and work out how that translates to the public sector. Are they going to come out quite expensive? Are they going to have to rethink their offer for the public sector?
I always ask clients why they are looking at the public sector. If they can be clear on that internally, it means they’ll be able to get that across to the buyers as well. You don’t want to look like you’re just dipping your toe in the water of the public sector without any real consideration, you want to it come across that you understand the challenges, the market and their requirements. We work with companies to develop well thought out solutions they know will work in the public sector.
Another common barrier for companies that haven’t done any work in the public sector before is in providing case studies and references. However, when looking at the bigger picture, there’s often some private sector work that will have delivered to the public sector indirectly. For example, you might be an IT company that’s only ever worked with private sector companies but your clients might work for the public sector. If you’re clever, there are ways of emphasising your experience in relation to the public sector.
You were also saying about how much improving win rates has to be tailored to each company, but is there anything you can say every company ought to be doing?
All of what we’ve said around team, resource, libraries, references, applies to everyone. Bidding has to be approached like anything else in the business with a plan. Most sales and marketing teams have clear objectives, plans and budgets and tendering should be treated exactly the same. You should have goals, objectives and a plan. By approaching bidding with a sales and marketing head, you’ll measure your return on investment to stay on track. If you spend a lot of time and money on tendering but you’re not measuring it then it is difficult to work out what value you are getting from it, in terms of lessons learnt.
The most successful companies we work for have very clear goals. They know exactly the sort of public sector buyers they want to work for and they only go for opportunities that fit. They don’t have a scattergun approach.
Is the scattergun approach the most common mistake you see in bidding?
Yes it can be, due to the biggest cause of failure being going for the wrong opportunities in the first place. We’ve got clients with win rates of 100% who are niche in what they do, so they will only ever go for tenders which are a good fit and where they’ve got a really good chance of winning. They see other tenders as a distraction.
We do have clients who go for opportunities knowing it is a long shot, which is fine if that fits with your required approach to win work. Where you can come undone is forgetting this and being disheartened when you don’t go onto win it, which quickly erodes team morale.
When you do see companies with really good win rates, are there any trends?
There are companies that really stand out for their tender approach. They are the kind of companies that are constantly looking for improvement. They tend to be at the forefront of innovation in their industries; they’re using new products, they’re using new processes, they’ve got accreditations that are not just core standard items. They know what’s going on in their industry and they know their clients because they’re out there meeting with them. Buyers recognise suppliers who are really up to date with everything that is going on, which in turn enables them to be a bit more competitive with clear USPs.
You can’t, however, get complacent, having an existing contract or good name in your industry isn’t often enough to win the contract. You need to be offering the client more, added value, social value, value for money and initiatives, which benefit the client and their customers.
When we’re talking about tender organisation and tender strategy, a lot of it’s also going out and making sure you’ve met the buyers and you know the market?
I think it’s the same as with anything, it’s all in the preparation. When you’ve got that, once you sit down and write a bid, that’s the really easy bit. You’ll have loads of information and lots of tools that you can work with. If you’re sat there staring at a blank screen trying to write the bid and you haven’t done the research, the response isn’t going to flow or really get to grips with offering the client an attractive solution. If you’ve done all your research and you have relevant information to hand, you will be thinking that 1000 word limit just isn’t enough. The more you have information in your war chest, the easier it will be to write a tender.
Thank you very much for your time. Is there anything in particular that you are organising at the moment that you’d like us to promote?
We are currently offering our Monthly Bid Search Service combined with our Quarterly Bid Strategy Reviews for only £145.00 per month. For more information on these two services or this offer please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Bid & Tender Support, visit http://www.bidandtendersupport.co.uk/.