We are often engaged by companies to review some of their past tenders as an audit and benchmarking exercise. The objective is to identify what the company is doing well, what they could do better and how they compare to industry best practice. When we do these benchmarking projects, we review both the actual tender documents produced (the what), as well as the company’s people, systems and processes that produce the tender documents (the how).
Some companies engage us to do a benchmarking project because they want to increase their win rate, while others want to streamline, simplify or update their systems and processes, and others want to refocus or reignite their teams. And of course, sometimes it’s to achieve all three.
Recently, we had a small to medium enterprise engage us to undertake one of these projects after a confusing string of wins and losses. Oddly enough, they were losing the tenders they thought were done deals and winning others that they thought were long shots. We were engaged to look at the full spectrum of bid management activities for this company, including their approach to strategy development, bid management, content development, production and creative services.
Within every company, there are 2 streams of expertise that need to collaborate to ensure each tender is successful: the project team who develops the solution, and the proposal team who ensures the submission compellingly and persuasively sells that solution.
Irrespective of how big or complex the tender is, the proposal team needs skills in 5 areas to drive each tender’s success:
- Bid strategy
- Project management
- Content development
- Creative design
- Production management
While our client’s proposal team was limited in resources, they covered all aspects of the proposal team to some degree with enough capacity to do their typical tenders. Other than recommending that they nominate someone to do final proofreading, their bid team was given the green light.
When we look at bid processes, we are interested in all the systems and processes in place for relevant pre-bid activities right through to the post-submission activities.
As our client has a small proposal team, they hadn’t been able to develop or refine a clear or considered set of bid processes. They had developed some processes organically, but they were missing important steps which caused inefficiencies. For this reason, the client’s bid processes are a problem area and given an amber light.
We tailored some of our STAR Framework processes to the client, including a milestones schedule and approval process. We also created a basic tender library with fact sheets, product specs, case studies and graphics to help them pull together better tenders at short notice.
Every tender is different, even if they are from the same client, because the client may have shifted their focus, or changed their business strategy, or updated their priorities. Because of this, a specific strategy needs to be developed for each tender.
For our client, this was their biggest short-coming. They were jumping straight in to responding to each tender without stopping to analyse the client, the opportunity, the competition and their solution for each deal, which meant they were racing forward without developing a clear and purposeful strategy for winning.
They were stuck in the test mindset – focussing on putting together a compliant tender with a technically-correct response – instead of embracing a bid mindset.
We coached the client on when and how to undertake a strategy session for each bid and provided a checklist to help them ensure they’ve done the right kind of thinking before they dive in and start responding. With this approach, they’ll be analysing the competition, focusing on what the client wants and working on a strong and unique solution for each and every tender.
Winning a tender is reliant on developing the right, winning content specific to the question you are answering. This element of the benchmarking project examines how you analyse the questions to understand what the client really wants and prepare your responses to maximise your scores. In our Aurora Marketing STAR Framework methodology, we ensure the following 8 crucial elements are included in each response:
- Project Objectives
- Risks and Challenges
- Unique Approach
- Competitive Edge
- Win Themes
Our benchmarking project identified that our client was guilty of cutting and pasting their tenders and unfortunately they did a poor job of customising. Our audit revealed many examples of content that was irrelevant or misaligned to the client and even a few examples of the wrong client name.
For our client, undertaking a dedicated content analysis process “8 crucial elements of persuasive writing” and applying more caution and care around using past tender content will significantly improve their success.
That adage “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” applies equally to tendering.
The only thing a client can formally evaluate when scoring a tender is the tender document you submit; if it is poorly presented, badly structured or hard to read, it undermines everything you are trying to do.
Our client’s proposal team didn’t think the little stuff, like typos, were important. We helped the client to understand that we only get one chance to make a good first impression and clients do extrapolate opinions about the quality of work, professionalism and capability based on the minutia of spelling, grammar, typos and formatting. One way to think about it is to say that no one wins a tender based on good spelling, grammar etc, but certainly tenderers lose tenders based on losing the confidence of the buyer, confusing them or presenting as unprofessional.
Our audit identified some quick wins for the client, including removing watermarks, using pull out text and headings, increasing white space and employing a quality check process to ensure all the documents were branded the same. The biggest impact that we had, though, was using graphics to convey the story. When page limits are tight, pictures really do say 1,000 words.
Clear and practical recommendations
Aurora Marketing’s audit and benchmarking project resulted in a set of clear and practical recommendations that enabled our client to choose their way forward and decide what changes they wanted to make. They were able to start with some simple and low-cost changes that resulted in dramatic improvements to the quality of their tenders, and over time went on to implement more comprehensive improvements that gradually took their tenders to best practice.