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A Winning Approach to Tenders, (First published in Clerksroom Magazine, July 2010)

Sue Bramall, Director of Berners Marketing and one of the speakers at the IBC conference outlines the keys to a successful tendering strategy

Know your strengths and be selective

Of course, you already have a clear written marketing strategy which sets out your target markets and your competitive strengths.  If so, you are able to identify those tender opportunities where you have a realistic chance of success.

Tenders are terribly time consuming and you need to consider your likely return on investment.  It is advisable to draw up a set of criteria against which you can assess any invitation to tender (ITT) before deciding whether to accept or decline.  Criteria might include:

  • Is this a primary target market?
  • Do you have an existing relationship?
  • Do you have appropriate credentials?
  • Do you have a good chance of winning?

Invest in relationships

Do not under-estimate the value of relationships - even in publicly advertised tenders.   Knowledge is power and knowledge of the team is invaluable in terms of understanding the brief and the objectives they wish to achieve with this contract.

If you do know someone on the client team, make sure that you telephone them when you have read through the ITT to chat it through and get a feel for their thoughts on priorities and key issues and concerns.

Make sure that you pick up the phone, even if you do not know someone.  It will show that you are enthusiastic and keen to understand the tender situation.

At the final presentation, a team that already has a good working relationship can have a huge advantage.

Efficient information systems

Responding to the initial request for information will usually require about 80% standard information, such as team profiles, financials, quality standards and systems, policies such as equality and diversity, environmental and corporate social responsibility (CSR).  This information needs to be as pre-prepared as possible to leave you free to focus on the 20% of the document that asks how you will meet their particular needs.

If your profiles are currently only 8 lines long and the case history has not been updated since...you don’t know when...start now.

Points mean ... getting on the shortlist

There will often be a scoring mechanism and if it is not clear you should always ask for details of the weighting for the various sections.  At the first stage, your objective is to get on the short list for a presentation where you will have a chance to shine.

Some scores will be clear cut and easy to forecast – for example if there are 10 points for a recognised quality standard and you do not have one, you will need to be very creative.

Ensure that it is easy for the reader to identify where you are eligible for points – for example in an executive summary

Make sure that you follow all the instructions exactly, especially including the delivery instructions.  It is a good idea to get a colleague to double check for you when you are ready to finalise the document.

Standing out from the crowd

Imagine the sheer tedium of reading though tens of tender documents – mostly grey and blue!  Presentation is vitally important in terms of the document being attractive and easy to read.

Resist the temptation to start with a previous tender, and run the risk of leaving the previous client’s name somewhere in an obscure appendix. 

Start with a fresh sheet and “sell” yourselves.  You need to convince the reader that, even if they do not know you, you have fantastic credentials and offer something more attractive than most of the other bidders.  Be clear about why they should invite you to make a presentation.

Adding value

Of course price is important, particularly at the moment, and you may need to be innovative in your pricing structure.  Are you prepared to share in the risk?  Can you provide a menu of fixed prices for certain things? Will you offer bulk discounts or rebates?

Have you thought about what “added value services” you can offer.  Newsletters, briefing and seminars are taken for granted these days.  Will you be able to offer access to information systems or secondments?  What can you offer that will differentiate you from your competitors?

Perfecting the presentation

Firstly you need to pick an appropriate team that will suit the audience that you are presenting to – don’t outnumber them and you do not want anyone on your team who does not make a contribution during the presentation.

Think twice about using a powerpoint presentation.  One of the objectives is to create a rapport and show empathy.  This can be very difficult if you are more interested in your lap top than the person at the other end of the table.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse - especially if you have not worked together as a team before.

Be enthusiastic – look like you want the work, and that you would be good people to work with.

Learning from feedback

You win some (I hope) and you lose some.  Either way, ask someone independent to phone up and ask for feedback on your performance and how you compare with the other bidders and learn from it.

If this was your first encounter with this client, use it as a stepping stone to building up the relationship, ready to be in pole position for the next time this work is tendered.

***
My favourite feedback tale was a salutary lesson indeed.  A large automotive component company had tendered all its legal work and shortlisted three national firms.  It was a fabulously juicy account.

At the very last minute a smaller regional firm managed to muscle in to the presentation, having met the client on the other side of a deal and followed up promptly (Lesson 1 – It never hurts to ask.  Lesson 2 – the client was so impressed with their enthusiasm).

As you may have guessed ‘small regional’ won the contract and so I called to ask ‘why?’.  The head of legal described how when they had visited the offices of the smaller firm, they were made to feel ‘so important’ even being served home made Victoria sandwich (I winced as I recalled our biscuit selection).

“They made us feel important. We knew that they would really value our business, whilst we would be just another account for the larger firms”.
Lessson 3 - Little things can make a big difference. 

Now where was that recipe...?

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