Hello and welcome to Introduction to Professional Services Bidding.
If you’re at the stage in your business where you want to grow but just aren’t sure where or how to start then responding to competitive tenders might be a business development strategy worth considering.
In this mini course I’m going to help you navigate your way through the process so that you come away with a solid understanding of what planning, resources, and skill-set you’ll need to compete to optimise your chances of success.
While you’re going to have to make some upfront investment in time and effort to get your bidding capability established, the great thing about bidding is that it follows a repeatable process and structure that you can continually hone through feedback loops.
Once you’re armed with the tools and information you need, you’ll soon be a master of the process, and you’ll know what it takes to devise a competitive strategy and put a winning response together.
Getting ‘tender ready’ You’ve got this!
In uncertain times, learning how to respond to a tender, and where to find the opportunities, is often the biggest leap that a company will make in its business development strategy.
But – if you learn how to do it well, it can make all the difference between surviving, and thriving.
This mini course has been carefully designed to provide you with the necessary knowledge and information to understand how the tender process works, and identify the best ways of putting together a strong tender response (the ‘bid’). It’s been based on many years of working on the job with teams across different professional services fields, and I’ve broken it down as a step by step guide to give you the fundamentals to get you started.
We’re going to cover 3 main topics:
Lesson 1 Understanding the tender process
Lesson 2: Devising bid strategy
Lesson 3: Preparing the bid response
Each lesson provides insights and tips on how and where to gather information, and provides suggested approaches with a toolkit to help you get started.
Getting into the mindset: Persuasive selling, backed with evidence
Professional services bidding has a unique set of requirements where people are your product, and your submissions have to do the selling.
To begin, we need to shift our minds from your old way of working where you send in business development managers or fee earners to bring in the business based on relationships, referrals and capability statements.
Bidding in response to a tender invitation is a very different form of sales method that is different to a sales proposal. Bidding relies on a competitive, arm’s length process where compliance and transparency of the process is just as important as your service offering and best and final offer.
It’s one where your bid is benchmarked against your competitors, and weighted against set evaluation criteria.
For the ease of following terminology, a tender invitation is the document that is issued out by the buyer; and the bid is the submission returned by you, the supplier.
But, think of it being just like a group assignment.
You have the assignment sheet; you pull together your team, and you work together to divide and conquer to address the criteria with strong referencing. You have to do this to deadline and then you submit your assignment in the hope of getting the highest marks in your class. Sound familiar? Well it’s actually not that dissimilar!
So what is the difference between a good bid and a great bid? A good bid is written well, answers the selection criteria, ticks all the boxes and meets the mandatory requirements. Doing so places you in a relatively good position to be short-listed for further consideration.
But a great bid exceeds the requirements and runs rings around the competition – you have a strong value proposition and are positioned as a thought leader, a strategic adviser, and certainly a business that is more than simply a one-off or short-term “supplier”.
A great bid demonstrates your company’s problem solving ability and provides evidence of how you are advancing the customers goals – these can be as high level as contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals…or it could be more operational, such as helping the company create local jobs. Either way, your response will need to contain references and evidence to comparable experience in helping other similar companies achieve their strategic objectives and overcome challenges.
In short, you need to position your company as more than just a transactional supplier, but an active and willing partner in your clients’ success. What’s so different to this than a sales relationship you might ask?
The main difference is that a bidding is a long distance relationship where the written submission, and the thought process that goes into it, is your primary selling tool.
There are some fundamental inclusions in a bid response that can help you achieve this. These inclusions might require you to develop a new kind of strategic writing skill that you haven’t applied before, or you might decide to direct resources to a consultant to help you.
In any case, my top 4 inclusions that you need to be aware of to develop a superior submission are:
- A strategic executive summary;
- Customer insight, by drawing on market research to demonstrate your understanding of the client’s business environment;
- Your past experience in similar contracts to demonstrate the expertise you can bring to the client as well as your ability to identify, monitor and manage risk; and
- Inclusion of case studies, testimonials and references as social proof of your solution, your experience, customer service and problem solving capability.
If you are prepared to invest the time and effort into mastering these four practices, then you’ve got the right mindset to respond to tenders. We’ll explore these aspects throughout the lessons.
When responding to a tender always remember that it is a competitive process that shouldn’t be seen solely as a marketing activity. Responding to tenders have the added complexity of technical, legal and commercial input. It really is a company team effort, and it’s the bid manager or writer’s role to project manage or lead it.
While your responses need to address contract-specific discriminators that require your technical experts’ input, you also need to convey your unique selling points by showing an understanding of the buyer’s issues, their concerns, and how your product or service will solve their problems successfully. After all, that’s why they’re going to market in the first place.
Having your fee earners, bid team and sales team (if you have one) work in isolation from each other is a missed opportunity and it’s surprising to know that so many companies don’t have a “one team” approach to bidding.
Because responding to tenders IS time consuming AND resource intensive, there is an equally important agenda to streamline the process to the point where it becomes one of your company’s own competitive advantages. And it’s an investment worth making because tendering is now the most preferred method to procure goods and services around the world, and it’s continuing to be adopted across both the public and private sectors.
Watch this video for some inspiration. Small firms should aim big.
The professional services context
In the professional services sector a large proportion of business development is gained through sole or preferred supplier status. The process of bidding, which may be interchanged with terms such as a pitch, tender, proposal, RFT or RFP, can be extremely daunting for company executives, fee earners and individuals tasked with putting together the formal bid document.
There’s now an increasing trend to focus on bidding as part of a broader, firm-wide business development strategy rather than a standalone activity. Gaining a place as a sole or preferred supplier on a panel, framework or as a part of a consortium of consultants can provide greater certainty for your pipeline when the economy is unstable.
And it’s not just large firms that can win these contracts. Small to medium businesses are now being encouraged to bid to help procurement departments meet their diversity targets and spread their contract risk.
The Australian government publishes its procurement statistics, providing great insight into the size and spread of their contracts across different industries, sectors and company sizes.
Other governments are also setting targets for greater supplier diversity. The UK government for example has launched a campaign, Open for Business, to encourage participation. They have also introduced additional questions at qualification stage to identify those bidders using a third party to write, submit or manage their bid.
If you ever wanted to get ahead of the curve, then now is the time to learn how to bid – with or without consultants to help you.
Whether you’re an Accountant, Auditor, Lawyer or Management Consultant, the public and private sectors need all of these professional services to help them comply and survive.
Firms spend significant amounts of time on pursuits that can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. With that in mind, the win rate needs to be 60-70% or greater. To maintain this win rate, firms need to carefully qualify which opportunities to bid on, and then efficiently manage the RFP process from start to finish.
By following a set of best practices, firms can create a streamlined and effective process that will result in higher win rates, and increased profits.
Why professional services is different
Unlike other sectors that might have more tangible products or service offerings, such as construction, health services or even a major IT project, professional services create value through processes that requirement to usually know more than their clients, either through expertise or through experience in similar problem-solving situations.
Because service is largely centred around individuals and their clients’ service encounters, selling the expertise of a professional services firm comes down to the collective reputation of the firm’s members around guaranteed quality, and the availability of the experts.