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10 communication mistakes that stop you winning work by tender

By George Hulbert, who has helped companies to win more than $1.1 billion in work this way:

So you want to win that all-important contract that is up for tender…. but so do all of your competitors. You know that the price you offer is going to be critically important, but everyone else will have screwed their price to the floor as well.

So what else do you need to do to show your intended client that you are THE company to pick for the work? Well, I'd advise you to avoid the following for a start:

1. No message
Just because you are a technical expert with decades of experience in your industry, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are good at communicating what sets you apart from your competition. And the people reviewing your bid may not all be technical people.

While technical detail is always an important part of a bid, unless you have a professional communicator on staff you should always consider how an outside resource could help you focus your core points of difference - and the benefits of your proposal - in a way that your client will understand, because an outsider can also often add the fresh-eyes perspective that may form a major part of the evaluation team. The relatively small expense of hiring a professional could make the difference between you winning that game-changing contract – or not.

2. Not being what you wish to appear
The best companies prepare for bids by looking ahead well before time and asking themselves "what can we DO now to start living what we think our target wants from us?" In this way, they can put in place initiatives so that at tender time they can give concrete examples of how they are aligned with their client. If you treat your bid as window-dressing, with 'weasel words' that have no substance, expect to be found out.

3. Not blowing your trumpet
Many businesses find it hard to express why they are so good at what they do – and don't like to blow their own trumpets. However, this is the time to get the brass section warmed up because if you don't tell the client why you should be chosen above all others, no one else will. This can be done with subtlety and finesse: it doesn't have to make you cringe. Don't forget: this a prime opportunity to market to your client and show how good you really are. Don't waste it.

4. One-stop-shop cradle-to-grave clichés
Everyone wants to be a one-stop-shop these days, with a 'can-do cradle-to-grave caring attitude' that marks them out as 'truly customer-focused'. So you're special, but we're all equally special – so that means you're part of the crowd. I'd ask you to think instead about WHAT it is that you do that makes you a one-stop-shop and find examples as to WHY people think you have a can-do attitude. If you can focus on this, then you're telling stories that will resonate with your intended client.

5. Copy-and-paste complacency
Nothing says "we're only mildly invested in this opportunity" like a generic off-the-shelf document that talks about what you offer to "your clients". This immediately tells the specific organisation to whom you are pitching that you have used your standard material, and that you don't care about them as much as you care about what you can do: contractor 'push', not customer 'pull'. Be specific, address the company by name, tailor your materials and think carefully about how you will meet or actually drive your client's objectives.

6. Just doing enough
The most successful bids are always the ones in which the question 'what MORE can we offer' is asked at the beginning of the process and then regularly and frequently until completion. Always assume that your competition is throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the bid – so what more can you offer that your competition cannot?

7. Not showing the benefits to the client
All your track record, relevant experience and key people material in your bid should be focussed entirely on how they will be applied on this contract to the client's benefit. Use proof stories about how you have applied your experience etc to the client's benefit before and underscore the benefits you intend to provide the new client by listing your specific commitments.

8. Too much emphasis in one area
Price + technical detail + theme + message + the right people + good imagery all have a significant part to play in successful bids. Too much – or not enough – emphasis in any of these areas can lead to an unbalanced bid. Take care to include all these elements fully.

9. Being boring
The best bids are easy to view and read. Always assume that your bid is going to be the last one read on a sunny Friday afternoon and ask yourself: what would I like to see if I was in this situation? If your bid is dull and lifeless, is it not reasonable for your potential client to assume that is how you are as an organisation?

10. Leaving it till the last minute
If you have spent years getting your business ready to win this one contract, why leave your bid preparation to the last couple of weeks? Last minute rushing often leads to costly mistakes. Start early to plan your key messages: six months out is a useful minimum, but if you can start work earlier, so much the better. If you know your intended client as well as you should, this work is valuable.

If you'd like more useful tips on how to shape your 'Why Us?' message as you approach a big tender bid, please get in touch with George: +64 21 536 637.