By George Hulbert of The Clarity Business, which has helped companies to win more than $1.2 billion in work through tenders:

Here are a few mistakes I see out there that I recommend you avoid if you want to make that assessment count: Early assessment of your company's tendering capabilities can make all the difference when you're planning to target that big bid in 9 months' time.

1. Not being honest with yourselves

Frequently, when going into a company for the first time to talk about tendering, we are shown the latest bids with an arms-folded "isn't that great" expression.

While being shown the latest work is as good as any place to start, it is not every day that the answer is "yes, that is a superb example of a tender submission."

The companies we work with who do best at the tender box are always laser-sharp in their self-examination, often several months - or even years - out from that crucial bid. The more prepared a company is to be honest with itself from the outset, and to seek to do better than before, the more likely it is to do well further down the track.

Questioning everything is a good place to start: do we really know our client like we think we do? How often do we see them? What do we KNOW that our client thinks about us? Do we know them at all? And, more importantly, are we targeting the right bids, and are we winning the bids we are aiming at – and if not, why not?

2. Going for the wrong bids

Scrabbling around for attributes because you don't quite have them is a pretty good sign that you're reaching.

You may wish to be the supplier of choice in a certain area, but if you can't show that you have the chops to do the work, you're never going to win the bid. Equally, if you don't have the people or the right systems in place to show that you have a cast iron offer, then you really should question your approach.

Even if you are bidding for position, to raise your profile with the client with no expectation of getting this piece of work, ask yourself if your bid is actually going to do more damage to your reputation than good.

3. Over-estimating the strength of your client relationships

A key crime is often committed by companies when they say "I was playing golf with our client last week - we're really in there", when this could in fact mean little.

We have known companies that have set their businesses up years out from a particular bid, even buying property, based on their matey relationship with their client, only to fail at tender time because they mistook their client's emphasis on value, when in fact the client was after cost savings. They thought they knew their client well – but not well enough.

Although it is undeniably a good idea to keep in regular contact with your client, it is what the relationship adds in terms of solid knowledge of your client's organisation's objectives and requirements that is truly valuable. They may not appear in the words of the bid put together by their procurement team, but they sure as hell drive the company's ultimate buying decision: will this tenderer help to accelerate our strategy, or hold us back?

4. Not seeing the client perspective clearly

One of the commonest worries I have when I meet companies for the first time is when they talk about their service, in response to the question "what will you offer the client in this bid?"

As I always assume that you and your competitors are roughly equal in terms of service – after all, you've all been invited to tender because you offer it – what I want to know is about how you stand out, in particular for THIS client.

What is it about HOW you do it that is special for this particular client, and what is it exactly that your client wants to achieve through this bid? This is the most important question, because it enables you to work backwards and create the right equation, which is:

Service + your difference + benefits = how you will achieve your client's objectives

By thinking more from your client's shoes, you will see what they want to achieve – and thus need from you – which starts to inform how your strategy should roll out.

5. Thinking that the bid submission is the whole deal

Your bid is unlikely to succeed if you rely solely on a procurement process to get the job done. It can and does happen, but easily the best bid submissions are those that are just the final step in a longer process of:

- Self-assessment

- Opportunity identification and assessment

- Client evaluation

- Message creation

- Outreach and positioning

- Demonstrated capability over time

- Bid evaluation and specific targeting

6. Thinking you have the right bid team

Do you KNOW that your client likes your team? Check with them before the formal bid period begins. That way, you can iron out any issues before you submit your document or, worse, bring the wrong people to the presentation.

Bear in mind that when your client sees your team, he/she is thinking: "I'm going to have to deal with these people every day for the next xx years. Can they do the job - and do I like them?"

7. Misdiagnosing your Unique Selling Points

The biggest mistake I see out there is companies that don't get far enough into the process of digging up their USP.

I know it can be hard to do this sometimes, but an external party can help to tease this out because they don't wear a pair of company blinkers – and can see a wider view of the market so they know when something stands out.

Let's put it this way: your USP is hardly EVER going to be the service you offer – or your can-do attitude, agile structure, integrity or honesty. The fact that you have been in business for a long time, or are locally-owned, are also good, but fall into the 'so what' category – unless you can show how these things have a tangible benefit for the client that none of your competition can achieve. Those might be reasons why you have been invited to tender but, now, what is truly unique about what you do, how you do it and what you achieve for your clients – and this client in particular? This is what you now need to unearth.

The best example I have seen of this done well is a mortgage broker who only talks about being a broker when pressed into the detail of her job. To start with, she talks about how she will save a decade off your mortgage and more than $200,000 in interest. When asked how she does it, she then goes into the systems and products that enable her to function.

So, I urge you to think about how what you do – and how you do it, plus the difference you add to the mix - adds value to your intended client. This is less about the value you will bring, more about what it all achieves for them as they move forward. Will what you do to accelerate their own strategy? If so, you could be onto a winner.

If you'd like more useful tips on how to assess your capabilities in general, or as you approach a big tender bid, please get in touch with George: +64 21 536 637

Read more of our posts on tenders here:

6 top tips for tendering

10 communication mistakes that stop you winning work by tender


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