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bid strategy

Are your proposals on life support?

In organisations that aren’t winning enough proposals, I find any number of processes and procedures that are propping up the proposal effort. This calls to mind the life support given to critical care patients to keep their vital organs going. Life support may help to sustain life, but it doesn’t deliver any kind of quality.

What would happen if you unplugged your status meetings? Tollgate checks? Draft reviews? Content library? What about graphics support? Would your proposals be able to live, breathe and take on a life of their own when they leave your door, and find their way in front of the customer?

Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer is “no”.

Your proposals live or die on the quality of effort, energy and enthusiasm you get from your people. They are the vital organs that give life to the body of work you want to do.

Does your team know how to build a pitch strategy that represents what the customer most wants, what you can best deliver, and what positions you most favourably against competitors? Can they analyse and answer the question behind the question in a customer briefing or tender request? Do they know how to structure their writing so that it is clear, convincing and compelling? Are they truly committed to making your proposals the best they can possibly be? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you need to make this a priority.

Just like the human body, your organisation’s proposal effort needs all its vital organs working together. And when it comes to proposals, withdrawing life support is not an option.

You simply can’t afford to let your proposal effort pass away – there are millions of dollars riding on its success.

Once you get the life back into your proposals, everything gets better. You’ll start winning again. You’ll get to do the work you deserve to do – work that builds your profile, your bank account and your legacy. Your people will be happier and more enthusiastic about winning work.

And that’s an outcome worth investing in.

Start fast to finish first

Last week we talked about thinking more, and writing less, to win more proposals. This week, I’m going to show you exactly how to plan your schedule so you will have the time you need to think, and to plan your proposal, even when you are stretched with other priorities.

A typical competitive tender schedule (the time from when the tender is released, to when it’s due) is four weeks. This goes by faster than you'd think.

Parkinson’s law says that “work expands to fill the time available to complete it.” If you think that all you need to do is write the proposal, four weeks probably sounds like a generous amount of time.  Add strategy, content and evidence planning into the mix, though – the things you’ll need to do to be convincing, compelling and emerge as the clear winner – and it suddenly doesn’t sound like such an easy run after all.

It’s pretty common to see people “sit” on tender requests for days, or weeks, while they are deciding whether or not it’s worth going for, waiting for feedback from others, or just working on other things.

Unfortunately, time lost at the start of the bid schedule has a compounding, negative effect on your chances of winning. Lose a week, and your strategy will suffer. Lose two weeks, and you will also miss key pieces of evidence to support your claims and maximise your evaluation score.

When you’re leading a proposal, aim to spend most of your time on strategy and planning. This minimises the time you will need to write, review and polish.

Here’s how to spend each day in those four weeks to give yourself the best chance of success:

Week 1 – Circulate the briefing to your team as soon as it is released. Give them a day to read it. Then run your strategy session. Once you have your bid strategy and Purchaser Value Topics ready, write a draft of your Executive Summary. Get agreement in principle to the strategy and key messages.

Week 2 – with your bid strategy and Purchaser Value Topics agreed, now you can get stuck into planning your response. Analyse the tender questions; really pull them apart. Figure out what they are really asking for. What is the buyer’s motivation for asking? Is there a question behind the question? What do they want to expect to hear? Plan evidence to substantiate all your claims. Circulate your content plan with instructions to any other writers.

Week 3 – gather all your content and start shaping it into a proposal. Circulate the first draft for comment and review.

Week 4 – Make final changes, format the proposal and get internal sign-off.  Submit it at least one day before the customer’s deadline.

Why honesty is the best policy in a proposal

When writing a proposal, it can be tempting to ignore the areas where you know you’re going to come up short. What if you have less experience than competitors, or a less than stellar track record with a customer you are desperate to retain? Unfortunately, glossing over the issue isn't going to work.

A study by John Paul MacDuffie of Pennsylvania University, published in the Journal of International Business Studies in 2011, identified three types of trust in business relationships:

1.     Contractual trust;

2.     Trust in competence, and

3.     Goodwill.

Competitive tendering is built on the idea of “contractual trust”. In other words, as a buyer, I trust you if you meet my minimum standards; are prepared to sign a contract that binds you to these standards; and where I have legal redress if you don’t perform.

The other types of trust – competence and goodwill – are harder to establish, because they are based on how you operate on the job. While presenting past performance data does go some way towards establishing trust in your competence, it’s harder to foster goodwill in a proposal, particularly if you have no prior track record with the customer.

But there is a way to do it.

Recently the business media was all hot and bothered about a 22 year old intern from San Diego called Matthew Ross, who the Wall Street investment banking fraternity were falling all over themselves to hire. What was so special about Ross, who was just as inexperienced as the thousands of other American undergraduates that apply for internships? Here is how he sold himself:


"I won't waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crap about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking partnership.

 

The truth is, I have no unbelievably special skills...but I do have a near perfect GPA (grade point average) and will work hard for you. I have no qualms about fetching coffee, shining shoes or picking up laundry, and will work for next to nothing."


A proposal is a lot like a job application. Any time your proposal is not congruent with who you are and what you can do, it’s like an instant red flag that will send the buyer searching for other holes. There's a good chance you will spook them and never know why they suddenly went cold on you.

I know incumbents who have lost business simply because they haven't owned up to problems that are obvious to everyone.

Likewise, I have seen long shots win by being up-front and honest about their shortcomings, and by demonstrating a willingness to work and learn (just like Matthew Ross did).

Selling is a kind of energy exchange; it is always about people and what they believe about you.

Customers will expect you to have the right skills, products and services, but they place a higher value on attitude than you might think.

That’s because nothing is ever perfect. When things go wrong in the job, or the relationship - as they inevitably will - they want to know you're the kind of person they can work with to find a solution. 

This is tip no. 2 in my most popular e-book, 10 Easy Ways To Write A Better Proposal Today.

Is your proposal really a proposal?

When your proposals aren’t successful, it can be hard to figure out why. Trying to fix this problem on your own is like trying to fix a car when you’re not a mechanic. You can tinker and try things, but it’s hit-and-miss, frustrating and slow.

So let’s start with defining what a proposal really is.

A proposal is a commercial document whose purpose is to influence the customer to say "yes" to you. To achieve this, proposals need a combination of style, substance and relevance.

  • Style is the way the proposal looks and sounds, and how it makes the reader feel.
  • Substance is the content of the proposal, which outlines the offer that you are making to the buyer.
  • Relevance is the “fit” between the offer and the problems and aspirations of the customer.

Problems occur when any one of these elements is missing; the “proposal” becomes a brochure, a report, or a presentation. All of these are interesting in their own right, but none are likely to get you hired.

When there’s style and substance, but no relevance to the customer, your proposal becomes a Brochure. This is a generic document that looks and sounds great, but could apply to anyone. Studies show that brochures are useful in consumer businesses, particularly retail trade and in tourism. If you’re selling to business and government, not so much.

When there’s substance and relevance, but a lack of style, customers read the proposal as if it’s a Report. Proposals are about selling the job; reports are about doing the job.

Customers are trained to read reports as a set of recommendations - not all of which may be adopted.

Where there is style and relevance, you’ve got a Presentation. In his book Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff, a venture capital consultant who pitches multi-million dollar deals for a living, says that customers often see sales presentations as “the morning’s entertainment” - a pleasant enough way to spend an hour, maybe even to learn something new, but probably not to buy anything.

So, is your proposal really a proposal? Or is it something else? Identifying the problem is the start of the solution.

Can you really bid less but win more?

“Sales is a numbers game”. This saying comes from a time when relationship selling was king, deals were done on a handshake, and the more people you got in front of, the luckier you became.

However, it is harmful advice when it comes to competitive tenders.

Submitting competitive tenders is like feeding coins into a slot machine; your chances of winning don’t get any better as your supply of coins goes down.

In fact, the opposite is true.

The more tenders you invest time and effort in, but don’t win, the more discouraged you're likely to get. Buyers don’t give you good feedback – or any feedback. All you’re really doing is depleting your most important currency, the energy, enthusiasm and engagement of your team, for absolutely zero return.

People will try to tell you you’re not winning because you “didn’t write the tender”, meaning the buyer didn’t go to market based on the specifications you gave them. This is baloney too. Buyers are smarter than that; they won’t deliberately favour one vendor. And I've known plenty of people who have won competitive tenders without any prior relationship with the buyer.

Most likely, the problem is that you’re submitting so many tenders that they look like brochures – carbon copies full of cut-and-pasted content. Or, they are simply responses to the tender specification – which is what everyone else is doing too – without any real strategy to win.

Over the years I’ve noticed a marked difference in the way that clear winners approach bids and tender proposals, while others are setting themselves up to lose. It starts with how (and where) we spend our time.

 

Spend more of your time up front on the thinking work, without jumping straight into the “doing” work, and good things will happen. You’ll get better engagement from your team. You’ll impress buyers. And you’ll win more often. And that’s a win for everyone.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Is it time to pimp your proposals? Stop wasting time and money on proposals that go nowhere. The Pimp My Proposals program will give you the feedback, content and structure you need to build compelling proposals that win business. Learn what you’re doing wrong, and how to fix it. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

Is it time to pimp your proposals?

For most people in business, proposals are not a joy – they’re simply a hassle.

Proposals chew up a lot of your time and resources. You spend hours, days or weeks slaving away over them, and when you lose, there are no prizes for second place. Customers don’t give you useful feedback (or any feedback) and it can be impossible to work out what you’re doing wrong.

Imagine your most recent proposal has just been graded, and is sitting in a stack, on a desk, inside your buyer’s office.

On the bottom at level 1 are the proposals that are the most unappealing. If yours is in this part of the pile, we need to do some work on your message – what you are actually selling.

Above this at level 2 are the proposals the buyer found unclear; they didn’t quite “get it”. Here, we need to work on your presentation.

Above the line are the level 3 proposals the buyer sees as competent.  On the surface, these seem okay, but they often lack evidence to support the claims you’re making. Without this, you won’t be winning business as often as you should be.

Where you want to be is at levels 4 and 5. Level 4 proposals are convincing, and show a level of strategy and insight that others don’t. At level 5, you’ve really made it; your proposals are so compelling that buyers simply can’t say no to you. At this level, you’ll be able to leverage more business, at better margins, because you are positioned as the go-to people in your market space.

Compelling and convincing proposals are a combination of style, substance and relevance.  Problems happen when any one of these elements is missing; the “proposal” becomes a brochure, a report, or a presentation, none of which is likely to get you hired.

A proposal effort that isn’t getting you results can leave you feeling stuck and frustrated – like being trapped in the movie Groundhog Day. But no matter where you’re starting out, there is always a way to improve.

How to make smarter new business decisions

When I talk to people who have been in business for a while, most are nostalgic for the “golden” age of selling. Back then, business was done on a handshake, relationships were king and suppliers had a lot of power. Fast-forward to today, and business of any size and scale is done through bids and tenders, procurement is king, and suppliers don’t seem to know what to do any more.

What’s really going on is that the world of sales has fundamentally changed. And in this upheaval, those on the “supply” side feel that they have lost their power.

It’s true that not everything we would like to control is within our control. We can’t control how customers buy. We can’t control what competitors do and say. And we can’t control how we feel about any of these things. But we CAN control how we exercise our choice, and we need to start by making smarter decisions about the business we choose to go after.

According to a recent study by TEC (The Executive Connection), a global network of company CEOs, one of the five issues keeping CEOs up at night is the perennial need to make good decisions. In this study, they say: “Good decisions are made when CEOs equally weigh the pros and cons, rewards versus risks, and probability of success versus failure. Out-of-the box decisions can sometimes be a recipe for disaster.”

There is a lot at stake when we go after new business. Every meeting we have, every tender that we write, every proposal that we submit creates an opportunity cost of things that we could be doing elsewhere that might be a better use of our time and effort.  

Most importantly, every pursuit requires “mojo”. It needs our energy and enthusiasm to fuel it. And we only have so much of that to go around.

There's no shortage of checklists you can find to help you make pursuit decisions. Most of these, however, are based on the perspective that this is a rational process; follow a flow chart, and out pops a decision at the other end.

In fact, business development is not a rational process. It’s human, and complex, with many factors to consider. So the reason to have a new business pursuit process in your business is not just to make the right decision; it’s to understand WHY you are making the decision in the first place.

My new program From Chance to Choice is designed to help you make smarter decisions about what new business you should go after. It looks at the human factors, as well as the commercial ones. It’s totally online, so you can access it from anywhere. It will help you build your win rates – and your mojo.

Because what we contribute is what we get in return.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Is it time to pimp your proposals? Stop wasting time and money on proposals that go nowhere. The Pimp My Proposals program will give you the feedback, content and structure you need to build compelling proposals that win business. Learn what you’re doing wrong, and how to fix it. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.
Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

The joy of bid content planning

In a complex bid or tender response, taking the time to plan content and evidence means you and your team will spend less time writing and rewriting. I call this the “joy” of bid content planning because to me, this is where the strategy comes to life. However, most people skip straight over this step because they’re impatient to get straight into writing. This is risky, because without proper planning there is always the chance that the most compelling elements of your strategy will never see the light of day.

A tender evaluation panel might contain anywhere from five to eight or more different stakeholders. They will come from the business area you are pitching to, and possibly also from its technology, legal and environmental sustainability teams.

Even when you are the incumbent supplier, there’s a very good chance that not everyone on the evaluation panel will be familiar with your work. Your proposal needs to explain this, and provide examples and evidence to support what you are saying.

Sit down with your team after the bid strategy session and examine each of the questions in turn. What are these questions really asking? Is there a question behind the question? What does the buyer really want to know? Are there potentially explosive issues here that you need to be aware of?

When thinking about how to answer each question, consider the major claims you want to make.

Then make sure you back them up with evidence.

This is exceptionally important in a bid or tender response, as the evaluation panel has to give each part of your proposal a score. What sets apart high scoring proposals is the believability of their claims, which is determined by the quality of the evidence that you provide. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

Why “ticking all the boxes” often isn’t enough to make the sale

Imagine how much productivity is lost in businesses, and how many problems remain unsolved, just because buyers don’t have the balls to make a decision and sellers don’t push a solution when they actually have one.

Ever poured your heart and soul into a huge tender or proposal that went nowhere? Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. And it’s not just sellers whose time is wasted: it’s buyers’ too. A loss to “no decision” wastes everyone’s time and energy.

Indecision and waste are everywhere in complex sales. And not just in business.

Take real estate for example.

Escape to the Country is a British reality-TV show that helps hassled Londoners to buy property in the picturesque English countryside.

It’s highly aspirational, but not very practical, as very little property actually changes hands on the show. Most of the time it’s a lovely tour through some beautiful homes accompanied by tinkly music and a soothing voiceover.

While I like a good property stickybeak as much as the next person, I find Escape to the Country frustrating, as so few people actually BUY the gorgeous homes they look at.  Instead, they wander off “still searching for their dream home”, while the poor home owners trying to sell the place are left polishing the andirons in their inglenook fireplaces.

Why don’t these property buyers, seemingly so keen to escape to the country, actually buy? I reckon it’s because many come on the show with a massive laundry list of likes and dislikes. They are shown three homes, and the first two tick all their boxes. Ironically, it’s often the third house - the “mystery house” - that gets the best reception, as it challenges the buyers’ preconceptions and gives them something different (and better) than what they asked for.

Business buyers are exactly the same. They think they know what they want, but they don’t REALLY know until they see it.

So don’t just tick the boxes. Use your expertise, and offer them something that will surprise and delight them. That’s how you will emerge as the clear winner.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

The DNA of a successful bid team

A bid team is a living organism – a group of smart people who come together to apply their skills and knowledge to developing a functional solution that will win or retain an important contract or customer.

The most successful teams share a particular type of DNA. In very simple terms, DNA is a blueprint for how to build a living organism: it gives instructions to our cells about how they should grow and function.

Likewise, bid teams need the right mix of customer and technical experts, balanced by a Bid Leader with the authority to make commercial decisions, and the skills to draw out the best ideas and drive the organisational change necessary to win.

What often happens, though, is that it’s left up to the customer experts – the sales team – to run bids on their own. Customers have expectations and the sales team knows all about them: they will happily tell you what they are. Without the leadership and authority to implement these expectations, or the technical know-how to configure the systems and processes of the organisation to suit the customer, this knowledge remains under-used.

Building your team with the right mix of people creates a meeting of minds that will help you win. As you can start to see from this diagram, it’s at the intersection of these specialities that the magic truly happens. Customer experts provide information about customer expectations, which the commercial experts use to provide leadership to the technical people, who can configure a solution for the customer.

 Figure 1: The DNA of a successful bid team contains the right mix of specialists with commercial, technical and customer expertise

Figure 1: The DNA of a successful bid team contains the right mix of specialists with commercial, technical and customer expertise

Avoid letting senior leaders outside your team hijack the bid strategy, particularly if they don’t know the customer well or haven’t worked at the coalface for a long time. Often these people dominate the discussion with commercial concerns and big-picture competitive strategy, at the expense of valuable customer and technical insights, and can make disastrous decisions that undermine the good work of the people who really know what is going on. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Why buyers make the wrong decision

Competitive tenders don't always result in the best decision. Buyers go for what LOOKS like the best decision - on paper – which sometimes proves to be the wrong one.

If you've ever lost a bid you were certain you would win, been shocked by who the buyer actually DID choose instead of you, and seen that supplier go on to deliver (predictably) inferior work and results, you are definitely not alone. 

Professionals are often uncomfortable about parading their wares for money, and that’s what a tender can feel like.  In an ideal world, buyers would offer you an alternative way to show them what you can do – one that actually helps you demonstrate your best work.

For instance, if you’re an architect, how much more comfortable would you be if you were allowed to let your work speak for itself in a design competition, rather than preparing a 100 page tender response?

But of course, buyers often choose the easier option and run a tender instead.

Competitive tenders are an unnatural, artificial and uncomfortable way for professionals to sell themselves. Unfortunately, they are a reality, so we need to find a way to do our best work within them.

It all starts with your business development culture. The most successful business development culture for a services firm is one that feels natural and comfortable; supports how your smart people think best; and gets them energised and excited by the opportunity first.

When you do have to prepare a tender, think about creative ways to bring out the best in what you can do. Include infographics, use interesting case studies, and offer the buyer a taste of the great things that happen to people who make the smart choice to work with you. You'll win more business, more often, and have more fun doing it.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Five ways to write proposals that win business

For the last few weeks we’ve been looking at what NOT to do if you want to avoid losing a competitive tender. One thing all these behaviours have in common is that they are keeping you inwardly focused – on yourself and your firm.

To leapfrog the line between winning and losing, start to turn your attention outwards, to the customer and the opportunity.

The first thing to focus on is compliance. Achieve this, and you’ll be seen as a thoughtful, competent supplier. There are five hurdles to achieving compliance:

1.     Compliance with threshold requirements. If you need quality accreditations such as ISO9001 or ISO4801 and don’t have them, it’s rare to win against competitors that do.  Non-compliance is an easy reason for a buyer to exclude your bid.

2.  Compliance with any mandatory requirements. In the Request for Tender document, look for the words “must” to indicate what’s mandatory.

3.    Compliance with the specifications or scope of works. Can you do everything that the buyer is asking for? That’s important. As the expert, you may have ideas about how things could be done better (I’d certainly hope so, if you want to win). But always submit a complying bid, even if you think your alternative offer is stronger. By the time they have reached a competitive tender, some buyers have already made up their mind.

4.    Contract compliance. This is one area where buyers definitely prefer no changes. Some will even go so far as to specify that you can’t vary the contract terms.

5.  Finally, make sure your tender responses (written answers) are compliant. Analyse the questions properly to make sure that you’re answering every part, and understand why the buyer is asking each question. Include enough qualitative and quantitative evidence to give you a high evaluation score.

While the first four are usually OK, the last can be a challenge without advice and guidance. If you need a leg up and over the final hurdle, my Master Class Program will get your team compliant and see you landing on the "yes" list more often.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.


Do the right job – then do the job right

Last week I explained how bidding less can actually help you to win more. While being more selective helps position you to be more successful, it’s not enough by itself. It is also important that the people who are writing your proposals are true subject matter experts – people who really have the knowledge and experience to really understand what the customer is asking for.

When professional services firms want to grow and win more work, they’ll usually assign a team of proposal writers to produce bids. These teams are often made up of administrative staff and junior consultants who don't yet have a great deal of field experience and might otherwise be underemployed.

While this approach might save money, or be more efficient, it certainly isn’t effective. Proposals lack depth of knowledge, and are a signal to clients that your firm really just sees bids and tenders as paperwork, and not as an opportunity to be of service to them.

To win, you need to convince the customer you’ll do the RIGHT JOB; not just do the job right. That’s why the subject matter experts in your firm will always be your best proposal writers. However, they do need support to do this. Their comfort zone is writing reports, not proposals. They have day jobs to do as well, under significant time pressures.

And let's not forget that your experts are rarely in it for the money. To be more successful, inspire them with the intrinsic rewards they'll achieve by winning work they really want to win – don't just make proposals an extra task they have to do. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Stop the bid sweatshop!

Energy and enthusiasm are the currency of winning bids, and producing large numbers of proposals spends that currency fast. It’s like feeding a pile of coins into a slot machine – the odds don’t get any better as your cash supply goes down.

Professional services firms that bid on projects, rather than contracts, usually want to win as much business as they possibly can. As a result, many go for too many tenders they have very little chance of winning. Proposals are a carbon copy of one another, despite the fact that the projects and clients are very, very different. As a result, they miss the point and are the first to go on the “no” pile. 

Bidding for business involves a series of sprints, backed up against one another. Wins beget more wins, but losses drag you down. So if you’re chasing a lot of business, but not winning any, spare a thought for your bid team - they are probably burned out, jaded, and disillusioned. This isn't good for anybody. It's not good for you commercially, and it's not good for your staff and their mental health.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If you’re bidding, but not winning, then something needs to change.

Over the past five years, researchers Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull surveyed 7,600 managers in 262 companies to learn why strategy execution fails. They concluded that many managers lack strategic discipline when deciding which new opportunities to pursue, and that “unless managers screen opportunities against company strategy, they will waste time and effort on peripheral initiatives and deprive the most promising ones of the resources they need to win big.”

At the moment, I'm putting the finishing touches to an online mini-course to help people make better decisions to bid. This is a module I’ve been running as part of my Master Class for some time but will shortly be made available more widely. If you'd like to register for the opportunity to preview this program free of charge, please contact me.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Why a contract is not a gift for life

Every service delivery contract changes hands at some point. Whether that’s into your new and improved hands, or someone else’s hands, is really up to you.

In our personal lives, most of us have contracts that we would rather not put too much effort into. These often roll over automatically, or are renewed with very little effort on our part.

I once went three months before I realised that my phone was out of plan and was therefore still paying for a handset that was fully paid for. I had to call my phone provider to get my rate reduced and my money back. Likewise, when insurance is up for renewal, we are often happy enough just to pay the invoice, rather than researching other options.

The consumer businesses we buy from understand this and set things up that way. Good for them – they are the ones in charge.

But when you are the supplier and selling to procurement, the situation is very different. The buyer sets the contract and the terms. Even when there is an option to renew, it’s their option – not yours.

Because of the way we see contracts operating in our personal lives, we sometimes tend to assume that ‘renewal’ means ‘rollover’, but this is a mistake.

Procurement has an obligation to go to market; not necessarily every time a contract expires, but regularly enough that they understand what the market is able to offer. Things change rapidly, and buyers are responsible for getting the best deal for their organisation.

For incumbent suppliers, winning again means accepting that we need to continually improve our service delivery models.

Think of your contract end date as a “use-by” date – a hard deadline to deliver a compelling strategy that will win the customer all over again.

This is an extract from Robyn’s new book Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. To order your copy, go to http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/

Building a bid is like building a house

Building a bid is like building a house. I’ve been lucky enough to build my own home twice in my life. It’s both the best experience you’ll ever have and one of the most challenging, in much the same way that bidding for business is.

Everything that everybody says about building a house is true. It’s time consuming, it’s stressful, and things will go wrong. Things will be built the wrong way and you will have to make compromises.

One of the major reasons why home building and bid building are both so stressful is because people just don’t follow the damn instructions.

I was walking past a building site in my area recently and overheard a group of five or six builders debating how to put something together on the home that they were working on. An older man, who might have been their supervisor or foreman, was standing back from the argument. Eventually he spoke up and he said, “Guys, why don’t we look at the plan.” All of the builders laughed uproariously and one of them actually said, “The plan! That’s for losers.”

This is pretty much the way that many incumbent suppliers feel when the Request for Tender comes out. It’s your account – you live it and own it – but the RFT is the customer’s plan, not yours. And it’s the customer’s instructions that you’re having to work through, just like everyone else. This can be frustrating and difficult.

Despite this, it’s important to produce a bid that is respectful of the instructions. At the same time, avoid focusing too much on compliance, particularly if this comes at the expense of your story and strategy – these are key to winning again.

This is an extract from Robyn’s new book Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. To order your copy, go to http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/

3 lessons from the Victorian election about winning again

If you have an important contract you can’t afford to lose, don't bury your head in the sand. Incumbency is no guarantee of victory, and winning again is too important to leave to chance.

In Victoria, our State government has changed hands after a single three-year term – a phenomenon last seen in 1955.

My own electorate, Bentleigh, was the most marginal seat in this election, and it was said that whoever won Bentleigh would win government. We were bombarded with political messages over the week prior to polling day – everything from flyers, letters, and annoying recorded phone calls to a flying visit from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Every school fence in the district was plastered with pictures of the sitting member’s face.

It seems this was all to no avail. At time of writing, there was a swing of 2.1% against the government in this pivotal seat, indicating a probably loss to the opposition (along with the rest of the State, where the opposition has convincingly claimed victory).

My mother-in-law, a softly spoken former hospital pharmacist not normally given to violent outbursts of opinion, is very vocal in her dislike of our local MP. Several times, she tried to meet with her to raise concerns about the local hospital. Each time, she was fobbed off by a junior staffer until she was eventually told "(The member) doesn't meet with constituents".

It doesn't take much to lose an election. A swing of a few percentage points. A local issue that trumps a national one. A member who just isn't present enough to the concerns of the electorate.

During the election night coverage, political commentator Peter Costello - a representative of the outgoing party - said: "This (result) shows that there can be one-term governments." Political journalist Laurie Oakes added: "The idea that (incumbent) governments always get a second chance has gone out the window."

It's the same when we bid to retain business. To win again, you need to be the next big thing. Incumbency is no guarantee of victory, and assumption is a dangerous strategy.

Robyn's new book Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers can be purchased from http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/

Why incumbents must bid like challengers

When you are the incumbent supplier, even when you have done great work all along, it is dangerous to assume that the evaluators know who you are, or that they will advocate on your behalf. Sometimes, they are under strict instructions not to.

For example, Richard is a partner in a professional services firm that operates in a very specialised market. Richard and I met socially, and when he heard about the work I do, he shared a wonderful success story. It turned out that just recently, one of the largest customers in Richard’s market (for whom his firm was one small supplier among many) had put its work out to tender. The customer wanted a single firm to manage all its work, including all its existing and new business.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and Richard and his firm badly wanted to win. They devoted a team of eight senior people, including partners, to the bid for six weeks – the first time they had ever fielded such a large bid team. Richard and his team did not take the customer for granted. They thought hard about what they could offer and devised an innovative way to structure their service delivery model and their fees to offer value for money. Their bid was successful and they won all the business.

In the debriefing interview, Richard discovered that the buyer had made a very deliberate decision to not consider previous relationships and to award the work based solely on what was presented in the tender. This worked in Richard’s favour, while it left other, more complacent suppliers out in the cold.

Buyers expect a great deal from their incumbent suppliers. Don’t take them for granted, and expect to work even harder when you want to win again.

This is an extract from Robyn’s new book Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. To order your copy, go to http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/

Developing a custodian mindset – Part 2

Last week I explained that there are direct parallels between the way bad tenants behave, and the way bad suppliers behave when they get to the end of the contract and are threatened with losing it.

Damage control is only a last resort, and you don’t want to get to this point when you have an important contract or customer in your care.

In contrast to tenants paying for temporary use of a property, owners of properties often see themselves as custodians.

If you’ve ever watched renovation shows on TV – particularly the ones where someone falls in love with an old manor house and spends an extortionate amount of money conserving it – you’ve seen the custodianship mindset in action.

Every piece of business changes hands at some point. Whether into your new and improved hands, or someone else’s, is really up to you.

As the incumbent supplier, you are either building something or doing something for the customer. Most likely, this is just one of many things they do in their business. Your job is to add to their business and improve it in some way.

When we treat the relationship like a tenancy – when we do the minimum required of us –we’re no better than any other supplier, and it’s unlikely that we will get the opportunity to continue. Our relationship is simply transactional.

When we act like custodians though, it’s easy for the customer to see our investment of time, energy and enthusiasm as a true strategic partnership in their business.

This is an extract from Robyn’s new book Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. To order your copy, go to http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/

Developing a custodian mindset – Part 1

When you have an important contract or customer and you plan to work with them for a long time, something that helps to get your head in the right space is to think of yourself as the custodian of that piece of business.

In practical terms, this means establishing sustained and effective engagement over the course of the contract, not lumpy and ineffective engagement that is artificially tied to the procurement cycle.

The way we engage with the customer is often haphazard. There’s the initial fever-pitch nervous energy when submitting the Request for Tender, a flurry of work when getting the contract set up, and then a flat line of delivery over the course of the contract until the fever of the Request for Tender hits again.

Of course, some people will argue that the procurement environment sets things up that way. Bid, deliver and bid again. That might be what the cycle looks like, but it doesn’t mean you have to buy into it. In fact, if you want to retain the work, it is essential that you don’t.

So, you have temporary ownership of a customer or contract. Do you and your team think more like tenants or custodians of the business?

If you’ve ever rented a property, then you’ve been a tenant – signed a contract and exchanged some cash for a place to live or work.

I’ve rented properties and been a landlord myself. One tenant was constantly delinquent on his rent, to the point that our agent had to send him a legal letter every month. The tenant always paid the day before it went to court, causing everybody unnecessary stress. When we finally issued a notice to vacate, we received a letter from him saying how much he loved the property and felt like it was his home, and please could he be allowed to stay!

There are direct parallels between the way bad tenants like this one behave, and the way bad suppliers behave when they get to the end of the contract and are threatened with losing it.

This is an extract from Robyn’s new book Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. To order your copy, go to http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/