Pimp my proposals

Five ways to win more tenders

Last week I caught up with a client whose team did some tender and proposal writing training with me a few years ago. She told me they are having a lot of success with competitive tenders now, and that their business has grown exponentially over the last few years. She also said the feedback they get now about the quality of their tender responses is very positive. At one debriefing meeting recently, the buyer even told her that her company’s tender was the best they had ever seen.

If you’re not yet getting that kind of success, or feedback, about your tenders there are some things you can do to improve. Here are five of the most effective.

1.     Make sure you have a strategy to win the business that translates into two or three compelling messages that are easy for the buyer to remember. I call these Purchaser Value Topics, and they are basically evaluation criteria that you suggest to the buyer that go over and above simply complying with theirs.

2.     Provide insights that transcend their briefing. Anyone can regurgitate the tender document back to the buyer, and it takes a smart cookie to tell them what they don't know - but should.

3.     Really analyse everything they’re asking for, and answer the ‘question behind the question’. Why did they ask this question? What do they want to know? How will the answer affect their decision-making process? Many tender questions are made up of more than one part, so don't just skim the surface. You'll miss something, and this could count against you.

4.     Don't dumb down what you do to fit the briefing. The client I mentioned earlier is in a complex industry that buyers often don’t understand. Her company’s tender responses generate a lot of discussion with buyers, because they shed light on things that the buyer simply hadn’t considered.

5.     Make sure you present it beautifully. These days, when people are selling their home, they'll often spend thousands on staging and furniture to show it off to potential buyers and to achieve the best price. Think of your tender response like that. It’s the only chance you’ll get to make a first impression.

Doing well in a competitive tendering environment isn't easy, but it can be done, and successful tender writing and presentation is a skill that you can learn.

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 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.