Win rates

The momentum of continual improvement

The most successful suppliers fall quickly into a pattern of continual improvement as soon as they win a contract or customer. Unfortunately, others – who are really just doing no more than keeping up with the basic requirements – are probably setting themselves up to lose.

Newton’s first law of motion – the law of inertia – tells us that An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

When it comes to important contracts and customers, the procurement process is the “unbalanced force” – something outside ourselves that propels suppliers into a kind of recurrent stop-start motion.

Bid, deliver, and then bid again.

But that doesn’t make this a pattern for suppliers to aspire to.

For incumbent suppliers, what happens in the delivery phase – which is usually the longest and most significant in the relationship – is what sets the stage for winning again.

What customers usually see from a supplier is this.

Energy over time bid_before.png

There’s the initial flurry of excitement when competing for the business, followed (usually) by a short lull while the customer makes up their mind. When we win, it’s a steep climb to get everything set up right, and then we settle back into a comfortable level of delivery until we need to compete again.

But what they EXPECT from us is this:

Choosing the path of continual improvement is what really helps to sustain a customer relationship over the long term.

That’s because not everything is within our control.  We can’t control how customers choose to buy, and we can’t control what competitors do either.

But we CAN choose our own state of mind.

We do get to decide how much of our energy, enthusiasm and ideas – in short, how much of ourselves - we’re prepared to commit to making sure our work gets better and better. 

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.

Hard worker or clear winner?

There's a lot of joy that accompanies winning a new contact or customer. The hard work is over, and finally, we get a chance to do what we really want to do – the work itself.

For most people in the services business, no matter whether you're in commercial services, human services, or professional services, “the work” is what you actually signed up to do when you chose your career. You want to get out there. You want to deliver your knowledge and expertise. You want to get stuff done and to help people.

And when you’ve won the business, it’s easy to assume that doing good work is all you need to do to keep the relationship humming.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Good work is an expectation: it’s what we get paid to do. So what more do we need to do to keep business that’s important to us, apart from doing good work? That’s surprisingly simple.

There is a distinct difference between the hard workers, who do good work but don’t always retain it, and the clear winners who do both.

Hard workers tend to treat the customer transactionally, obsess about the work, and are only comfortable working with what’s comfortable and absolute.

Clear winners, on the other hand, treat the customer strategically, obsess about the customer’s business (not just the work), deliver what the customer doesn’t yet know they need, and are comfortable working in a space that’s conceptual and abstract.

When it comes to winning again, the way we THINK about our important contracts and customers is even more important than what we do for them.

If you are you part-way through a contract term with a big customer, or faced with a renewal or re-tender process in the next 12 months, join me on August 6 and find out how to get ready to re-compete. 

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.

Five drivers that inspire new business pursuits

Talk long enough to any smart professional and you'll find that their goal is to do meaningful work that gives them a creative charge. Responding to tenders is the opposite of this. As a manager, this is why it can be so hard to get your professional staff to work on tenders - no matter how great the project on offer might seem to you.

As Drake Baer wrote in a career development piece for Fastcompany, there are five things that drive us in our working life:

1.     Cultivating craftsmanship or “mastery”;

2.     Uncovering a vocation (or purpose);

3.     Finding personal and professional alignment;

4.     Sculpting a lifestyle; and

5.     Identifying our ethic (or values).

If you want to engage your team with the idea of pitching for a project, here are some questions that leverage these career drivers and will help each individual to make a personal connection with the work on offer.

Career driver 1: cultivating craftsmanship or “mastery”. 

Questions to ask your team: what do you want to be the best at? How could this project help you develop that? What would need to happen for you to get the maximum career benefit out of this project?

Career driver 2: uncovering a vocation (or purpose).

Questions to ask your team: why did you decide to do what you do? How does that relate to what the client really wants here? How could this project help you to make that difference to them, and be commercially smart for us?

Career driver 3: Finding personal and professional alignment

Questions to ask your team: What did you love about working on (past/current) project? What is it about that assignment that made you feel like you were doing your best work? Does this project feel good to you too? If not, why?

Career driver 4: Sculpting a lifestyle

Questions to ask your team: Offer a list of benefits that might be possible from working on this project and see which ones your team members respond to. Does the project offer opportunities for travel and adventure? Autonomy? Connecting with other experts? Publishing findings that will influence peers?

Career driver 5: Identifying your ethic

Questions to ask your team: what do you think the client is trying to achieve here? Is this something you would aspire to achieve personally? Are there any aspects of this project that worry you or don’t feel like a good “fit” for us?

How do I know these questions are necessary? I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t love bids and tenders either! (Weird, right?!). The creative charge I get from MY work results from seeing smart, capable professionals light up at the prospect of solving a problem that is meaningful to THEM.

So if you have clever people who "don't do” business development, try this approach. You might be surprised at the results.

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.

Energy and enthusiasm – the fuel powering a bid effort

We need our people to bring their best work to bids, but energy and enthusiasm are finite resources that need to be carefully managed — especially when things don’t go to plan.

Last week I wrote about the importance of “five-to-niners”- the unsung heroes whose work powers a bid effort.

Many years ago, I worked on an important bid for a services organisation. There were probably at least 20 of us on the team and for six weeks we were pretty much chained inside a room. (It was a nice room, and there were pastries, and someone came to bring us coffee every now and again, but still). The team was made up of a mix of outsourced specialists, like me, and junior people from the organisation itself. It was very difficult to get the senior associates or leaders’ time and most of us didn’t have a clue what we were writing about. I felt for the internal staff — it was high-pressure work, with long hours. But they took it on enthusiastically because they hoped to work on the account, which was with a high-profile, multinational company.

I will never forget the celebration lunch that the organisation put on to reward us for our hard work. We were waiting for the senior leaders to return from lodging the bid, and expecting cheers and high fives all round. Eventually they did arrive, late, with faces like thunder. It turned out we had been asked to pull out of the bid due to a last-minute competitive conflict. It was over before it had even begun.

The energy drained out of that room faster than a sinkhole can swallow a truck. Tim, the staff member sitting next to me who had been working overtime for weeks and missed his son’s basketball final, was absolutely gutted. It was obvious that the lunch we were about to eat (mostly in silence) just wasn't enough to reward Tim for everything he had invested.

Senior leaders often feel comfortable betting big and living with the consequences, but staff usually don’t have the same appetite for risk. When asking staff to join us on a business growth journey, it’s important to recognise — and empathise — that they will be sharing the risks, as well as the rewards.

A Contract Isn't a Gift for Life!

Winning a contract is really just a licence to keep doing good work. Even when there is an option for the buyer to renew the contract, it’s dangerous to assume that the renewal will happen automatically.  Think of your contract end date as more of a “use-by” date — a hard deadline by which you need to have a compelling strategy win the customer all over again.

As consumers, 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 therefore the handset was fully paid for. I had to call Optus 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 businesses we buy from set it up that way, and good for them – they are the ones who are really in charge.

But when you are the supplier, 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.

Consider for a moment how you think about use-by dates on food. Do you throw out food that is past its use-by? Is the use-by date a hard deadline for you, or more of a flexible one? I was once given a gigantic Toblerone, which I was hugely excited about, at least until I bit into it. The chocolate was crumbly and awful, and it turned out that it was 18 months past its use-by.

No one really wants to test their intestinal fortitude with food that old. In effect, though, this might be what we are asking our customers to do when we treat the renewal of a contract as a given, rather than as a genuine opportunity to win their business again.

Rather than a “rollover”, a more useful way of thinking about your contract end date is that it’s an opportunity for renovation, redevelopment, and reinvigoration. Competing successfully as an incumbent means working on projects that will create customer value, and this project work needs to start well before the contract use-by date.

Take More Risks and Create a Stronger Competitive Advantage

By definition, competitive advantage doesn’t mean doing exactly what everybody else is doing. But it does mean taking risks and moving away from what we know — something that is neither comfortable nor easy to do.

Have you ever seen movies where the hero swings across an impossible impasse, runs up the side of a building, or does a backflip off a dumpster? Then you’ve witnessed parkour, where adventurous types get from A to B using only their bodies and their surroundings to propel themselves. To avoid injury, parkour practitioners must look at their environment in ways that most of us can’t even imagine.

When it comes to the competitive landscape, I reckon we could learn a lot from this idea. We tend to see our market as a familiar track we have run around many times before, rather than as an exciting playground full of new things to try.

For example, in Australia, professional football is big money, and all AFL clubs are looking for an edge to win a premiership flag.

In April, The Age ran a story about Peta Searle, who gave away her job as a high school PE teacher 7 years ago to become a full-time football coach. Searle worked as assistant coach in the VFL (the amateur league), where she built the competition’s best defence back line at Port Melbourne. Port won a premiership in 2011 and came runner-up in 2012. Unfortunately, Searle was paid only $5,000 a year in the role, and needed a job with the AFL to make a decent living. Despite her outstanding track record, she couldn’t get one, and had to give away her football dream.

From a purely commercial standpoint, this is crazy. Searle is a proven performer. If she had been a bloke, her results would have started a bidding war.

Fortunately, Peta Searle’s story has a happy ending. This month, St Kilda recruited her as the AFL’s first female development coach. I’m guessing that St Kilda will have one of the best backlines in the competition before too long, and with it a sustainable competitive advantage.

If you’re pitching for a multimillion dollar contract, you will be in a competition of equals who can probably do the job just as well as you can. Often, it’s the very small things that will tip the buyer over the edge to choose a winner. What will yours be?

Point of View Comes Before Point of Difference — A Tale of Two Big Winners

There’s a lot of talk about unique selling propositions, but clients often see far less difference between suppliers than we think they do. It takes work and commitment to identify your point of view about a new business opportunity, build an offering and a strategy around it, and be rewarded for it. Last week, two of my clients were announced as big winners in the Department of Health’s sector reforms of mental health and alcohol & drug treatment in Victoria. One, a consortium headed by UnitingCare ReGen and Odyssey House, grew their business in all the metropolitan Melbourne regions that they pitched for.

The second, the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO) won intake and assessment services across both drug treatment and mental health services in regional areas of Victoria, a significant chunk of new business that adds 30% to their annual operating budget and means they can employ more than 50 extra staff. Both had been setting the ground work and scaffolding that led to these wins for a long time. I worked with Odyssey and ReGen for six months before the RFT came out, and have now been working with ACSO’s business development team for almost a year. All are great people who do great work that helps a lot of people take back control of their lives, and I am beyond thrilled for them. (Congratulations guys!!).

In The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson set out a solid base of research proving that clients value suppliers who challenge the way they think about how they operate and compete. “Customers appreciate it if you can confirm what they already know to be true”, Dixon and Adamson say, “….but there is vastly greater value in insight that changes or builds on what they know in ways they couldn’t have discovered on their own.”

When the client has bought a service before, every formal tender is a red flag for change. It doesn’t matter whether the Request for Tender explicitly spells out an agenda for change (as the Department of Health’s did) or not.

“Improvement in the status quo” is the underlying expectation that sits behind every Call for Submission, Request for Tender, or grant proposal request you will ever see. It’s a warning for incumbents to up their game, and an opportunity for challengers to come up with something new and exciting for the customer to buy.

Earning or Learning? Separating Proposal Development from Proposal Skills

Are you looking for help with an important bid? Do you want to improve your proposal development skills or processes at the same time? Here's why it's better to separate these two objectives. When people approach me for help with bids, proposals and tender responses, the most common form that the enquiry takes is this:

"Can you come in and work side by side with us on a bid so that we can learn from you?"

There are two questions here, and the answer to both is yes - but not at the same time.  Here’s why.

Steven Covey’s classic time management grid introduced us to the idea of tasks that are important or not important, and urgent or not urgent.

  • Getting an important bid across the line is an important task that is also urgent.
  • Building your skills in bids, proposals and tender responses so you can win more business, more often is important — but not urgent.

Urgent tasks will always take priority over non-urgent tasks.

When there is an important bid coming up, everybody's attention and focus is on how can we get the best outcome for that bid — including mine. Even when I come in fully intending that you and your team will learn from me — and even if that’s your intention too —everything tends to be subsumed into the bigger objective, which is to get your important bid across the line.

In my experience, proposal skills development is a systematic process of enquiry and reflection that is best built away from the furnace of bid deadlines.

That’s why I offer public and professional Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class Programs that deliberately takes participants away from their day job — either for a couple of hours a week in the public program, or a couple of days in the professional program —to get the best results.

To improve your outcomes from bids and proposals through learning and development, I recommend training at least one senior person from your organisation who is going to be responsible for strategy and leading bids, and at least one other person who will be doing the proposal development, management and writing. These people need to work together and to support each other.  I have trained many proposal teams through the Master Class program, with great results.  The next public Master Class starts on May 2 and enrolments close on April 18.  Contact me if you’d like an overview of the syllabus for this very useful program.

Two reliable ways to improve your proposal success rates

How do you go about continually improving your proposals? You may be missing out on valuable insights that could really make a difference to your win rates. Most people I talk to only pay attention to losses. That's understandable, but it is rarely helpful.

Yes, it hurts to lose. Your boss is probably breathing down your neck for answers. Maybe you want to argue with the prospect in the hope they'll change their mind.

Unfortunately, in most cases there is little value in seeking feedback on a lost opportunity.

If you're not the winner, the prospect has no interest in giving you rational feedback that you can actually use. You aren't the supplier they chose. They just want you out of their office and out of their hair. In a government tender debriefing, you will get the least possible information designed to protect the department’s probity position.

If you think that sounds a bit disheartening, it is. There's no way to sugar-coat it.

The truth is that there are only two reliable ways to build your proposal success rates.

1. Get feedback when you win. Every win contains a lesson and your mission is to figure out what that lesson is. We often tend to skip this step due to a little habit called "confirmation bias" which - according to Bri Williams, a specialist in buying behaviour -  is our tendency to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs. In other words, to assume that the reasons why we won the business are the reasons why we thought we should win it. Never assume; always ask. You may well be surprised at the things that the client liked most about your offer.

2. Get feedback from a friendly, long-standing client, even if they passed this time. They probably still like you and feel they owe you an explanation. For example, one of my most successful clients recently lost a bid that they were fully expecting to win. Yes, it hurt, but they were able to pull themselves out of the post-loss quagmire and really listen when the customer told them where our bid had missed the mark. These insights were the benchmark against which the bid team assessed everything we put into the next bid. The customer was impressed, and three months later my client was rewarded with a huge contract that was widely considered a long shot before we got the wake-up call.