tender response strategy

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.

You bought a WHAT?

Identity is at the core of every buying decision. Because we all buy things, we can all get better at persuading others to buy – otherwise known as “selling”.

Selling requires the ability to put yourself in another person’s position, and to appeal to their identity - whether you’re selling to consumers or to business buyers.

The “I Bought A Jeep” campaign is a good example of how identity affects purchase behaviour. This campaign, launched in 2012, has become part of the Australian cultural vernacular. 

The advertising firm behind the campaign, Cummins&Partners, discovered that although Jeeps were very popular with the people who already drove them, the brand was struggling to reach new customers with its previous ad campaign slogan, “Don’t Hold Back”.

Qualitative research with current Jeep customers showed that most of them had experienced an “incredulous” reaction from family and friends when explaining they’d bought a Jeep (“you bought a WHAT??”).

The big idea behind the new campaign was to dramatise this as “incredulous approval”. Therefore, the reaction to saying “I bought a Jeep” became “You bought a Jeep!”

Jeep’s brand values are freedom, authenticity, adventure and passion, and the ads tap into a customer’s desire to live those values - not just buy a car.

This campaign won two Silver awards at the advertising industry’s 2014 Australian Effie Awards.  The agency’s submission to the awards committee shows that the campaign had dramatically increased sales for the parent company, Fiat Chrysler, in a difficult car sales market. Since the start of the campaign, Jeep sales increased 156%, outgrowing the SUV category by 300% while also reducing media expenditure per unit by 45%.

Australia is now Jeep’s second largest sales market outside the USA. Talking about the success of the campaign, Cummins&Partners’ CEO Sean Cummins said:

“Our aim is to create enduring platforms for brands that inspire action. And this does both. In spades. What is exciting for us is that “I bought a Jeep” has become so idiomatic to Australians. This is the stuff brands dream of. And it is a sensational platform that could go for years…the work we do is not for the industry, it is for consumers. And they are buying Jeeps!”

Knowing what we know about how the ads play to the connection between Jeep’s brand values and the values of the customer, we could also add to this by concluding:

“…because we found a way to appeal to the buyer’s identity”.

This is an extract from my new book Value: how to talk about what you do so people want to buy it. To order your copy, go to http://www.robynhaydon.com/buy/

Claim + Evidence = Persuasion

The customer who is reading your proposal has many demands on their time and attention. Your proposal must entice them in, make the journey interesting, and ultimately convince them that what you are offering has real merit.

These days, it’s pretty hard to get people to read long documents. A recent study by The Pew Research Center confirmed that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.

It doesn’t really matter whether we are reading for business or for pleasure – the barriers are the same.

Improving the evidence that supports your claims is an important first step towards making your proposal more readable and more convincing.

For example, in a tender evaluation, the people sitting on the evaluation panel have to give your proposal a score.  What sets apart the proposals that achieve high scores is the quality of the evidence that they provide.

Tender evaluators use a score sheet that has a built-in process for scoring the quality of evidence you provide in each part of your submission. To get a top score of 10/10 or 8/10, your evaluator will have to justify that ‘all claims are fully supported’ in the part of your proposal that they are reviewing.

If your proposal has even ‘minor shortcomings in scope and detail’ – and this is very easy to do if you make claims without substantiating them with evidence – the maximum you can score on an answer is 6/10. In a very competitive tender, even one score this low could put you well out of contention.

Evidence is often the first thing that suffers when your writing is challenged by competing demands from your day job, tight deadlines and even tighter word limits. Here’s an example of what I mean:


XYZ Road Maintenance is Australia’s leading provider of road cleaning equipment to municipal authorities and private cleaning contractors. 

Our highly experienced, results-driven research and development team has drawn on world’s best practice to develop our Road Maintenance Widgets, which are considered the most reliable on the market today.


This short proposal extract alone has five unsubstantiated claims. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. So how do we fix the problem?

For example, let’s look at the claim of “reliability”. Here is a better way to convince the customer that this claim actually has some merit. The first sentence makes the claim, and the rest provides the evidence.


Reliability is an important indicator of widget quality, as reliable widgets have a longer lifespan, better up-time and lower overall costs of ownership.

XYZ Co. offers a ten-year guarantee on the operational performance of our widgets, double that of most other widget suppliers. 

We supply more than one million widgets each year to 87 contract customers, including almost half of Australia's municipal authorities and eight of the country’s top 10 private cleaning contractors,. Our standard supply contract promises 98.5% up-time for each individual widget; however, we have consistently exceeded this benchmark, achieving 99.3% up-time over the past three years across all 87 contracts.

Reliable widgets require replacement less frequently, reducing costs. Broken Hill City Council saved $50,000 on its annual road maintenance bill by using our widgets and private contractor Alphabet Cleaning Services has more than doubled the useful life of its existing road maintenance vehicles by replacing Acme widgets with ours.


A proposal without evidence is like a fairytale; ultimately, it's very hard to believe. Unlike a fairytale, though, reading such a proposal doesn't even have the benefit of being entertaining. It's disorienting, exhausting and the reader will most probably cast it aside without ever finishing it.

So stop cutting and pasting your proposals.

Slow down, really think about the message you want the reader to see, hear and feel, and find evidence to support every claim you want to make. You will find that you’re even more convinced about your offer as a result – and this conviction will lead to better results and more sales.

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.

Re-Engage is my training and coaching program for organisations with multiple major accounts. It will give your people the framework, skills, and confidence to lead contract renewals with your existing customers. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

Time to re-set your sales plan for 2016!

How has your year been? Brilliant? Pretty good? Not so good? Terrible?

As we hit December, we are already calling time on 2015 and making a mental checklist of what happened, what didn’t happen, and what we can do differently and better next year.

·       If you had a brilliant year, how will you make next year just as brilliant?

·       If you had a pretty good year, how can you make next year really rock?

·       If you had an average year, how do you break through patterns that are getting you less-than-ideal results?

·       If you had a terrible year, how will you get a lock on what’s going wrong, and come up with a plan to fix it?

The beauty of a new year is that we get a fresh start. 

In The Power of Focus, Jack Canfield says that we make our own luck through great preparation, good strategy, and focusing our time and energy doing the things we are truly brilliant at.

So what’s on your new business wish list for 2016? There are lots of opportunities out there. These can be yours if you really want them, know why you want them, have a strategy to go out and get them.

This is easier said than done, when most of us are so crazy-busy. And it’s heartbreaking to see opportunities pass by that you know you would be perfect for.

Let’s make 2016 your best year ever. My new program, Pole Position, will help you to design and package an offer that is so commercially valuable, your customers would be crazy not to buy it. I have only three places available in this extraordinary program over the December/January period. Contact me if you'd like to know more.

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.

Had a tough year? Missed out on business you really wanted? Let’s make sure 2016 is different. The Pole Position program will position you to win the opportunities on your radar for next year. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

Think like a challenger

Picture your most important customer.

Now imagine a world where you don’t have them, and never did. You have other customers like them, maybe not as big or as impressive. And you really, really want them. Your business would grow exponentially if only you could land them.

In this world, you think about this prospective customer all the time. You have lots of ideas to make their world better. You even have a one-year plan. And a three-year plan. And a ten-year plan.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Welcome to the world of your competitors, who are actively building exactly this kind of plan to steal the business out from under you.

Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance and helped the economy of one of the planet’s poorest nations, understands how hard it is to get people to accept change. “My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people,” he said. “Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see.”

Being the incumbent supplier of a big customer is like wearing a set of beer goggles that only let us see the best-case scenario. Because there’s so much at stake, we tend to look for evidence to “prove” that what we are already doing is good enough. As a result we are often blindsided when someone comes in with a more compelling argument that we just didn't see coming. 

Picture your customer again, and imagine for a minute that you were pitching for their business for the first time.

·      Things to fix: What holes could you poke in the current service delivery? Where are the problems that you would want to magically disappear? What doesn’t work well that you could do better?

·      Things to build: What aren’t you doing that you really should be doing? What would the customer love you to do, that you’ve been resisting? If you were the customer, how would you like to see your business transform in the future, and how could you as their supplier make that happen?

Thinking like a challenger does two important things. It helps us get real about problems we don’t want to think about, and it also creates excitement about what we could achieve but haven’t yet.

So take off the beer goggles and have a good, long look at the future. It’s as bright as wechoose to make it.

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.

Three ways to create curiosity in customers and prospects

We all like to buy low, and sell high; to make a good investment and do a good deal. But investing in potential comes with risk, which big companies and government, in particular, aren’t too keen on. Their risk-averse behaviour is what coined the old adage, "No-one ever got fired by hiring IBM"; in other words, that it is safer to hire a firm with a proven track record, even if it does prove more costly (both in dollars and lost potential for innovation) to do so.

The need to mitigate a customer’s risk aversion is one reason why, when trying to sell a customer on something new, we will almost always revert to our past achievements as justification.

Tender request documents issued by buyers also exaggerate the importance of credentials, by giving us points for explaining our experience in similar work.

But this isn't what customers are really buying. Solid credentials may be the price of entry to a competition, but what customers are really interested in is what is coming next.

In To Sell is Human, Dan Pink suggests that we are more likely to buy into something or someone "with potential" - that is, yet to reach their peak. Among other research, he cites a test of two Facebook ads for a comedian, Kevin Shea. The first ad said Shea "could be the next big thing", while the second described him as "the next big thing." The first ad, hinting at Shea's potential, generated far more click-throughs and likes than the second.

Curiosity creates possibility. Here are three ways to create curiosity about your potential, with the aim of expanding the conversations you’re having with customers or prospects.

  1. Describe new developments in your field.
  2. Talk about something you're tinkering with, or a pilot program you are trialling.

Disclose some of the new thinking you and your team are developing, and explain how this might offer new and improved ways to deliver results.

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.

Don't be a one hit wonder!

It’s easy to lose sight of the REAL advantage of being an incumbent – the opportunity to delight a captive audience who has already chosen to buy from you.

Music industry charts are full of one-hit wonders; remember Soft Cell (Tainted Love), Dexys Midnight Runners (Come On Eileen), Nena (99 Luftballoons) and The Knack (My Sharona)? All of these artists produced plenty of other music, it’s just that none of it made the big time quite like these monster hits managed to do. There are many others too, who worked very, very hard for years and years to get their big break, rode on the crest of their one hit single for quite a while, but just couldn’t crack the top of the charts a second time.

Likewise, business-to-business markets are littered with incumbents who didn’t make it past the first contract term.

When you already have the business, it’s easy to get comfortable, and lose sight of the most important thing that's going to help you keep it.

One your biggest advantages as an incumbent supplier is ACCESS – you can get in front of the customer more easily, and go deeper inside the organisation with new ideas in a way that competitors would find very difficult to replicate.

As the incumbent, you worked hard to get to where you are. Let’s make sure you stay there.

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 It’s Good to Get Comfortable with Discomfort

At the moment, I am interviewing successful business development leaders as part of a new project.

Something that they all have in common is that they are comfortable with a level of daily uncertainty that would be very confronting to many others. In other words, being uncomfortable is actually comfortable for them. It’s when they get too comfortable that they start to worry!

Bill Gates once said “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.”

Successful business development leaders welcome discomfort because they understand this well.

They know that there is a delicate balance between trading off past achievements and experience, and presenting something that’s new, fresh and exciting. They get that customers are only really interested in their team’s 300 combined years of experience if it means that they are using them to do something interesting and valuable right now.

Achievements are great, but like trophies in a trophy cabinet, they eventually start to gather dust and cobwebs. For example, in my local area, there's a restaurant with a sign proudly proclaiming “Food Shop Hygiene Shop of the Year”. Under this, in huge letters, it also says “…2000”. The award was a great achievement — at the turn of the century. But as customer who might be thinking of eating there today, it’s more off-putting than enticing.

This thought might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, but that’s actually a good thing.

The seeds of future success can come from many places — a chance meeting, a brilliant idea, or even just a deliberate decision to think differently. It is worth making yourself just a little bit more uncomfortable to find them.

Turn plotting into planning!

In today’s sales environment, it takes more than just plotting to achieve success. It takes planning.

Planning involves developing new things that we want to make public — that we want our market to know about — so that customers and prospects will see us as the obvious people to buy them from when it comes times to do so.

There’s a very good reason to do this, even though it feels counterintuitive when compared to the way we have traditionally been taught to sell.

Back in the handshake days, sales deals were conducted under a veil of secrecy. Plotting these deals was very deliberately a behind-the-scenes strategy. We didn’t want to leave a trace or let competitors know what we were doing.

In today’s procurement-led environment, when the value of government contracts and the winner of those contracts are published online, there is no veil of secrecy anymore.

Selling to procurement might look like it’s all about paperwork, but actually it’s all about positioning.

In her excellent new book Agile Selling, Jill Konrath says “Buyers have changed: fundamentally, drastically and for good. (They) self-educate, leaving the seller totally out of the loop. When they finally decide to engage, they’re often 60- 70% of the way through their buying process.”

According to Konrath, a seller’s success today depends on “knowing more… Providing value…and meeting (buyers) where they’re at.”

In my experience, something that is particularly appealing to customers is to see that suppliers have things going on that they are not just waiting to be funded, or paid, for.

This shows that you are interested in something other than just taking the customer’s money. It creates an energy and excitement around what you are doing. Even if what you’re building is not specifically for that customer — maybe it’s for yourself, or for another customer, or for another industry that you play in —it creates something tangible that you can talk about and that customers can see.

There is nothing more soul destroying than being in the business of serving customers, but having to wait to be chosen.

Planning creates positioning, and breaks you out of the waiting game. It also helps you to take some of your power back.

Essentially, planning is just a way of getting all of your business-winning ideas out of your head and figuring out how you're going to achieve them. So what are you planning?

Are you trading on ancient artefacts?

If you have 300 years of combined experience, that’s a heck of a lot of knowledge sitting in your organisation that the customer would love to take advantage of. The problem is, you can't show them how in just one sentence.

There are basically three things that we can trade on when we sell.

Products.These exist in the present. Products, including service-based products like programs, are what we have available right now that the customer can take immediate advantage of.

Precursors. Precursors exist in raw form in the present, but have a huge impact on the future. In chemistry, a precursor is a compound that creates a chemical reaction and produces another (often more valuable) compound.  In business,  precursors are the things that we're working on right now — the innovations, the pilot programs, the new initiatives that we're bringing to the customer that will ultimately result in goodwill, good relationships and good outcomes for us and for them.

Artefacts. Artefacts belong very firmly in the past. An artefact is an object of cultural or historical interest. In business, artefacts are the projects we’ve done, the contracts we’ve delivered, the systems and processes we built years ago. And our 300 years of combined experience.

When you’re bidding for a long-term contract of three years or more, the most valuable things you can trade on are your products and precursors.  Precursors are particularly valuable, because they are the inputs to future products; the essential compounds that help you create what you will deliver in the future. And most of us don’t have nearly enough of them.

Make no mistake, when you are pitching for a long term contract, you are not just selling what you have today. You are selling what you will have in three years’ time, or even further into the future.

Busy Is The Enemy Of Successful!

Imagine that you are speaking at a conference in 90 days. There will be a thousand people at that conference, and ten of them have the power to put you straight into your dream job. What will you do? Most likely, your subconscious will go into overdrive and you will obsess night and day about your presentation. (And freak out — a little or a lot.)

These days, it’s impossible to have a conversation with anybody in business without them mentioning at least once how busy they are. “Busy” might feel like a source of pride, a marker of how much we are doing. But busy is also an excuse. It's a conversation blocker. And often, it’s a barrier to achieving what is most important to us.

Last week, I suggested that without realising it, many of us are playing a finite game — an endgame —with our most important contracts and customers. This article was inspired by the fabulous Dr Jason Fox, an expert in motivational practice, and his new book Game Changers.

This week, I had the great pleasure of hearing Jason speak. One of the key points I took away from Jason’s presentation is that overcommitment is the noblest excuse for failure. It's an alibi that excuses us from poor performance.

In her book Mindset - How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, psychologist Carol Dweck also notes that “it’s one thing for a four-year-old to pass up a puzzle. It’s another to pass up an opportunity important to your future.” But often, by being overcommitted, that's exactly what we are doing.

No one will argue that bids take a heap of time and effort. You’ve just finish one and the next one rears its head. It’s tough to pursue new business while you’re running the business. And it can be hard to know what to do proactively, when it feels like it’s all about waiting for the RFT.

When we are speaking on a stage, we are acutely aware that all eyes are on us, but in fact bids are no different. Just because a lot of competitors are at that event does not make it any less about you. When the prospect’s rating your proposal, you are the only person they are looking at.

Great presentations happen when passion meets preparation. This is your time to shine.  So don’t wait! Start planning now. Proposals that emerge as the clear winner are really just the bid leader’s grand passion brought to life. Let me help you find yours.

Are You Playing a Finite Game with Your Most Important Contracts and Customers?

Retaining business is a game of strength and stamina, but it often doesn’t feel that way. The milestones imposed by the procurement cycle put invisible limitations on the way that we approach the job of selling, particularly to existing customers. In his new book Game Changers, Dr Jason Fox —an expert in motivation and game design for meaningful work— says there are two types of games we can play; finite games or infinite games.

Finite games are played for the purposes of winning, while infinite games have no fixed outcome — only the sense of progress.

I reckon this is a neat way of describing how we view the game of pursuing and retaining business.

Most new business pursuits are treated like finite games. We win, or we lose, and we move on. Wins are inherently motivating, while losses have the opposite effect. There is actually a third outcome that some find even more demotivating than a loss; no outcome, despite a lot of effort. I can remember two such situations. Years ago, I worked with a large professional services firm on a bid for a multinational client. At what was supposed to be a celebration dinner for the bid’s lodgement, the lead partner told us that the bid had been pulled due to competitive concerns from an international office. Two dozen faces around the table dropped like stones. On another occasion, I was working on bid with a team from the UK when my father-in-law died. Due to the deadlines, I was the only person in the family who couldn’t take time off to support my partner or help with funeral preparations. Months later, we heard that funding for the program we were bidding for had been cancelled due to a policy change. In both cases, thousands of hours of work went down the drain.

Thinking of new business pursuits as a finite game is okay up to the point where the contract is won, but what happens next? Nurturing and building relationships with an existing client is an infinite game – a game of patience, possibility and progress. But because the procurement process introduces artificial milestones — because we know we have to re-bid for the contract every three years — this makes it feel like a finite game. As a result, we spend too much time using the existence of the Request for Tender as an excuse to procrastinate, instead of making progress. This is a losing game for us and for the customer.

If the contract signing is the whistle signalling the first bounce at a football game, the first RFT is just the first quarter siren. Even when competition is tough, and change is endemic, there’s no reason your relationship with the customer can’t extend for all four quarters — more than a decade — and for years and years after that. The game of serving a customer needs to start the day the new contract is won, and it is a game that doesn’t need to end unless you want it to.

Why Good Performance Isn't Enough To Retain An Important Contract

When I work with companies who are looking to re-compete for important contracts that they know will be coming up to RFT in 12 months’ time, one of the things that the bid team most often talks about is their operational performance. Of course operational performance is important. It’s what suppliers are being paid to do. But it isn't always the most important, particularly when customers are deciding whether you're worth keeping around for another contract term.

Have you ever heard of a phenomenon called “digital distraction”? Here are some startling examples that explain why looking at the thing that’s right under your nose isn’t always the best idea:

  • In December last year, a Taiwanese tourist fell off the end of St. Kilda Pier in Melbourne because she was checking Facebook on her phone and not watching where she was going.  She was found by police 65 feet from the end of the pier, floating on her back in an attempt to keep her phone dry and safe — even though she couldn’t swim.
  • Likewise, in August, a man drove off a bridge in Texas after sending this text message: “I need to quit texting because I could die in a car accident.”
  • There have been some very serious cases of digital distraction, including a young child who drowned in the bath because the babysitter was looking at Facebook on her phone.

Of course, it’s not our mobile phones that are to blame — it’s the way we use them. It is very easy to be distracted by something that seems like it needs to be done in the here and now without looking at the bigger picture of what’s going on around us.

Likewise, operational performance is the most obvious and the easiest thing to focus on when delivering a services contract. But good performance is what we're being paid for - it's just a baseline expectation. As the RFT gets closer, the relative impact of operational performance is at its greatest and therefore maintaining performance tends to take up a lot of people’s time. There are, however, three other things that incumbents need to focus on — above and beyond operational performance — in order to retain important contracts.  And this work needs to start well before the RFT is released.

Every contract changes hands at some point. Whether it gets into your new, improved hands — or is snapped up by someone else —is really up to you. If you have an important services contract that is coming up for bid this year, contact me and let’s talk about what you and your team need to start focusing on now, over and above operational performance, to make sure you retain it.

Why Exam Swots Make Good Bid Writers

It's been a long time since I was last at school, but in some ways it feels like I never left because my job involves developing bids and responding to tenders. Answering RFT questions often feels like you are sitting an exam every day of your life.

I'm often asked about the skills that are most needed in a bid writer, and how to identify aptitude in internal staff who might be good at that kind of work. Probably the most important is an ability to understand what's being asked for in the RFT, and to respond accordingly. Therefore, a good predictor of likely success in such a role is how good someone is (or has been) at exams, particularly in subjects requiring a complex written response.

Getting good exam marks requires the confidence to understand and interpret and unfamiliar questions very quickly and under time pressure; to plan a response that addresses that question; to identify relevant content and ignore stuff that isn’t relevant; and to weave an argument or point of view throughout. Therefore, a member of staff who has a good academic record with high exam scores in complex subjects is highly likely to be suited to the task of responding to tenders. It doesn't really matter what kind of subjects they were good at – it’s their pre-existing aptitude for this kind of work that is important.

I’ve just finished re-reading the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. In it, there is a character called Mma Makutsi, who is famous for having achieved 97% in her final exams at the Botswana Secretarial College. Mma Makutsi is the Assistant Detective to Chief Detective Mma Ramotswe, and together they are a force to be reckoned with. Mma Ramotswe has fantastic intuition, where Mma Makutsi is the person who dots the is and crosses the ts. I am willing to bet that if they weren’t in the detecting game, they would make a great bid team.

Likewise, in your business there is an important role for staff members that aren’t academic and don’t think of themselves as “writers”.These people are often great students of life, are good at reading between the lines and have useful insights customer behaviour. Therefore they make great proposal strategists who are good at seeing the big picture.

You need these big-picture proposal strategists, together with great bid writers who are good at the detail, to form the core of a successful bid team.

Why buyers are asking for short proposals

Like me, you are probably seeing a lot more word and page-limited tender response requests coming out from the market these days. A quick check of the tenders I worked on over the past six months revealed that more than half had page limits for responding to each criterion. On the surface it makes sense as to why this might be happening. After all, if you're a procurement officer or a buyer and you're expecting dozens or hundreds of tender responses, you would want them to be as succinct as possible so that you don't have to wade through pages and pages of unnecessary information in order to score the response. Page limiting and word limiting proposals might reduce your workload by as much as 50%.

But there's another reason why it's a good practice to ask for word and page-limited responses.

That's because buyers understand that it actually takes much more effort to write something within a tight set of limits than it does when no limits are given.

There's a famous quote by the French mathematician, physicist, and inventor Blaise Pascal, who lived in the 17th century. Pascal said, "I have made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

To me, that sums it up nicely. When suppliers are not limited in how much information they can provide, it's easy to just throw the kitchen sink into the bid and let the buyer sort it out. This has led to a lot of lazy, assembly line proposal writing.

Buyers know that they will get better quality responses if they force you to think about how you can make your proposal shorter. If you have less space and fewer words to get your point across, the good proposals will be better —and those that were never going to be any good anyway at least won't be as tiring or taxing to assess.

What contract bidders can learn from crowdfunding - Part 1

Crowdfunding offers a new model of audience engagement that contract bidders — who often believe we are talking to an audience that is already sold on what we do — could learn a lot from. Crowdfunding is a social media platform through which millions of dollars have been raised for projects as diverse as a Parma and pot at the local pub ($259 against a target of $20) to millions of dollars of fan funding for a movie version of the TV series Veronica Mars. In the crowdfunding world, the only measure of a project’s worth is whether people will stump up money for it. Most crowdfunding goes to projects that it would be difficult - if not impossible - to get traditional funding for.

There is definite hierarchy in the business of raising money to do stuff. Crowdfunding model

At the top are products and services that are deemed essential to corporate or public life.  These are funded by governments or businesses through contracts and agreements.

In the middle are traditional grants, where hopefuls parade their wares in front of an entity that has money and is prepared to give some of it away (generally a large corporation, charitable foundation or private donor).

Crowdfunding is at the very bottom of this pyramid.  This is a very interesting place to be, in that crowdfunders are talking to a very wide audience that may or may not have any money - and even if they do, have no intention at the moment of giving any of it away. This forces crowdfunders to put their project in front of everyone they know in a way that is so inspiring that it will prompt them to immediately pull out their credit card.

Check out Part 2 of this article for my top four lessons for contract bidders from the most successful crowdfunders.

Evidence-based Bid Pricing webinar

This month I talked to Greg Eyres of InforValue about how organisations can derive more profit from customer contracts through a smarter approach to bid pricing. The resulting webinar on Evidence-based Bid Pricing is now available to view in Greg’s Resource Centre.

Greg is one of only a handful of specialists in the world that practice in the area of Tender Pricing and his work has dramatically influenced the bid success of some of the largest companies in the world, including Motorola, CSC and IBM. Greg has also developed a number of patents in this space and his articles on tender pricing have been published in industry publications including Informs Journal, Frontiers in Services and Shortlist. Recently, Greg developed KPrice - the world’s only evidence-based pricing tool suite designed specifically for tendering. A Chartered Accountant by training, Greg now consults on Tender Pricing issues around the Asia-Pacific region.

In this webinar, Greg shares a number of interesting case studies that demonstrate the dramatic effect of evidence-based bid pricing on the success of pursuits. For example, Greg and his team were once able to convince the client to increase their $60 million budget by 25%, due to the weight of evidence they had acquired about the true cost of providing the service.

Proposal writing tip: why your great track record isn't a free pass to reinstatement

When you’ve done similar work for a client, and done it well – sometimes for many years – it’s tempting to think this is all you need to talk about to win again. Unfortunately, when reduced to writing, your great track record only explains who you were yesterday; not who you are today and who you’re planning to be tomorrow.

Talk about your track record, but don’t rest on it. Explain how the client will derive future value from what you’ve done before - in reduced risk, higher quality, know-how and IP.

The first sale is to yourself

What goes through your mind when you’re faced with a big, juicy opportunity that you would really love to win? Requests for Tender present exactly that kind of opportunity. The pot of gold that a huge contract might bring looks as shiny and enticing as a lotto win. On the flip side, there’s sky-high anxiety when teams are forced to re-compete for business already worth millions to them – and that competitors now also have the opportunity to bid for.

Because competing for business is so stressful, pretty much everyone’s first reaction is to start babbling about themselves and why they deserve to win. Left unchecked, the proposal will reflect that kind of shallow, self-centred thinking and the underlying current of anxiety it came from. This is very off-putting to buyers, who - like the rest of us - are wired to tune out at the first sign of a sales pitch.

Jakob Nielsen, an expert in website usability, did an experiment to measure the way that writing style affects selling on the web. He concluded that “promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users, who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts ‘Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions,’ their first reaction is ‘no, it's not!’, and this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.”

Therefore, when you’re writing a proposal to convince a buyer, the first and most important sale is to yourself. It’s essential to take the time to define your proposal strategy - what the customer most wants, what you can best deliver, and what positions you most favourably against competitors. This gives you access to the most powerful competitive weapon you could ever have; belief in your ability to make a difference for the customer.

Despite this, most organisations don’t have a good methodology to define proposal strategy. It’s common to see less than 5% of proposal development time devoted to strategy, and this usually amounts to kicking around “our points of difference” - the output from which then gets translated into the proposal as some kind of laundry list titled “Why You Should Choose Us.”  Unfortunately, our enthusiasm for ourselves will never be as compelling as enthusiasm for what the customer wants to achieve and how we can help them to achieve it. Or as Dale Carnegie puts it in How To Win Friends and Influence People, "the only way on earth to influence others is to talk to them about what they want and show them how to get it."

The Persuasive Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class provides many valuable tools and techniques to help you to develop your proposal from the customer’s point of view. For example, you will be trained in my Bid Strategy and Purchaser Value Topics Development Methodology, which is licensed and used by organisations in very competitive industries that consistently win almost everything they bid for. Watch the video to find out more.