12 principles for successful bidding

Bidding for new contracts is one of the quickest ways to scale your business,  improve your financial performance and increase your impact. It is also one of the riskiest activities your business can undertake. It is resource heavy and has a binary outcome - you either win big or lose. Put simply bidding is a very expensive thing to do if you do it badly.

After spending several years bidding for outsourced service contracts ranging from £1-155m a year, we have learnt the hard way what it takes to win. Every bid is different, but there are common factors and behaviours that will increase your chances of success. 

In order to minimise expensive mistakes and build a solid foundation for bid success, here are our top 12 tips for bidding to win.  

1 - only bid if you think you can win

This sounds obvious, but is often ignored. A robust bid/no-bid discussion at the start of any process can save you a lot of time, money and pain. Does the opportunity you are looking at fit with your overall strategy and capability? Can you do it alone or do you need a partner? How well do you know the customer? What’s the context of the bid? Do you know why the opportunity has arisen? What would to mean to you if you win? Or lose?

Never think that you can just “have a crack” at an opportunity without risk. Every decision to bid is a decision not to bid elsewhere. A scattergun approach to bidding rarely works - much better to be selective and focus fully on the right opportunities.

2 - get the right people in the room

People buy from people. Make sure that any team you put in front of a client is credible, engaged and knowledgeable about your bid. You should also keep it consistent - don't chop and change your team without very good reason, as the client will lose confidence in what they are buying. It is crucial to put the team who will be responsible for delivering in front of the client alongside your bid team - buyers like to look them in the eye.  

3 - free enough resource

You will need a range of people and skills to put together a compelling, winning bid. They will need to dedicate much of their effort to bidding well. Be realistic about the impact of a bid on their time and ability to have other responsibilities. If you don't release enough resource you will be bidding with one hand tied behind your back.

4 - do your homework

Whilst the documentation a client issues as part of a bid is a good starting point - and it essential that you use this asset fully -  you should look beyond this to build as full a picture as possible of a bid and it’s context. Look at annual reports, news reports, websites, press releases, industry papers, speak to your network, go on site visits etc. to get as full a view of the opportunity and client as possible. Always ask yourself why a bid opportunity has arisen, and what the buyer is really looking for. Demonstrating a deep understanding of your client’s challenges and environment in your proposal will help you engage the buyer, and get valuable feedback.

5 - build a holistic offer

There are several elements to any solution you propose - operational, financial and commercial - and you should make sure that they integrate with and reinforce each other. A good example is performance mechanisms - there is little point in demonstrating that you understand the client’s desired outcomes in your operating model if you don't make measuring those outcomes part of the performance mechanism on the contract. Back up your words with demonstrable action throughout your proposal.

6 - make your proposal bespoke

The bigger the opportunity the more bespoke and individual your solution should be. Whilst reusing materials and thinking from other bids is tempting, it is often a shortcut that leads to an early exit. Pay your clients the courtesy of ensuring your proposal is as relevant and specific to their needs as possible, and not just a copy-and-paste job. However it looks initially, all clients and opportunities are different, and should be treated as such.

7 - don’t be precious about your solution

However much research you do, the person who knows your client best will be...your client. You may have designed what appears to you to be the perfect solution to their problems, but if they disagree - listen, learn, iterate. Use all feedback and challenge as an opportunity to improve your solution, as there is little better at building relationships and engagement with a potential client than showing you can listen.

8 - focus on what’s really important

Often there are one or two critical factors on a bid. Identifying and resolving these will often put you in pole position. These factors may be an explicit requirement like resolving a specific performance issue, or a delivering a short-term financial saving, but they could equally be a ‘softer’ implicit problem like resolving a specific complaint from a senior executive. Do your best to identify these factors and test them with the client - discretely if needed! Once you understand these key outcomes make your path to resolving them a clear part of your proposal.

9 - go big or go home

As bids progress, and you (hopefully) move from one stage to the next as your competition drops away, it is essential that you hold your nerve and commitment. The latter stage of a bid process are no place to try and hedge your bets - there are no prizes for second place. If you are still in the race to win the bid - and still want to win - give your bid team the support and resources they need to do the best job possible.

10 - say what you mean, mean what you say

Nothing will cause your potential client to lose confidence in your proposal quicker than your backing away from apparent commitments and promises as the bid progresses. Be clear what you are committing to delivering from the start, and don’t hide caveats and assumptions away in your bid in the hope that the client won’t notice until you’ve already won. They will notice, and they won’t like it. Its far better to be clear from the start.

11 - be open

Transparency builds trust. Make every element of your proposal as simple and clear as possible - from the operational solution to the pricing model and the commercial mechanisms that support them. Remember that the team evaluating your bid may come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions, so make it as easy as possible for them to understand your offer as a whole.

12 - select a partner in haste, repent at leisure

If you do need a partner to help you deliver the contract, start the process early. Decide what you need from a partner and what you can offer in return. Set the criteria to select the right partner, and stick to it.  Many bids have fallen apart because a hasty partnership was formed based on different expectations. Make sure that you are aligned on the key issues, present a united front, be open with each other and clear on what role you will each play on the bid and beyond.

 

Bidding is an exciting, challenging and creative activity, and one that can supercharge your growth. It is also expensive, and full of the potential to distract. Follow these principles and you will increase your chances of success whatever the bid size or sector. 

Don't just bid - bid to win.