Most companies, if they are being honest, have appalling bid versus win ratios, rarely winning despite responding to many tenders.
They then say the cost of doing business with government is too high, and rarely focus on the root cause of why they are not winning with more of the tenders they submit.
Read on if you are serious about winning more government tenders.
The public sector goes to extraordinary lengths in its tender processes to make its procurement processes as impartial and unbiased as possible because of accountability, compliance, and transparency requirements.
But in doing so, it makes its tendering processes inflexible and lengthy.
Rather than grumbling about this reality, flip your mindset, accept that the procurement process is arduous and use this difficulty to competitive advantage.
How? By understanding that it is not just long and arduous for you, it is longer, more arduous and a great deal more tedious for the evaluators.
So anything you can do to make your tender response easier to comprehend than your competitors’ responses will straight away give you a scoring edge.
A response that is well thought out, well written and, most importantly, fully addresses the selection criteria will be easier to evaluate and score better than a tender response that was hastily prepared, contains bad grammar and spelling, doesn’t address the selection criteria and shows no understanding of the agency’s business problem.
You would not believe how many tender responses fall into the latter category. They are poorly expressed, long-winded and do not answer the question that was asked.
Why? Most respondents could do the job. However, most respondents do not start on the response early enough, fail to read the tender documents fully or properly, and do not bother to research the agency and its needs. The result can’t be anything other than a low-quality response.
Think of the evaluators reading these half-baked responses. For the duration of the evaluation period, they are likely housed in an unpopular meeting room with no windows (because it is the only available space where they can be locked away to comply with probity requirements).
They may have received many responses, and they will have to treat each one even-handedly. They will have read all the bad prose and guff that is not to the point. Even if it is apparent that it is a poor response, they will have to read and score it from start to finish.
In this environment, a well-written, concise yet relevant tender response that addresses their criteria readily stands out and gains their interest.
Put simply, your well-prepared tender response is more likely to be well-regarded and scored more highly than a response from a competitor who can do the job but is incapable of clearly articulating that fact.
So how do you ensure your tender response fits into the ‘well-prepared, well-regarded’ category and not into the inarticulate category?
Next time you write a tender response, follow these steps to improve your government win rate and avoid the mistakes that will have your tender response fast-tracked to the discard pile.
1. Research the agency
To make your tender response as relevant as possible, do your research and try to determine what is the root cause of why they have gone to the market, seeking a particular good or service.
This is easier than you think, because government agencies put out a great deal of information about themselves and what they do on their websites, in their annual reports, and often in the tender documents themselves.
They expect that if you are serious about doing business with them, you will try to learn what they do and why they need the solution they are after.
The more you can reflect an understanding of the agency’s needs in your response, the more the evaluators are likely to see you as someone their agency could do business with.
But guess what, very few tender respondents bother to do this, and their ignorance of the agency and what it does really shows through.
2. Read all the tender documentation
A typical tender request will consist of several specific documents. There is likely to be a statement of the tender conditions, a statement of requirements, a draft contract and various tender response forms.
In addition, during the tender period, the agency may issue addendums that contain vital new information.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to jump straight into answering questions without fully reading all the documents. If you do not read them all at the beginning, there is a very good chance you will either do some unnecessary work or fail to do something that is required.
There might be a showstopper in the contract which means you should not even contemplate bidding.
Or there might be a requirement to do something within a particular timeframe that you cannot meet. In which case you should ‘qualify out’ before you even start responding.
Tenders are usually only open for a short period of time – usually four weeks, sometimes only two. A rookie mistake is to think you have all the time in the world, and not even start looking at it until a week or more has gone by.
You should set enough time aside on day one to read all the tender request documents from start to finish, no matter how boring or irrelevant they seem to be. You need to do that to get a full understanding of what the tender process requires of you.
Apart from not fully understanding what is required, you need to read all the documents to avoid asking stupid questions of the evaluators during the question period. If the tender document covered your question, the fact that you submitted such a question says to the evaluators that you can’t attend to detail, and who wants a supplier that is inattentive or lacking in thoroughness?
Most importantly, a failure to fully understand what is required of you at the beginning of the tender response period can cost you dearly in time and effort because you can’t score well enough to win if you show that you do not understand the agency’s requirements.
3. Use the tender templates provided
The tender documentation will generally be very clear about how you must respond.
Many responses these days must be filled in online, meaning you must comply with the format they provided. But if your response is still MS Word-based, most often you will still be provided with a structured form or template into which you must insert your answers, such as your business details, financial capacity, pricing and payment, compliance with conditions, technical capability, etc.
These documents ensure your tender response is structured in a way that allows the tender evaluators to quickly find the information they are after in each tender submission.
So do not go rogue by answering in an alternate format to the one they provided, even if you think what you are doing is better.
Doing so will point to the fact you are unable to follow instructions – again not desirable in a future supplier. But worse, it might interfere with something in their evaluation process that has an adverse effect on your score.
Never answer a requirement by asking the evaluator to look at the brochures you have attached.
Doing so suggests you are too lazy to address the specific criteria in your own words, and even worse, you don’t know your solution well enough to explain it in your own words, relevant to the selection criteria. You will get scored down for this.
4. Use simple language when responding to a tender
Write your tender response as clearly as you can. A simple technique is to use short sentences and ‘plain English’ words. One supplier I know used to have his elderly grandmother read his tender responses and would correct or simplify anything she did not understand.
Public servants are highly literate because they work with words all day long. The evaluators will spot, and discount, any obfuscation if you can’t answer a requirement in simple terms.
Sometimes government adopts business or industry terms, but don’t count on it. Many times, the evaluators will not be familiar with them and could become irritated with the fact that you are using terms they do not understand. So go easy on your company’s favourite buzzwords, limit overly technical language (use the granny test) and never use an acronym without using the full words first.
Instead, respond as directly as you can to the criteria, and use agency-specific language to describe how your product or service will increase help them with their problem.
HORROR STORY ONE
A major supplier responded to a very large tender opportunity by copying slabs of text from another tender response because they were in a hurry and thought ‘it would do’. They then used the ‘global replace’ function to alter the previous agency’s three-letter acronym (TLA)to the new agency’s TLA, so as to ‘personalise’ their response to the new agency. The trouble was, they did not proofread what they were submitting. The old TLA is a common part of many words. The replacement TLA thus became part of every word that the old TLA was part of. And to really draw attention to it, the new TLA was in capitals, which made the response look nonsensical. What better way to show the evaluators just how little the company cared about attention to detail, quality, and the degree to which the company had thought about them.
5. Edit your tender response and proofread it twice before you submit
Everybody tends to write a long-winded, rambling first draft. You should never submit this first go. First drafts can always be improved upon for conciseness and clarity.
If you have someone else also answering questions, it is vital that you edit their work to make the whole tender response consistent what you have written in style, language and tone.
The evaluation team will be highly literate and will be paying attention to detail. Carefully reviewing your response and then ideally having someone else read it, will help reduce the risk of missing mandatory criteria or leaving embarrassing 'copy and paste' evidence in your tender response.
6. Mandatory means mandatory
Many requests for tender provide a summary sheet of the tender requirements, indicating whether the requirement is ‘mandatory’, ‘highly desirable’ or ‘desirable’. You are required to indicate the degree to which you meet each requirement using terms such as ‘compliant’, ‘non-compliant’, or ‘partially compliant’.
A rookie mistake is to answer 'no' to a tender requirement the agency has listed as ‘mandatory’.
Tragically, you may have spent many hours putting your response together, but if you indicated on that summary sheet that you didn’t meet a mandatory requirement, the evaluators will spend less than five minutes determining that your tendered good or service must go on the discard pile.
They will do this without even reading a word of what you wrote.
Agencies will assume any requirements left blank as ‘non-compliant’, and this may throw your tender out if the requirement was marked ‘mandatory’ in the tender.
Contact the procurement officer if you notice ambiguous or contradictory criteria, but only if you have read all documentation.
7. Include case studies
Use evidence to support any assertions you make in your tender response. Ideally, this evidence is in the form of case studies. Be aware that the evaluators might contact people in the case study agency, with or without your involvement.
Case studies make your solution more ‘real’ to the evaluators and break up the monotony of reading technical information.
8. Include your best price
Don't over-quote because you think the agency will negotiate you down at tender shortlisting stage. You may not make it that far if pricing is a heavily weighted criterion and your price is seen as too high in the first round.
Neither should you not lowball your price in an attempt to beat the competition.
Agencies are very wary of pricing that is ‘too good to ignore’ and will wonder where you plan to cut corners so as to stay profitable with the deal.
Ultimately, they may see your solution as too risky if it is cheaper than other bidders’ solutions.
If you win based on your cheaper price, the agency will commit you to deliver everything you said you would in your tendered statements against each requirement. What seemed like a golden opportunity could very quickly turn into a nightmare.
9. Meet the tender response deadline
Public sector procurement is all about ensuring all suppliers have equitable treatment. It is for this reason that most agencies will refuse to accept a late tender response because it gives unfair advantage (more time to respond) to the late supplier.
HORROR STORY TWO
In the good old days, when tenders were submitted in hard copy to a tendering box in the foyer of the government agency, one major multi-national had a bid response team consisting of many highly paid personnel working for weeks on a tender response for a multi-million-dollar contract.
People worked frantically right up to the deadline, and it fell to the sales professional leading the bid team to physically deliver the tender response.
Which he did, but two minutes late. The agency refused to accept the tender despite all the entreaties of the company.
Even though nearly all tenders are now lodged electronically the same ‘instant death’ deadline generally applies to the submission of tenders and it is a rare instance where a late tender is accepted without a prior request and a very good reason. If an extension of time is granted, it will be granted to all respondents, not just the one making the request.
For peace of mind, plan to submit early so that if something goes wrong with the upload, you still have time up your sleeve.
10. It's all about them, not you
The request for tender will most often contain a description of the agency's business problem. Your response should be all about showing how your solution can help them meet their challenges.
If you have never dealt with an agency before and are not confident of your understanding of what the agency does, its strategic priorities or the implicit reasons behind their request for tender do not fall back into the trap that many suppliers do, which is to write a response that is all about your company and your solution.
It has to be all about the agency, not all about you. One easy way of getting out of this dilemma is to use the agency’s name within the response document at least twice as many times as you use your company’s name.
11. Start a dialogue with the agency well before they issue the request for tender
Paying attention to all the above points will help ensure a winning response, but not guarantee it.
To help guarantee it, you need to do one more thing.
You need to be having a conversation with the agency about their needs well before the tender comes out.
Most experienced government salespeople know that if you are not engaged with the agency well before the tender comes out – ideally at some point around five past the hour on the following diagram - your chances of winning the tender remain limited.
This is because from about ‘five past’ the hour to ‘twenty-five past’ the hour, the agency will not have locked in on its solution requirements and will be receptive to your suggestions for meeting their business challenges.
There may even be a chance to showcase or describe your solution – often in a ‘Proof of Concept’ or at the very least, a demonstration or walkthrough.
If you are not in dialogue with the agency at this early stage, be certain that one of your competitors will be!
So how do you work out which agencies to try to engage as early as possible in the agency’s ‘buying cycle’?
This is where Intermedium’s all-in-one ICT market intelligence platform can help. Contact us to learn how you can:
Research everything you need to know about agencies in one convenient location
Save yourself hours of laborious research to find the ‘five past the hour’ opportunities in agencies that have not yet issued a tender.
Have ‘conversations with credibility’ with senior people in the agencies that matter to you most.
Find suppliers that you might be able to partner with and identify where your competitors are most active.