Winning Invitations to tender

Question: Over the last few months, we have spent a considerable amount of time answering invitations to tender.  We haven’t been very successful, so is there a better way for us to approach these opportunities in future?

Answer: The challenge you and many other QS firms face is time, or rather the lack of it! In a pitch situation you can expect to face competition from the client’s existing advisers.  During their time in office (so to speak) they will have accumulated valuable insight about the client and the way they like to do things.  You may also face other competitors who have been ‘wooing’ the client for some period of time and who also have significant knowledge.

At the end of the day, the victorious firm will be the one who knows what solution to offer and how best to present it so that the client finds it easy to say ‘yes’ but, how is this achieved?  From our experience of working with QS firms, success comes from building a relationship with the client well before the pitch situation arises.  Only then can you be sure of submitting a proposal or presentation in the timeframe, which stands out from the crowd.  Needless to say, this takes a lot of time and considerable effort.

So as a first step, we would suggest that you start to think about those organisations you would really, really like to work with.

Create plans for these key prospects that enable you to build relationships with them prior to an opportunity arising.  These plans will need to include:

  • Fact-finding activities, which expand your knowledge of the issues they face.
  • Focused marketing activities, which make them want to enter in a dialogue with you and get to know your firm further.
  • Relationship building tactics with the client’s key people so you become top of the list when they have a need.

But what should you do with all those invitations that still come your way?  We would encourage you to be highly selective and only go for those opportunities where you have a strong footing.  Otherwise you risk submitting a response that the client considers is wide of the mark.  This could damage your firm’s reputation in the long run.

A strong competitive position will come from making sure you have:

  • Spent considerable time understanding the client and their ‘world’.
  • Understood the brief, not just what appears on paper but also all the motives and hidden agendas behind it.
  • Gained access to all the key decision-makers and the people who influence them and subsequently they now think very highly of your firm.
  • Identified the incumbent adviser and know their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Tested your ideas and solutions with your contacts in the client, so the client sees them as much their ideas as yours.

We have seen some very successful QS firms break down these strengths into a series of benchmarks, against which they measure the invitations to tender that come their way.  If a tender delivers a low score against these performance criteria, then the invitation is gracefully declined.  Firms that have adopted this approach have not only found their success-rate in pitch situations increases dramatically, but the cost of winning new business also becomes more profitable as less time is wasted on unsuccessful bids.

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