MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: How to win contracts

Mouth-watering contracts needn't be out of reach of SMEs. It's just a case of planning, learning and having the right attitude, says bid consultant Emma Jaques...

by Emma Jaques
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Every year private- and public-sector buyers put contracts worth billions of pounds out to tender, so that they can get the best deals from the best suppliers. But many businesses – especially SMEs – shy away from competing in bids, because they perceive the task to be too daunting, time-consuming, or loaded against them.

However, with the right attitude, a little preparation and knowledge, the smallest to the largest of companies can compete and win new business. Making your bid into a winner is partly an art, partly a science. And it’s also an all-or-nothing endeavour that needs your full attention – and a little know-how.

1. Look for an opportunity
Higher value public sector opportunities are advertised on portals such as Tenders Electronic Daily, with Supply2 advertising those of a lower value. Work to establish relationships with buyers in your target private-sector clients so you’ll be on the list when they next issue a relevant invitation to tender.

2. Don’t bid for everything
Before deciding whether to bid, ask yourself three key questions: Firstly, can you deliver what the buyer wants? Secondly, is your proposition a winning one, when viewed against my competitors’? And finally, can you make a profit on this contract? Only if you can answer a resounding ‘yes’ to all three should you proceed. Even then, you’ll need to be realistic about your chances - if you end up winning 30-40% of your bids, you’re doing really well.

3. See things from the buyer’s perspective
Try and forget what you’ve got to sell, and instead think about what the prospect wants to buy. Your bid will need to show how your solution will meet their requirements and provide better value than anyone else’s.

4. Prepare your Executive Summary and bid theme first
Right from the start, be clear in your own mind about the key reason(s) the buyer should choose your solution over your competitors’ (maybe something like experience, innovation or cost efficiency). Build key messages that address the client’s vision, challenges and requirements and use them in your response.

5. Be aware of showstoppers and important topics
Address areas that might become ‘showstoppers’ as early as you can. Identify the things that appear to be the most important subjects to the buyer, and be sure you have a strong story for each. If you can’t solve the problems, or create a strong response to key subjects, should you still be bidding?

6. Be organised
Get yourself bid-ready before you tackle any opportunity – you’ll be asked for standard information (policies and financial reporting and the like) in the course of most bids. View each bid as a project; give it a leader and get them to own it. Set a timetable, stick to it.

7. Engage, influence and persuade
Don’t get hung up on the fact that bids are formal, written processes. Wherever you can, and within the rules, keep talking to the client. A buyer wants to make sure they find the best solution; engage in such a way that shows your appetite for helping them to get it.

8. Ascertain your price and know its value
Price is often the key differentiator, so be sure you can demonstrate the added value you’ll give them through your solution.

9. Promote your experience to reassure the buyer of your capability
Buyers are obsessed about reducing risk. Help them to see that you’re a proven and trusted supplier to your existing clients through case studies, or references – even if you’re not asked to provide them.

10. Learn and improve
You can’t possibly win them all, but use each bid as a learning tool. Use information you’ve gathered to create a knowledge base for future bids. Win or lose, ask for feedback from the buyer; only in this way can you start to build a picture of what a winning bid really looks like.

Best of luck!

Emma Jaques is the author of Bid Management, part of the new Business Success series published by Kogan Page. Emma is managing director of Leeds-based bid consultancy, Onto the Page.

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