winning public sector contracts
Of course you will have a debrief if you lose a bid. We all know what a bid debrief is. The bid team fills in lots of forms about every aspect of the bid development. Then you conclude that you lost on price. You store those forms in a dusty old box on a dusty old shelf, everyone declares ‘Lessons have been learned’ and goes off to add ‘Expert bid debriefing’ to their LinkedIn specialisations. Because no-one ever loses a bid on anything other than price, do they. So that bit’s easy. Pesky competitors undercutting you to buy the business. Tsk tsk. Will they never learn. Now, where’s the next bid?
So that’s what you do when you lose. (Feel free to talk to us for a better approach, of course…) But when you win? Do you know why your long-standing clients originally came to you? Do you know why they stay with you? Do you know why newer clients chose you? Even some of our largest clients do not really know how they acquired some of their own largest clients. That lack of insight means that they are not updating their sales and value propositions to respond even to how their existing clients have changed their business models, let alone to meet the needs of other prospective clients. Then when they start to lose deals they are mystified. But we’re not doing anything different from when we were winning, they exclaim! Hmm.
It’s actually really important to know why your previous bids were successful if you want to keep winning in future. But no, we’re absolutely not suggesting you ask clients all the time why they chose you. We definitely do not recommend that a winning bid is received with ’Gosh, you chose us – why was that?’ (subliminally = we are not worthy….). You may really want to know why your bid triumphed over the competition and what exactly helped you stand out – but you don’t want the client to think you are wondering how you won. They might also start to wonder that and you don’t want them questioning their decision.
The point is that you shouldn’t have to ask. It’s like those high-end shops where if you have to ask the price you can’t afford the product. Stores like that don’t have to add ‘price tags’ on their stationery order. That’s good for them as it probably means they won’t qualify for that free wood-chipper set my online stationery company keeps telling me is waiting to be despatched…. Those high-end retailers know their customers. They know where price comes into the value proposition and it’s not centre stage. So neither is a price ticket.
Part of knowing how to bid, how to win and why you have won in the past is knowing where your value proposition sits for each of your target markets and clients. What DOES take centre stage for them? Products, service, people, relationships, accreditations, compliance, value for money? The mix. The relative priorities. The way this changes at different stages of different procurements. With existing clients, it’s easier of course. There are clues – all through every dealing with anyone at the client, from reception to accounts payable to the Board. And analysing all your client projects and relationships will give you loads of clues as to why you were successful in certain situations.
There are lots of clues with prospective clients too. What does their web site say about their corporate culture and values? What does their About Us page tell you about how they manage and develop their people? What does their CSR policy say about their community commitments and charitable support? What do their press releases reveal about why those chose other suppliers – for all kinds of services, from facilities management to recruitment agencies to outsourcers to, well, stationery providers (it was the free wood-chipper!).
It’s far too late to start asking why after you win or lose. You need to know before you bid. Whoever you are bidding to, you should know what they really care about, where their pain points are, where your proposition will work for them, what they really think about you and your competitors and therefore what you have to present to emphasise/overcome/highlight your strengths/weaknesses/potential as appropriate. If you don’t know, you simply aren’t qualifying your bids effectively. Find that other dusty old box with the ‘qualification checklists’ in….
…And while you’re there, read those bid loss debriefs again. Properly this time….?
When they asked Michaelangelo how he created the statue of David, he said:
“It’s easy – you just chip away the bits that don’t look like David.”
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