Provide THE response, not a response

I play on a recreational soccer team and I’ve been away for the last six weeks on a bid. I returned to my first training session with a great deal of enthusiasm, but within the first 15 minutes of our practice game, I felt like I was trying to breathe through a straw whilst an angry mob poked me in the ribs. I was committed, but the fitness required was not there. I was trying my best, but I was just doing what I did the last time I was at training and not what they were focusing on now.

This made me think about a previous tender I had worked on. The team was committed, they were doing their best, but they were doing the same thing they had done on their last tender, instead of focusing on what they should be doing for their current one.

Like anything you that want to be good at, tender writing is a practice, so it takes practice.

Starting the writing process on a tender can be a daunting task. Inspiration can strike and words can flow out, it is easy to let your fingers run away on you. But, it’s not always best to write down everything that comes to mind. You don’t want to finish your writing spree only to discover that your content is not addressing the questions or the requirements.

You want to provide THE response, not a response.

If your response is similar to any of the following: “what we usually do for these sorts of questions”, “we already have on file…”, “this is what we have always done” or “what we did last time”… Then it’s time to take a step back. Try approaching your response similar to the below;

  • Carefully read the question and the criteria, then break the question down into individual parts. One question can include several sub-questions that need to be addressed; and

  • Use the sub-questions as placeholder headers to help you structure your response and ensure that you are providing a compliant response.

If a tender returnable has called for an operational plan, you could start by copying and pasting a few key points from a previous plan. This is a good place to start but don’t forget to go back to the question and criteria and review what you have been asked to deliver, as those few key points may not be required, and that old plan could now be irrelevant.

Imagine the content writer is a player on the field, the questions and criteria are your game rules. You can’t blame the Referee (the Client) for blowing the whistle at you (marking you down) if you aren’t playing by the book.

 

Written by Samantha MacMillan, Tender Specialist

I am a baker!

My kids and I have been avidly watching reruns of “The Great British Bake Off”. During one episode last week both asked me why I do not create a myriad of yummy treats for them. My immediate reaction was … “Well, I’m not really a baker …”. My reaction a few days later was to go out to the shops and buy everything I needed to be (or at least become) a baker.

I don’t like stereotypes. They are restrictive and counterproductive, particularly when they are self-imposed.

I remember well my first experience of stereotyping in my career. I was a “research librarian” at a major law firm in Sydney. Very few of the lawyers at the firm bothered to get to know me. So, most of them didn’t know I was near the end of my law degree. I applied and received a “Summer Clerkship” at that firm. On my first day, one of the partners was briefing the group. He saw me among them and in front of the entire group, told me I must be at the wrong meeting. That afternoon I rang one of the other 10 firms that had also offered me a clerkship and started with them the next day.

Stereotypes and pigeon-holing can be just as restrictive and counterproductive in tendering. As managers of others we need to be mindful of the restrictions we inadvertently place on them because of the role that they have had to date or the skills that they have displayed to date. Just because someone has always written the CVs, does not mean that they are not capable of drafting the methodology. Just because someone has always been the Submissions Coordinator, does not mean that they don’t have the skills (with support) to step up into the role of Submissions Manager.

We all need to question the stereotypes we are placing on ourselves and others. We could be missing out on new skills. We could be holding people back that have a vast amount to contribute to the success of a bid.

And as for the baking… let’s just say that the tray of “carrot, cinnamon and coconut slice” that I put out at the soccer festival on Sunday was empty when I took it home!

 

Written by Deborah Mazoudier, Founder, Principal Consultant

When tenders end in divorce...

I have witnessed key partners walk away from multi-million-dollar opportunities in the last two weeks of a tender, largely as a result of a poor relationship. Many tenders fail to achieve a successful outcome because partner engagement was not an integral part of the tender process.

Partners generally do not appreciate being “managed” and trying to do this from a purely mechanistic mindset is going to end in tears. If you want your tender to be a success, then you need buy-in at all levels and from all angles. Effective partner engagement delivers:

  • a shared vision

  • better informed decision making

  • more insightful and innovative solutions

  • the ability to easily identify strategies to gain a competitive edge

  • more effective risk identification and management

The relationship that you have with your partners will manifest itself in the words you put in the response schedules, and in any client-facing presentations made during the tender period. Demonstrating that you can work effectively as a single team to deliver a solution will provide great comfort to the client.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS AND TRUST

Trust is the cornerstone of relationship building. It is essential for partner buy-in and engagement. Spend time with your partners to understand their organisational strengths and how they feel they could best contribute to a tender solution. Understand their concerns and risk areas - learn what makes them tick. This will help you create a strong working relationship, deliver a stronger tender response, and provide a foundation for future opportunities to work together.

HAVE A SHARED VISION

You can’t develop a winning tender solution without a clear vision. A vision needs to be developed collaboratively, communicated effectively and revisited throughout the tender process. 

A shared understanding of your vision is essential if you want partner buy-in. By utilising the knowledge and capability of your partners and making them central to the process from the outset, you will ensure buy-in and engagement and keep everyone engaged and committed throughout the process.

KEEP ENGAGING

Partner engagement starts as soon as the opportunity is identified and long before the tender drops. Develop a partnering plan as part of the bid process that outlines how and when you will engage at a minimum. Mechanisms like conference calls, consortium meetings, and email updates are all good engagement tools, but it is best to seek input from your stakeholders about how they wish to be engaged.

Ongoing engagement will help manage expectations, keep everyone in the loop, create an understanding of what it required by each party and provide clear pathways for partners to reach a commercial agreement and contribute in an ongoing manner to the tender solution. Ideally, nominating a role within the tender team to take a lead on the partnership and provide clarity and consistency in communication will make engagement simpler.

Make partner engagement a priority – it sounds pretty straight forward but requires effort and resources. At the end of the day, you wouldn’t be partnering others if you had the capability and capacity to do it all yourself.

Happy bidding!

Written by Lauren Jesberg, Senior Tender Specialist

Mai pen rai - when you speak the right language.

My husband and I were lucky enough to recently relive our wonder years travelling through South East Asia, this time with our ten and eight year old sons in tow. It was a trip we’d been planning for a long time. There was so much we wanted them to take from the experience – the scale of the world and how little our place in it is, how much they’re truly capable of, and importantly instilling a sense of empathy that knows no geographic boundaries.

As we moved from country to country, like most intrepid travelers we taught them various phrases in the local language – you know, the usual ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, but also going beyond that to phrases such as ‘may I have…’, ‘that was delicious’ and ‘no problem’. This effort of learning a few short phrases evoked many very positive responses: from beaming smiles and handshakes to little extra treats at the end of a meal. It was amazing to see how much impact learning a few short phrases had on the locals of the country we were travelling in.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘that’s a sweet story, but what does it have to do with tendering?’. Well, I actually think it is entirely relevant to tendering. Demonstrating empathy for the client, their objectives, challenges and values, and translating that empathy into their language is an incredibly powerful way in which to connect with them. It assists in drawing them into your solution and the story you’re telling. It also shows that you have taken the time to not only review, but to understand their drivers and address them throughout your solution development process.

The easiest way to achieve this is by really listening to the client through every interaction you have with them. Listen to the language they’re using when they talk about the project’s objectives and success factors. Then, once you have the bid documentation, review it carefully to isolate and understand the language that they’re using when addressing these areas. Go so far as to make a list of the key phrases, then circulate them to your bid team encouraging them to mirror some of the language in their responses.

Really, it’s a matter of learning the right language and the right phrases that will put you ahead of the competition – and who knows – perhaps you will evoke a surprisingly receptive response from your audience (the client), just like our kids did.

Written by Meg Evans, Tender Specialist

So, what's your process?

Recently I was consulting on a tender for a client, I started on the project a couple of weeks in and started following up authors and subject matter experts (SME) for their inputs. It didn’t take long for a Manager from one of the departments to contact me and advise of the following:

My team is too busy to be working on this tender, their BAU activities hold precedence over your requests. Please stop contacting them for inputs. In future, if input is needed, then please provide advance notice prior to the tender being released.

I completely understood where this Manager was coming from as many companies don’t have dedicated Tender resources. So if employees are working on a Tender, it’s usually something additional to the full-time role that they are already fulfilling.

As I was consulting on this tender for this company, I was not in position to advise them on how to resource internal staff for upcoming Tenders. This is something that needs to come from within the company, and as I was brought on a few weeks late into the tender, one would assume that the business would have notified those involved.

If you are asking someone to contribute content to a tender and that person, or their manager isn’t aware that their company is Tendering on a project, then your process has fallen over, or maybe there isn’t one at all.

If your employees aren’t aware of your Tender pipeline, then how can they help to work towards those goals? As the saying goes, “You don’t know, what you don’t know”.

So, next time you have a Tender coming up, let your team know - try a team meeting or an email to the affected departments, e.g. “Hey Team, we know this Tender is coming out in next few days/weeks/months (hopefully weeks or months), can you please start thinking about how you can position yourself and your team to assist”.

Then, once the documents drop, follow up with the departments and set up a kick-off meeting. Get the contributors together and alert them to the expectations, requirements, allocations and the level of contribution needed from each person or department.

And then hopefully, the departments will be on board next time I work with them and we can quickly get to the content that we need to write a winning tender.

So, I ask you, what’s your process?

 

Written by Samantha MacMillan, Tender Specialist

Go ahead then, prove it!

One of my biggest frustrations when entering the world of domestic tendering from international development tendering was the fact that submissions seemed to lack substance. They were well written. They were well presented. They had some nifty messaging (I guess …), but they had no weight. They didn’t resonate with me and I doubt very much they resonated with evaluation panels. The reason for that was because they were lacking evidence.

Over the last decade I have seen (and I hope I have influenced) a change in direction in submissions to the use of more examples, the application of more substantive case studies, the highlighting of features and benefit, the application of messaging based on client need rather than plucked from thin air, and the development of more granular approaches. But it is still not enough. It is still mostly reflective of things that have been done before, lessons that have been learnt before. It doesn’t point to the future and what might be achievable.

That is why over the last few years, I have been incredibly excited to see (and delighted to have been increasingly involved in) tenders which require an evidence-based approach. An approach which necessitates research to underpin decision-making; proof to make decisions about solutions; the monitoring and measurement of outcomes associated with projects over time. This is the substance that should drive tenders, the substance that makes the financial, time and resource investment in tenders worthwhile.

At the moment, I am involved in a major tender that is whole-heartedly embracing an evidence-based approach (and investing in it in terms of resources, time and money) and it has made everything easier.

We have:

  • research to underpin our decisions

  • analysis of that research to support design

  • quantitative and qualitative data to articulate benefit

  • a way in which to measure outcomes over time, and

  • genuine substance from which to derive our messaging.

Evidence. Imagine that. So, from now on, I’m changing my catch cry from “so what?” to “go ahead then, prove it!”.

 

Written by Deborah Mazoudier, Managing Director