What does your style say about you?

I think we can all agree that implementing a style guide, no matter how thorough, considered or perfectly designed, is not going to win the bid, but it can say a lot about your team and its dynamic.

No matter the size or scope of the bid, the reality is there will be multiple contributors at all levels: author, reviewer and approver. While this diverse input provides maximum insights and expertise, without an agreed style guide it can also result in a bid submission that lacks cohesion, and incorporates multiple writing styles and inconsistent messaging. At best the client could dismiss these inconsistencies as a bi-product of the intense bid process. But at worst, they could be considered a sign that the team is a siloed ‘Team of Stars’, rather than a ‘Star Team’.

The latter of these, whether conscious or sub-conscious, could be incredibly damaging to your submission and could distract from the quality and suitability of your solution.

In contrast, adopting an agreed and thorough style guide in the early stages of drafting ensures that all authors, editors and approvers are aware of the terminology and language they should be using. It also provides them with clear understanding of the overarching objectives and key messages they should be highlighting and drawing out. This approach will not only ensure a more cohesive and compelling submission, but also positions your team as the ‘Star Team’ it really is. Simple, right?

So, what does an effective style guide look like? Most large companies will already have an overarching brand style guide in place that provides guidelines relating to logo usage, tone of voice, formatting standards, and various spelling and grammatical conventions. While this is a great start, it can be enhanced by incorporating bid-specific information, including:

  • Messaging: Define the key messages and differentiators, and how they should be articulated

  • Editorial style: Establish the language and tone that will be used throughout the bid, i.e. first/third person, passive/active voice (active, always active)

  • Client language: Provide examples of language the client has used, which can be mirrored and paraphrased to demonstrate your understanding

  • Defined terms: Outline exactly where to apply that elusive title case, and

  • Reference information: Provide an easy place for authors to refer back to important information, such as client objectives and key messages.

And most importantly, don’t forget to circulate your style guide to the entire bid team and keep reminding them to use it.

Meg Evans,

Tender Specialist

Tender Plus Consulting

Engagement is Queen

Bill Gates may have coined the phrase ‘Content is King’, but I must say, Mari Smith, Scottish-Canadian social media expert, said it better: ‘Content is King, but engagement is Queen and she rules the house’.

When developing content, whether a tender response, social media post or traditional brochure, engaging your audience is the only way to leave a lasting impression. This can seem an overwhelming task, but one simple strategy you can use is to simply ask yourself ‘so what?’. The simple fact is, if you don’t ask yourself this question, your audience most certainly will.

In the context of tenders, which let’s face it, is what we all know and love, clearly articulating the technical aspect of your solution is undeniably important. But to really engage the client, you must delve beyond the nuts and bolts of your solution and ask yourself ‘so what?’. From the perspective of the client what are the real benefits of your solution, how is it any better than your competitors’ solutions and how will it ensure their objectives are met. After all, this is what the client really cares about.

But, let’s face it, in the pressurised whirlwind of the tendering process, it can be easy to get too focused on the details of the solution and overlook how it delivers the client’s objectives and supports their values. But these are the first clues you need to guide your thinking and really answer ‘so what?’.

The client’s objectives tell you exactly the outcomes they want to achieve and how they want to achieve them. So, once you understand what it is the client wants, articulating the ‘so what?’ of it all really shouldn’t be a difficult task. Start with asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is unique about your solution?

  • What makes it superior to the competition’s?

  • How will it meet or exceed the client’s objectives?

  • What factors have you considered that others may not have?

This benefits-based or ‘so what?’ thinking should be instilled in your bid team from the first strategy session. This approach is guaranteed to engage your audience, while also showing that you’ve listened to them and understood their goals.

Ensure the client is not an afterthought in your submission; they’ll be able to tell.

Written by Meg Evans - Tender Specialist

I bought red shoes...

A few weeks ago, while on holiday with my family I bought red shoes at an outlet shop. I have never bought red shoes – almost 44 years and not one pair – ever. In 1948 my mum watched “The Red Shoes”, she was 8 years old. The heroine dies rather horrifically wearing a pair of red pointe shoes. My mum never recovered from it, and the impact was that I have never owned or worn a pair of red shoes in my life. Until now.

As I stared at that paid of red Converse (cool, hey!) instead of moving on and doing what I had always done (deprive myself), for the first time I asked myself WHY I was so reluctant to buy them. And in doing that I realised that the illogical, irrational reasons of someone else were stopping me from doing something that I would enjoy.

Tender processes are the same. Instead of blindly continuing to do what we have already done often to our detriment, we all need to ask WHY we are implementing a particular process or element of a process. For example:

  • on a 4-week tender with limited resources, WHY are we having a three draft/review process when it is just going to add more pressure?

  • on a must win tender, WHY are we putting the least communicative / least engaging senior managers in front of the client when we know it isn’t going to resonate?

  • while managing simultaneous tenders, WHY are we resisting outsourcing when the only project coordination resource we have is entirely and utterly overwhelmed?

  • WHY are we putting the same people on every bid when we didn’t get any innovation on the last from them?

  • WHY are we asking the engineers to write the sales piece?

  • WHY are we carrying out a bid / no bid process where the result is no bid, and still throwing in a bid anyway?

I could go on and on. The point is – questioning tender process is important. Often the WHY has a sound convincing answer and we should continue on accordingly. But sometimes the WHY is a factor of the past, business as usual thinking or because someone got an illogical, irrational fear in their mind and no one ever queried its application in reality.

Just don’t tell my mum about the shoes.

Finding the right balance for supporting documentation

Whilst some Request for Tenders (RFPs) are very specific about the supporting documentation you need to include as part of your response, other RFPs allow you and your organisation the opportunity to carefully select and include supporting documentation of your own choosing.

If your RFP is the latter, just remember that more is not necessarily more. Less is not more either. It’s a fine balance that requires consideration and strategy early in tender process.

Including documents that are not relevant, that do not support your claim/argument and include unnecessary detail (cue extremely long auditing reports) will weaken your response and your chance of success.

It is important to review each part of your tender response and question the documentation you have that can provide clear and concise evidence to support your response content.

A few quick questions to ask yourself, and your colleagues, when you are considering a document for inclusion as part of your response:

  • Why are you including the document?

  • Have you (or would you) read the document yourself from cover to cover? If not, the chances are a tender assessment panel won’t want to read it either.

  • Can you include an excerpt from the whole document that succinctly provides that information that the requester is looking for? As much as I appreciate the level of detail that is included in a Year in Review – if the tender asks for a Profit and Loss Statement from the previous financial year, don’t make the assessment panel read 20 pages of text before they get to it.

  • Does the document provide supporting evidence for your claims/argument in your tender response? Attaching an outdated insurance certificate is irrelevant and does not provide evidence that you currently have the required level of insurance in place.

  • Is the document in a format that can be read and understood by the tender assessment panel?

  • Is the document relevant to where you want to reference it within the response?

The invitation to include supporting documentation is an opportunity to put your organisations best self forward and back this up with evidence. Put yourself in the best position for success and give some thought to whether those 120 attachments are really helping you out.

Happy bidding!

By Lauren Jesberg - Senior Tender Specialist, Tender Plus Consulting Pty Ltd

IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL...

When my marvellous Business Manager decided it was time to get more “systematised” (rather than continue to fly by the seat of my pants), I started to look through the clients we have engaged with over the last 11 years (I know, wow, right!). I was going to archive a bunch of folders and only move current clients over to new system (which is whizz bang, by the way).

It was a marvellously enlightening exercise. I experienced two feelings when I looked at each client folder and they were quite dichotomous – I either felt a sense of joy or an immediate need to flee.

From those feelings, I started to notice a pattern in the folders. The ones for which I experienced a sense of joy were large – filled with multiple projects and repeat business. The ones for which I experienced a desire to flee were small – contained one project and no further engagement.

I realised that even from the embryonic stages of Tender Plus I have always been in the business of relationships for the long haul. The effective and rewarding relationships I have forged and maintained over the last decade genuinely matter to me. They are with clients and colleagues with whom I want to work. They are with clients and colleagues with whom I enjoy having a coffee and a chat with, even when there is no work. They are with clients and colleagues to whom I am happy to lend a hand – professionally (and personally should they need it). And that makes me enormously happy.

And the really exciting thing about the exercise was that I had very few folders to archive. The vast majority of our clients are repeat clients. Sometimes that repetition is every few months, sometimes it is every few years, but they have come back to Tender Plus. I like to think, that is because they are in it for the long haul too.

I am calling out your “win rate”

I’ve seen and heard some “interesting” win rates in my time. You know they say that “98.5% of statistics are made up on the spot”. That is how I feel about many organisation’s win rates. They are made up of numbers that reflect what they want others to think… not numbers that make them think.

So, what are win rates really for? Yes, they are very useful to keep up morale and work out bonuses. But really, they are a tool for two things (1) to calculate your return on investment in bidding and (2) to create a quantitative measure by which to identify areas to improve. And in both respects, they need to reflect reality.

That means that a win rate needs to take into account all the bids that you tendered on as a whole. Yes, they can be divided into bids won, lost, and withdrawn (by either you or the client) as long as all of them are reflected. Because you have made the investment in the bid regardless. And you need to ask yourself questions about why you were successful, unsuccessful or did not even make it to the game.

Your win rate should also reflect the stages of bidding, i.e. EOI and RFP. That way you can demonstrate how often you are shortlisted; and how often you choose to pursue that shortlist through to RFP. And again, ask yourself the tough questions.

Your win rate can also be prioritised by dividing the calculation into Category A, B and C bids. That way you can see whether you are allocating your resources appropriately to the “must win” bids or just allocating resources liberally across all bids.

A Tender Plus client told me last year that they had a win rate of approx. 40%. On a closer look, what they had was a shortlisting rate of 80% and an RFP success rate of 20%. And once we analysed why they had those actual rates, we made a number of recommendations to improve their win rate in the second area. They included among others:

  • ensuring they had the right subject matter/technical experts integrally involved at RFP (their bids were being entirely submitted by their marketing team)

  • defining a tender strategy from the outset with messaging directly related to the client drivers and the likely technical solution (not only related to the company brand)

  • putting in place a process to manage tender compliance (a number of their bids had been deemed non-compliant by the client and were not evaluated).

Oh, and if you ask me what our win rate is, I won’t give you one. We are only a small piece in a very big tendering puzzle for our clients. But I will tell you how we help our clients improve theirs.