Life’s on the up and all your staff are fully employed…your forward pipeline of work is stretching out ahead of you further than you’ve seen for years. Things just couldn’t be better but then a bid enquiry lands from a client that you just can’t ignore. It’s a company that’s given you lots of work in the past and you want to do more work with them in the future. You just can’t afford to upset them, so what do you do?
Of course it’s easy, you just submit a high-priced bid so they won’t choose you. But wait…if you do that then they might not ask you to bid in the future if they think that is your normal price range. They’re also likely to know the procurement managers working for other client organisations and if rumours start to circulate it could seriously damage your reputation. You could always decline to bid but surely that will annoy them and they’ll probably not ask you to bid again. This is turning into a nightmare!
Relax, it’s all hypothetical so there’s no need to panic ! Let’s take some time to think about what you can do to ease the pain
Over recent years, margins have been driven lower by competitive bidding that uses price as the determining factor rather than value. I’ve heard lots of bidders tell me that there isn’t any real opportunity to sell their services on value, and of course, this is true if you’re connected with clients that only want the cheapest price. However, continuing to accept this as the norm means you’re in danger of attracting this kind of bid opportunity and the inevitable downward spiral of tightening margins and having to cut corners just to survive.
To change this we need to learn more about the client and align your proposal to meet their objectives…WE NEED A PLAN!
Before we look at that, here’s an example from when I first started bidding over 12 years ago to put it into context. My client was a large national house builder bidding for sites that the government was bringing to market. Known as the ‘redundant hospitals site programme’ there were around 96 named sites that were being slowly released to the market and the expectant bidders. Every so often my client called and off we went again bidding on the next opportunity. But there was no plan and the whole process seemed very haphazard, so I asked a simple question, “do you want to win every site that comes to market?” The answer was, of course, “no”.
We set about ranking the sites according to the location our client wanted to work in; we consider the resources available in those areas and the skills needed to deliver each project; we also assessed their financial capacity to deliver the key sites, as well as a whole host of other considerations. This enabled us to apply our full resources to the ‘must win’ bids, be less diligent to the others and formally decline to bid for work that didn’t align with our Work Winning Plan. As a house builder, my client could call on a long list of subcontractors to work on sites that weren’t planned but this is likely to be different for you.
You will undoubtedly have a list of regular clients, those who give you work less frequently and target clients that you’d like to work with in the future. This gives us the starting point from which you can develop your Work Winning Plan to map your approach to engaging with them before their bids are released.
Here’s a simple three-step process: use the steps to rank the contracts in the order you want to win or the clients you want to work with. The bonus is that through the meetings and discussions you’ll need to have you’ll get more sales opportunities when you can build and strengthen your relationships.
Meet with your potential client and rather than trying to sell anything just listen to what they are doing. Learn about their objectives, their concerns and the projects they have planned over the next few months or year. Dig a bit deeper and find out which of these are secured and which are the most important. Then explore where you might influence the client’s solution and differentiate yourselves from your competitors – this will directly influence how they want you to work with you.
Learn what your client thinks of your relationship…that’s your business relationship rather than your personal one, although the two can often be interlinked. The information you’ve learned in step one will show the areas where there are the greatest opportunities to provide your specialist advice that could make all the difference to them. This is your chance to open the dialogue into a shared experience of how you could improve profits for both of you by working more efficiently and using your expertise in the best way to help them. When you get this right you will raise your status to be a trusted advisor and someone whose input the client values…and they’ll start to look beyond just the lowest priced solution.
You’ll now have a good picture of your potential client and the projects that are most beneficial to your business so you can start to rank them in order of preference.
Start by listing all the clients and/or projects you’re interested in – I use post-it notes for this because I can move them around to suit. Stick them on a flip chart and then list the areas of expertise that differentiate you from your competitors – this might be particular to a type of service or product, or a value band, or any other differentiator than you can capitalise on that helps you stand out. Place them underneath the client/project list. (You may need to use multiple copies of your expertise or skills for each of the client/ project lists.)
Now go through your post-it note lists and move them into your order of preference – you can change where they sit in the ranking and move your skills up or down the list in order of importance. This will highlight where your expertise and skills will be of most benefit and will form the basis of your Work Winning Plan.
When you get it right you can start to influence the way your clients source work from you and how they overcome the problems they are facing…it’s a win-win situation!
It’s important to remember that bidding is not just about the pricing and return of your offer but part of a much more involved process that is all about relationships and communication. So, when you’ve finished, share the relevant parts of your plan with each client. That way, you’ll be able to demonstrate where your expertise is best placed and that you might not be the right choice for some others areas of work. These are the bids that you would prefer not to bid because you don’t think you will offer the best value.
If you get an enquiry that looks to be only price driven and where you cannot achieve the margins you want then you can use your Work Winning Plan to decline to bid without upsetting anyone because it doesn’t fit your plan.
Use this approach wisely and only go as fast as your business will allow the change.