Sometimes, procurement teams are seen, if not as the outright enemy, at least as an unwanted complicating factor or obstacle in awarding contracts. ‘I suppose this will have to go through Procurement’ is often accompanied by rolling of the eyes.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the frustration when relationships with operational staff are good and when there is clear common ground on the technical aspects of the project; ‘then along came the procurement team and it all went pear-shaped.’
It’s all too easy for a bid team to slip into thinking that Procurement is there to create problems, particularly when they’ve just missed out on an important project. But is it helpful?
Procurement May See a Bigger Picture
Procurement teams have a job to do. They may have to take broader business issues into account and, above all, they have to ensure there is fair competition (which is actually to your advantage). You can’t wish away the role of the procurement team so it’s better to understand it as well as you can and work with it.
You need to appreciate the following:
Sometimes the procurement team may not have the most up to date information on what the scheme is for, how it is to be used, and specific requirements for it. In some cases the end-users don’t have a clearly defined vision of the needs of the project either. And the best possible solutions may or may not be known to the client if they have only been used outside of their sector of business or knowledge.
Know Where to Start the Discussion
If you want to properly represent the value of your proposed solution you should invest some time in exploring the level of understanding the procurement team has about the desired project outcomes. Assuming anything is a ‘given’ could mean you miss vital steps in the logic that builds your business case.
Procurement people try their best to interpret what their clients want and need. This may be more or less easy depending on how close the procurement and customer teams are, and how different this current procurement is from previous ones.
How Will Bids be Evaluated?
The criteria used for evaluation should be clearly stated (especially for public procurement). For each of these there will be sub-criteria that explain how the assessors will score the submissions they receive. There should be few surprises.
As with all of us, procurement teams don’t always say what they mean or mean quite what they say. What seems obvious to them may not be quite so plain to an audience who is reading the information or ITT for the first time. Their jargon and terminology used may also have subtly different meanings to that of the reader. Checking there is a common understanding early on is helpful.
Procurement teams usually try to write as ‘neutrally’ as possible. One of their objectives is to ensure a fair contest so that their organisation is protected against criticism and possibly legal action.
All of this may seem like a complication, but really it’s there to ensure that the decisions made are in the best interests of the client and support their broader business objectives. Try to understand this agenda rather than see it as an obstacle.
When people have put hours of effort into a bid, and when that bid has been through rigorous internal review, any criticism - however positive - can be hard to handle.
I’ve seen many occasions where valuable client feedback on an unsuccessful bid is sanitised to make it more palatable, or even discounted as inaccurate or biased. This is a natural and understandable human reaction - but is it helpful?
Where there’s no honest appraisal of a bid’s strengths and weaknesses, there also tends not to be any action planning to ensure the next one is going to be more successful. To get better, you sometimes have to take the medicine.
Downplaying or discounting criticism is rarely deliberate and often not consciously done. And, of course, you don’t have sight of the winning bid to make comparisons. Sometimes it can come down to minor differences in how answers are phrased or structured - the difference between winning or not can be tiny.
Will Comments Still Be Relevant?
An excuse for skirting around feedback is sometimes that there could be a significant amount of time before the client releases further projects to tender. While it’s true that the important criteria can change because the marketplace is dynamic and the needs of the next project will be different, that’s no reason to avoid taking feedback seriously.
Certainly, you can’t simply assume that the comments that were fed back last time will still be 100% relevant. That’s almost as bad as copying and pasting answers from one bid to the next.
You have to understand where each new project sits within the client’s strategic objectives and identify how you might help them achieve these.
Can You be Impartial?
Being objective and impartial about a bid you are close to is hard. That’s not a criticism or a weakness, that’s just part of being human. That’s why an external resource for analysing feedback and reviewing bids before they are submitted is so valuable.
When The Bid Coach is reviewing a tender document we’re not trying to make the questions fit what suits our business. We look only at what the client is really looking for, unclouded by whether or not you could meet those needs.
With our experience as assessors, we can see through the written words to the unspoken meaning or implications behind them. One of our clients calls this ‘seeing the question within the question.’ Again, this is an area where clients say we add significant and objective value.
If you want to get better at winning bids and tenders you have to be prepared to take feedback on board, and take it in context so that you are continuously improving your performance. Working with somebody who isn’t quite so closely involved will help you see things more clearly.
Without diving too deeply into the murky waters of modern politics it might be profitable to reflect on some recent events and personalities if you want to understand how perceptions can affect your business and your chances of winning major bids.
At the extremes, managing perceptions can overpower evidence and reality in the battle to shape opinions and determine actions. How else do wealthy, privileged individuals become seen as anti-elitists?
And what was the purpose of the Trump and Kim Jong-Un meeting? To avert a nuclear disaster or as a PR strategy to alter the perception of both leaders on the world stage? Whatever you think of Trump, he certainly understands the power of perceptions.
On less controversial ground, why do great sports teams so often implode when the guiding force departs? Was Sir Alex Ferguson’s impact as a manager down to tactical genius? Or was it down to the aura, trust and belief he created among the squad and the sense of inevitable defeat he created in opponents?
This aura (and the perception of expected success) began to unwind almost as soon as he resigned as manager. None of his successors have been able to rebuild it, despite spending huge sums on new players. Yes his players were good, but the same players couldn’t produce the same results under a different manager.
In sport and in business it isn’t necessarily about being the absolute best to win. It’s more about the opposition (or in business, the client) believing that you are that matters most.
Are You Expected to Win?
How do your prospects perceive your business today? And what can you do to change those perceptions in a positive way?
One of the most powerful perceptions you can create is one where your client believes that you understand their needs and concerns better than others. Link this to a perception that you are focused on their needs and concerns more than your own and you potentially have a winning formula.
In reality, the technical solutions proposed by a range of bidders may be identical, but the extra value of having the client perceive that you understand their needs better provides the value that differentiates you from them. With all other things being equal this should win you the work.
Your client isn’t just looking at the details in the bid. They are also subconsciously asking: ‘What happens if our requirements change or unforeseen problems throw the project off course, who's going to respond in the most positive way?’
Is there a simple trick to get your client to perceive that you understand their needs? Not really. It comes down to proposals and presentations that talk about your client more than your outputs, achievements and awards. It’s also about the questions you ask, how you ask them, and how you respond to the answers.
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.