Time and again, I see professional services clients falling victim to bad bid habits. Abraham Lincoln allegedly said (but actually didn’t): “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Proper planning, organisation, shared accountability, and a sense of urgency is a must if you are going to produce a compliant and competitive bid, on time.
Do you practice any of these bad bid habits?
1. Getting started without thoroughly understanding the requirements of the request
It’s critical to thoroughly read the RFP or RFT. Often, the nuances and even main details can be unclear, even after two or three read-throughs. A law firm client of mine missed the detail of how much Professional Indemnity insurance cover their firm had to have, and because they did not meet the minimum, their bid was ruled non-compliant. Fortunately, with our help they were able to re-tender once they had increased their insurance coverage to the appropriate level.
2. Underestimating the level of effort involved
Even for relatively straightforward RFTs, it takes longer than most people assume to properly respond to them. There can be more to some RFT requirements than meets the eye, so the earlier you fully understand the requirements and get started, the better. I could share many horror stories of the competitive hoops through which professional services firms must jump: tough demands for recent evidence of capability, amazingly detailed reference checking, and lengthy questionnaires on technical aspects of your firm’s data security. Thoroughly understand what will be required before you commit.
3. Making late decisions
Firms will generally have very limited time to prepare a tender, so making critical decisions (or changing your mind) late in the process can severely impact your ability to produce a coherent, compliant and competitive bid. Decide on bid areas, service delivery teams, and other core elements early. These decisions really need to be made within the first couple of days after the RFT release.
4. Relying on one key person
Many firms inadvertently create a tender log jam by having just one key person responsible for all decisions to do with the tender. Often, this person is the firm’s managing partner – who is usually already carrying a full workload.
The best thing to do after thoroughly reviewing the request is to enlist support and delegate work to your firm’s subject matter experts. Whether that’s your practice group specialists to write up relevant experience and case studies, or your IT support person to draft a data security policy, let your team know early that you’ll need help. And most importantly, give them the authority to make decisions and take ownership of their delegated task – you’ll find they perform with greater care and commitment.
5. Leaving simple things until the last minute
There’s usually a series of basic compliance requirements in an RFT that many people leave until the end, thinking they’re quick and easy to do, and not worth focussing on just yet – things like contact forms, business stats and history, client referees, copies of firm policies, and insurance details.
My advice? Do these first. They are elements that can easily be delegated to non-specialist staff, so will not impact on producing the “meat” of the bid, and you will free yourself from a lot of stress and last-minute panic by getting them completed early.
6. Not building in time for final checks
Quality control will go out the window in the rush to meet deadline. Most evaluators won’t crucify you over the odd typo, or misnumbered pages, but it can become rather problematic if, for instance, your $25000.00 fee loses the decimal point, and reads as $2500000 (tip: never use decimals for whole-dollar values). Creating confusion, and making it difficult for evaluators to understand what you mean, is not the right way to start a business relationship.
7. Spending too much time on final checks
It’s not uncommon to find that once the bid is finalised, everyone suddenly wants to have a say – whether it’s the pedant who wants to correct every typo and change “while” to “whilst”, or the partner who suddenly sees an opportunity to add another whole section to your bid (see point 3 above). My advice is to restrict the final sign-off to a single person with appropriate authority – the managing partner, or the relationship partner for that client, for example.
8. Not familiarising yourself with the delivery requirements
Though many organisations boast environmentally-friendly paperless offices, some RFTs still require you to submit hardcopy bids (and often multiple copies). Don’t assume the bid can be submitted electronically – and certainly don’t leave it until the few hours before hand-in to check. Even if the bid can be submitted via email or online portal, 4.55pm isn’t the time to try sending a 20MB email.
Getting back to Abe: it’s easy to create plans in an ideal world, but difficult to stick to them in the real one. However, if you can break or avoid even just a few of these bad bid habits and put in place good tendering practices, your firm will start winning more work and your team is going to be a lot less stressed.
For more tips and advice, please get in touch or download our free guide: Dos and don’ts: top tips for winning tenders and proposals.
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Remember, nothing is so complex that it cannot be explained simply Albert Einstein was spot-on when he said “nothing is so complex that it cannot be explained simply”. Tenders, bids, proposals, and informal pitches for business are not times to show how clever and capable you are by using legalese (I’m looking at you lawyers), […]