Value add services have become de rigueur for B2B services relationships and can be a positive, indeed tender-winning differentiator for your business.
‘Free of charge’ is music to clients’ ears given in the 21st century we’re all being expected to do more with less.
And as we know, you have to give in order to get – value add services not only add value to your tender evaluation scores, but also to ongoing client relationships.
However, framing and formulating value add services for tenders, bids & proposals can be tricky.
How can you create genuine value, ongoing positive impressions and impacts beyond delivering the routine work all without going broke?
Tips on framing and thinking through value add services for tenders
Value add services can give your bid a winning edge as they set your firm apart as (sometimes radically) different from (and better than) many of the (miserly) alternatives who don’t bother to offer, let alone deliver value add services.
And in many commoditised areas value add services are one of the best (nay, sometimes only) ways to stand out – especially if all bidders look the same on paper to buyers.
So a thoughtful, realistic and achievable approach to creating value add services rather than tacked on as an ‘afterthought’ is worthwhile.
Here are few ways to approach the development of ‘value add services’ offers in your next tender, bid or proposal:
Organise around and concentrate on what clients need and want (rather than what you have to sell). Know as much about your clients, and their needs, as you do about your professional discipline. Clients don’t always know what they want, but they know value when presented the right way. For example for insurance support services providers, try to go beyond the obvious and reactive – ‘claims management support’ and think about preventative and proactive angles – like ‘pre-emptive risk management training’ to help them avoid a claim in the first place.
Invest in clients by asking them what they value. Use research tools (surveys, interviews, focus groups) and allocate resources to analyse and formulate some actions. Not only do simple ‘value add services’ and quick fixes emerge from research (for example, ‘we’d love if your advices had X and Y summarised on the first page for ABC reports’) they can also yield cross-selling and business development opportunities.
See JMA’s blog We’re taking everyone to Fiji for an example of the sorts of business development opportunities client research can uncover.
Research into what clients actually want also means you can stop doing activities that offer little value (for example, if clients don’t care about newsletters, perhaps pare them back or stop publishing them all together).
‘Camp out’ with clients. Seize opportunities to visit your clients in their own habitat, and if any of your team have been on secondment with a client make sure to debrief them. Often in the rarefied atmosphere of professional services firm offices, various attributes or actions of a client will seem unbelievable or inexplicable. Observing that same client up close and on their own turf may put things into context. Opportunities to solve problems will emerge and in turn help with generating genuinely useful value add services for tenders. Perhaps it’s a simple checklist to help the client’s team stop wasting time, or a regularly scheduled 30 minute catch up with you to provide ‘ad hoc’ guidance. Even better if that regular ad hoc session is delivered on site with your client, as you’ll become part of the furniture, and the first port of call for new projects or instructions.
Measure (internally) and reward what really matters to incentivise value adding behaviours. Develop internal metrics for the behaviours which deliver value to the team and your clients – don’t confine measurement to fees and billable hours but consider recognising and rewarding team members who save clients’ money, introduce innovations to your workflow or even get set up to record ‘no charge’ ad hoc advice. Perhaps for early career professionals you can have a cash prize for the best ‘client service innovation’ to incentivise the right kind of out of the box thinking.
Don’t be prisoner to precedent. Just because you’ve ‘done’ value add services in a particular way in the past, or the client never uses any of what you offer, or it’s what all your competitors offer – don’t assume that’s the way it should be for the future. We often succeeded in spite – rather than because – of what we did. You look better just by virtue of making repeated (generous) offers of value add services, even if your client for whatever reason doesn’t have the wherewithal to take you up on those value add services.
Open possibilities with fresh ways of doing things. Responding to bids is often the perfect time ‘refresh’ your approach to serving a particular client and an opportunity to develop or refine your client service plan. Perhaps their RFP is premised on ‘old ways’ or ‘out of date data’ – use your bid responses as an opportunity to respectfully challenge the status quo and lead them to a better way of doing business. And to the point above, if your clients don’t often take you up on your value add services, perhaps it’s time for a re-think on the formats or offers themselves.
Value is in the eye of the beholder.
Value add services are powerful ways to show your commitment and what you (specifically) promise. Value add services don’t need to be overly complex, expensive or involve whizz-bang tech – but they does need to feel ‘real and relevant’ to that client and meaningfully solve a problem or add value.
So, rather than general claims or vague promises, such as ‘we keep up-to-date with all developments in the field’ it’s far more persuasive to say ‘you, client x, can depend upon us to keep your team fully up-to-date with all developments in the field through a learning needs analysis clinic and X, Y and Z within the first 6 months of appointment’. You might then go further to offer ‘following that investment we’ll offer quarterly in-person risk briefings so your executives can be empowered in their decision making’.
This specific, tailored and ‘client-centric’ approach, rather than a vague approach, you will be far more persuasive, have greater impact, and is much more likely to appeal, and ultimately not only win the tender, but over time client hearts and minds.
Other things to bear in mind when formulating value add services for tenders
Avoid just mindlessly offering your entire smorgasbord or huge ‘standard’ value add services list. It won’t be plausible or achievable (though at first pass it might seem incredibly generous). Using the ‘framing’ pointers above think through what THIS client will really value at THIS time.
It may be you come up with something unique for a particular client that will have a big positive impact on their business for this year. The simpler the better – for instance a custom ‘checklist tool’ for their team on ‘Preparing for audit time’ may be highly valued.
The simpler the value add service the more likely you’re able to deliver it, and the more likely the client is to use it.
If it’s nicely branded in your corporate livery you’ll also be ‘top of mind’ day to day.
When proposing value add services make it clear if they are ‘free of charge’ (aka at ‘no charge’) or if any fees or charges do apply (e.g. in the professional services world secondments are mostly offered at modest or discounted day rates).
Depending on the specific client and tender balance the appropriateness of value add services and activities offered against that client’s policies or positions. For example excessive entertainment offers that are more social than business-oriented may not be permissible or be frowned upon by public sector agencies.
Another ‘judgement’ call will be keeping the generosity of your value adds commensurate with the size of the client, their likely volume of work, and your chances of winning/retaining the work and then growing it. While all clients are entitled to ‘value for money’ a little bit like the airlines, not everyone can fly first class. Keep your value add services offers proportionate to the client and the opportunity.
Don’t expect busy clients to always remember all the little ‘extras’ you’ve provided over time. Make sure once you’re appointed through your winning tender that you record and track you’re delivering the value add services as promised in your tender, and remember to report periodically to your client on the value you and your team have added to their business.
Then, when it comes time to tender again, you’ll have a very powerful summary of your history of value add services to showcase.
Tender readability remains a problem for some in the 21st century. I still see submission documents that cling to a handful of really old hat tender presentation and formatting techniques. I suspect this is because some of these ‘rules’ are viewed as being more appropriate to a ‘formal’ style of document such as a tender. […]