22nd Jul 2013 AUTHOR: Matt Milgrom

Tender Development: 6 Lessons We Learned This Financial Year (Part 2)

Learning from life's lessons is a course you never graduate from. Looking back at a packed financial year, what gems did Tender Success uncover along the way?


  • Subject Matter Experts don't have to be expert tender writers when they work closely with others who are.
  • RFTs are an opportunity to look into the mirror for a business. Winning one might mean widespread change and a unique opportunity for growth.
  • Winning a tender is as much about strategic thinking as it is about clever communication. But you need both.

With another financial year behind us, Tender Success looks back at 2012-2013 full of experiences - both positive and negative. What did we learn which made us fitter and leaner for the New Year? Our list continues... (read part 1 here)

4. Subject Matter Experts generate great content -
With a Little Help

The Situation

It's a familiar scenario: a small but highly motivated team with specialist knowledge taking their first bite of the tendering apple. On this occasion, the service on offer was truly niche: aerial fire-fighting using highly specialised helicopters and uniquely qualified pilots.

The Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) had a deep, thorough understanding of their business environment. They are absolute experts in the field. They were enthusiastic and determined. And yet the prospect of jumping through hoops for a large tender severely tested their capability. The RFT required lots of original written content, but none of the staff were writers. And after a couple of false starts, desperation set in.

Of course, many SMEs are highly skilled, and know their business intimately. But transferring that knowledge from brain to page presents a huge challenge for many; after all, writing is rarely 'core business' Larger corporations may have multi-disciplined teams to call upon: usually SMEs will collaborate with marketing staff to prepare compelling written content. But for smaller businesses, the SMEs are often required to generate the content themselves.

The Outcome

Our consultants recognised that these SMEs were diamond mines: chock-full of gems that needed to be located, brought to the surface and then cut and polished. So our consultants took a unique approach:

  • Evaluation criteria were identified after a thorough analysis of the RFT, and the format of the expected response was established.
  • The response was split up into separate bite-sized sections.
  • Each section was turned into a 'writing template' for the SMEs to fill out consisting of a series of questions designed to liberate key facts, evidence and case studies.
  • Tender Success then set about turning the raw information into compelling, prospect-focused, benefit-led content using our established tender writing skills.
  • The written content was then assembled into a formatted response for final review, editing and publishing.

The Lesson Learned

It can be tempting to think that responding to large, complex tenders is purely the domain of the large corporation. However, we've found that the experts within smaller enterprises often possess truly humbling knowledge and skill. Of course, preparing bid-winning written content for a tender response demands a specific skillset. But we've seen non-writing experts help to produce compelling content that reveals a deep understanding of the prospect and their business problem.

Experts within smaller enterprise can generate truly persuasive content - with the right tools and approach.

5. Sometimes, Winning Means Metamorphosis

The Situation

Occasionally, an opportunity emerges that is truly life-changing. The client in this example is a medium-sized radiology provider to a major health insurer. Already providing services in a number of clinics around Australia, our client faced a tender that changed everything. The RFT offered the existing service providers the opportunity to become the single provider. For our client this was, quite literally, double or nothing.

However, the compliance requirements had increased proportionally. The tender demanded policies, procedures and reporting that had never previously been required. And although running a peerless service to date, essential business operations were within the minds of the key staff, not formalised in writing as required. In short, compliance with this tender involved a radical rethink of the practice's strategic intent, governance model and company structure.

The Outcome

Initially, it looked like an impossible task. Bidding would mean a significant organisational transformation. Working as a close-knit team, our consultants and key personnel were able to:

  • List the unmet requirements after a detailed gap analysis.
  • Develop written policies and procedures (including an Environmental and Sustainability Policy and Plan, BCP and others)
  • Design a new governance structure
  • Identify the need for a new headcount to manage Quality
  • Present this organisational change in a compelling way within the tender response.

Our client was able to win this significant business and is now operating throughout Australia and New Zealand. The 'win' doubled the current business of our client and cemented the opportunity to double the business again in the coming years as the service expands; the business has transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly.

The Lesson Learned
Sometimes, responding to an RFT is like taking a good, long look in the mirror. An honest appraisal might well indicate that 'no bid' is the right decision. Equally, some tenders are an opportunity to transform the business beyond recognition. Whatever the outcome, this kind of honest self-examination often provides a much-needed change of perspective.

Some tenders are business-changing because of the transformation they require. Bid or no-bid, this level of scrutiny can be a valuable wake-up call.

6. Winning Tenders Requires Aligned Strategic Ducks

The Situation

Our consultants are often called in to help an organisation improve its tender win rates. Last year, a large international recruitment organisation invited Tender Success to benchmark its general approach and the quality of its proposals. After a series of meetings and a thorough analysis of their sample documents, we were invited to present our discoveries to the tender team and senior management.

Frankly, our findings were not for the faint-hearted. Pitches to one prospect were littered with references to one of their competitors: clearly the result of careless, thoughtless copy and paste. Winning themes were vague, hidden and self-centred. Key facts varied from one document to another. Graphics were poorly conceived and occasionally unreadable. The templates used varied dramatically. Additionally, those working on tenders were operating in virtual silos. There was no central library of information, no unity of messages and no cohesive strategy.

The Outcome

A facilitated discussion revealed the key reasons for the low win rate:

  • Their tender strategy was "Bid for every single one". This meant that the team was cranking out scores of tenders every month, regardless of whether the prospect was 'in their space' or the opportunity profitable.
  • The company had no clear sales strategy: that means from the top down, they were unclear about what their ideal customer looked like and how to reach them.
  • The company's overall business strategy was unclear: Surprisingly, each senior manager had their own (very different) take on what this strategy was. Without a unity of purpose, each division operated like a separate appendage, hence lack of coherence.

The solution we presented was deceptively simple: having strategies aligned will help all to discern which opportunities to pursue and which to leave. This will reduce the number of responses generated, freeing up the response team to concentrate on each individual opportunity and prospect. At the same time, having unity of thought and direction will help you to establish truly compelling win themes and spend more time thinking about what that means for the prospect.

This advice was greeted with awkward silence: the CEO had expected win rates to improve simply by using better graphics, templates and writing. He wasn't expecting to have to rethink about how he ran the business.

The Lesson Learned

Winning tenders always starts with strategic thinking, and that means having your tender strategy aligned with the way your business runs. Win rates are not dependent purely on the way a proposal is presented: if the strategy behind it is defective, it's hard to hide it.

Though often overlooked, alignment of business, marketing, sales and other tender strategies is an essential tender-winning element.

So our 2012-2013 financial year closes with new treasures tucked away in the knowledge vault. Many of these appear, at first glance, to be just good common sense. Yet in the heat of tender battle, these principles can be anything but common. Winning business often depends upon 'fine tuning' these essential elements. We hope 2013-2014 will be just as educational.

mattMatt Milgrom is a senior consultant for Tender Success. He assists companies of all sizes to win tenders and learn some valuable lessons along the way. Contact Matt to ensure your next response is a success.