20th Sep 2016 AUTHOR: Robert Machin

Tender Development: Learning from the past

Each time we complete a tender submission at Tender Success we spend countless hours "chewing the cud" about what went well and what could have gone better. Hindsight is a wonderful tool – but only if it's used.


  • Tendering is part of a holistic endeavour and involves a process including capture management, business, marketing and sales strategies
  • Don't be afraid to learn from your mistakes and incorporate the lessons into future tender strategies - "Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." - Oscar Wilde
  • Tendering is an integral part of growing business and should become a well-honed skill in the armoury of any serious business developer who wants to grow business with government or large companies

Post-tender post-mortems can be revealing

Learning from the past

"We learn from history that … we learn nothing from history." George Bernard Shaw

Looking back can be useful. The goal of course, is to incorporate all of the success elements into future tenders and to avoid the pitfalls of past mistakes or errors of judgement. Hindsight is a wonderful tool – but only if it's used.

The case for a post-tender, post-mortem

“You will only fail to learn if … you do not learn from failing” Stella Adle

If a client wins the business then there is little or no appetite for analysis, the assumption being that everything went well and therefore there's nothing to learn. Rarely true, but understandable.

Failing to win the business however, provides opportunity for serious and meaningful analysis. Regrettably, most analyses are superficial and rarely provide the basis for improved future performance. Most post-tender post-mortem are limited to: What went wrong? Who's to blame? What are the sanctions?

It's about attitude

A well-respected advertising executive and university lecturer friend who's worked for some of the most successful advertising agencies, told me that if they failed to win a pitch they would simply extend the pitch. That is, unperturbed, they would continue to pitch until they won the account. In other words, don't give up! Learn from past mistakes and persist until you win!

In fact, that's not a bad lesson for anyone employing tendering to grow their business. The approach goes to attitude and tenacity. Losing or failing to win a client all too often results in a walk-away attitude. This means all the work that the tenderer has put into research, relationship development and convincing the potential client of their capability is wasted unless this resource is incorporated into future opportunities.

Failure to capture the effort involved in the tender preparation can compound the loss by losing valuable, hard-earned resources for future use. Moreover, walking away fails to recognise the value of established relationships (current clients) or the effort put into establishing new client relationships. Building on past tendering efforts and capturing the lessons learned is essential to future tendering success. A recent client of Tender Success failed in their bid for a major government contract 18 months ago. The successful tenderer has now failed to deliver and, having maintained their relationship with the client – building on past efforts - guess who's about to pick up the contract?

Tips for building your tendering capability

If you're new to tendering or have had limited success in tendering to date, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Don't think "win or lose": think "I'm in this for the long haul and build relationships which will lead to future success."
  • You Win Some, You Lose Some: Don't expect to win your first bid, or indeed every bid. DON'T give up just because you didn't! Use every tender response opportunity create, build and strengthen client relationships
  • Create a Resource Library (including lessons learned) – save and keep updated all of your documentation; it will put you on the front foot when your next RFT comes along. It means, you'll be able to focus on strategy and customer needs instead of compliance.
  • Enjoy the journey – it's called a learning curve because that's what you are doing, learning! Build your capacity and capability and above all, use the opportunity to develop relationships.

robRob Machin is a principal consultant for Tender Success. He loves looking backwards when it comes to tenders - so long as it produces a forward vision. Contact Rob to ensure your next response is a success.