Want to win bids consistently? A Big-4 Director tells you How.
Before we look at the different approaches vendors can take, vendors need to understand the context of the bid, starting with - why has the client released the tender. It is important to understand the client objectives. Most RFPs are a part of the overall business outcome the business heads expect to achieve in order to meet their business plans. Vendors should attempt to understand this context as deeply as possible before framing their bid strategy.
From a bid pursuit perspective, vendors will find themselves in one of the 3 categories – Leaders, Contenders, or Disruptors. Let’s look at each one of them carefully.
Leader – A vendor can consider himself in the leader category when he has got the opportunity to engage early in the RFP process. It could be because he has done a smaller engagement with the client, or because he has attempted to deliberately seed an initiative. But he is also the one who has not been able to convince the client to go single-source in spite of his early in-roads. And thus, the RFP.
How can a Leader augment his position and improve his odds at success?
● Line up the ducks – Because of the early engagement, the leader will know who are the key executives in the account behind this requirement. What are their objectives. What is the political landscape in the account. Parallely, he has also developed a sense of comfort with the client.
A key element that I have seen help vendors, is to identify that one executive in their organization who will map to the key decision maker in the client organization. Almost like one-to-one marking but in a positive sense. And then ensuring that the right messages are communicated between them at regular intervals.
● Speaking the same language – A leader should leverage his understanding to literally speak the client’s language in all aspects of the bid. Understanding of the problem, their expectations and outcomes. And this has to be communicated thru all channels – proposal, solution presentation, technical bid, and the regular meetings. For this to happen, the sale team needs to make a conscious effort to translate their understanding to the bid team.
● Deceiving the competition – A simple measure to determine if you are a Leader is if 60-70% of the RFP represents your position and features. Has the client shown the flexibility to dilute their stand in certain terms? Has the client included your key functionalities as the key requirements? Does the MEC discourage un-wanted competition.
A trick deployed by leaders in some bids is to keep the scope slightly ambiguous. This enables the Leader in two ways – communicating the scope as the client wants to hear, and doing better (precise) estimation of its service components.
● Consistency of delivery – PSU tender in particular can be a long drawn process. The client expects you to understand this reality and align your resources accordingly. The vendor needs to keep it’s A-game up all the time. This is not always easy as vendor organizations are driven by quarterly goals. Not all organizations have an appetite for a 12-month sales cycle. The vendor’s client-facing team has to balance the delicate task of giving the client the comfort that they are in it however long it takes, while at the same time nudging the client to move faster.
● Comfort with the buying process not arrogance – Given the extended timeline involved in a tender process, new aspects may emerge in the form of additional requirements, or new decision makers. The Leader will have to handle such curve balls competently without a hint of tiredness or why-do-we-need-to-do-this-now attitude.
Another scenario I have seen is when some vendors show the attitude/messaging to the outside world as if this deal is already theirs. Whether this is deliberate or otherwise, it does not augur well for the vendor.
As a rule of thumb, one would expect to be in a Leader position in 15-20% of the RFPs they bid in.
Contender – This is probably going to be the bidder’s position in 50-60% of the bids they participate in. And therefore, requires greater diligence on the part of the bidder to ensure that the Leader does walk away with the laurels.
● Clear differentiation to buyers – The bid team should dig deep and determine the distinction they want to place their bid strategy upon. The differentiation has to be such that it resonates well with the client objectives and something the Contender can deliver upon. Without a clear distinction the Contender will run the risk of playing a price game.
● Clarity of messaging to stakeholders – Because in this case the vendor is not the Leader, its quite easy to fall into the bucket of me-too solutions. So, the clarity of messaging is super important. Every stakeholder should be able to acknowledge the differentiation the Contender brings, in a relatively short period of time.
● Riding on the success of a similar project – Nothing gets the client’s attention as another similar project from the same industry/geography. That also helps the Contender quickly get on the short-list. And steer clear of the pack.
● Exceed expectations – This is a difficult one to crack. But you need to illustrate enough value which makes you stand out from the competition. Either thru references, solution approach or SLA commits.
● Focus on detail in the buying process – How many times have you really read all the 300 pages of the RFP. Uncovering it can provide you vital inputs to base your bid strategy upon – does the customer appreciate value or cost. Is he looking at scalability or flexibility of the architecture? What OEM preferences does he have? As they say the devil is in the details.
● The bid shows deep and committed expertise – This is always valued by the client. Bring-in a specialist for the presentation. Have senior leadership give a coherent and consistent messaging. Have the partners sing a synchronized story. This will demonstrate commitment and motivation.
Disruptor – Disruptor is the one who has either gate crashed the party or has been simply late. Either ways he is playing catch up. He will have to pull up something special from his sleeves in order to make a mark.
● Strategically shift the conversation – To grab adequate attention the vendor will have to table a distinct point of view. Either in terms of value or cost. He/she will need to re-write the scope, not just comply with it. Depart from the client brief.
● Convince the buyers of your point of view – Those who have been driving the bid process certainly are not going to like your disruption as it adds delay to their work. The only way to convince them to take you seriously is to show, how your point of view is beneficial to their organization in a significant way.
● Show proof in either projects or people – That proof has to come from the work you have done. Or better still do it for them – a short POC or a pilot which can demonstrate why your way is better. This will also demonstrate your conviction in your approach and generate more buy-in for your approach.
● Demonstrate your disruption rationale in every element – Why not hybrid deployment instead of 100% on cloud, iterative implementation instead of waterfall, opex instead of capex. Whether it is solution, implementation, or commercial construct. Attempt to bring in a disruptor element where possible.
● Drive the buying process away from the original narrative – This is not easy and will depend on how well you have executed the steps above. E.g. scope should now be widened to include new elements or narrowed to focus exclusively on the one or two key aspects that align best with your approach. Corrigendum should increase the short-list to include your name. If you are able to do this you will hand yourselves a significant advantage.
● The bid shows a truly differentiated offering with rationale and management commitment - Make the effort to customize the value of this differentiation to each of the key stakeholders. Example – a CFO may be more interested in accuracy versus the CRO who would be more focused on compliance and security.
As a bidder your first step needs to realize who you are in a bid scenario and then plan the appropriate strategy. Needless to say, being a leader gives you a certain tailwind but being a disruptor is not always a disadvantage.
This post is part of Pricebid.co’s Knowledge Series where we invite industry experts to share their opinion on subjects related to bids, tenders, and RFPs. Our guest for this month is Mr Rajendra Rele. Mr Rele has over 20 years’ experience, with the recent 15 being in advisory and consulting roles with 2 of the Big-4 consulting firms. He is currently Director at PwC India. Having spent decade and a half in helping clients plan, assess, and implement transformation projects Mr Rele has deep experience in creating RFPs for his clients, and then evaluating the commercial and technical bids of the vendors.
Comments and observations welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.