The Seven Deadly Sins of Tendering

If your firm’s tendering capability or performance is below par, it could be because you’re guilty of one of more of tendering’s ‘deadly sins’. Now is as good a time as any to atone.

The seven deadly sins of tendering

Last year, via a competitive tender, one of the country’s largest insurance groups consolidated its legal panel from 50-plus to 20-something. This week, I heard the group has earmarked another wave of rationalisation – one which could easily see the panel cut by half again. It’s an extreme example, but not an isolated one. Tendering, once the exclusive domain of government, is now the preferred procurement mechanism for corporate Australia too.

This being the case, if your firm’s tendering capability or performance is below par, it could be because you’re guilty of one of more of tendering’s ‘deadly sins’. Now is as good a time as any to atone.

Sin #1 – Cowardice

(Do you have the guts to make a tough decision?)

The best way to improve your win rate is to be selective (realistic) about what you bid for. If you have a business development team, or you engage business development consultants, you might have heard them use the expression “Go/No Go”. Go/No Go is a pass/fail test which can be applied to tendering situations. To pass, the ‘Go’ conditions must be met and the ‘No Go’ conditions must fail.

Whether or not you adopt the Go/No Go approach, or some other methodology, the point is that you critically assess whether you have realistic prospects of success. If you don’t, have the courage to walk away.

Sin #2 – Neglect

(Work the system)

If you’re considering responding to a tender, take full advantage of all of the opportunities to interact with the tendering organisation.

If there is a pre-brief, make sure both your lead partner and business development manager attend as they will each be alert to different elements. Linger at the registration desk so you can identify as many of the other attending firms as possible – you need to know who your competition is. Pay attention to how your competitors interact with the client’s representatives. Take notes – especially during the Q&A as this is often where new information is revealed.

One law firm partner I work with refuses to ask questions during a tender. My attitude? Tendering is not the time to be coy – it’s your prerogative. Just bear in mind all of the respondents are likely to see the questions and answers so be careful not to give away your game plan. Beyond that, the worst that can happen is the client will elect not to answer.

Sin #3 – Prejudice

(Put your best foot forward)

If you have made the decision to tender, then presumably you want to win. So why would you compromise your success by not putting the best team forward? Yet, so many firms do just that. Instead of building their team based on who has the best technical and industry expertise, they allow politics, prejudice and greed to influence their decision.

I’ve worked with a firm whose main selection consideration was utilisation: “Put x on the team because he needs the work”. Another would commonly allow partner relationships (“There’s no way I’m letting that bastard near my client”) and financial structure (“I want to keep the billings in Sydney”) dictate their approach. These firms don’t need competitors – they’re their own worst enemy.

Sin #4 – Laziness

(Customise your CVs)

CVs are one the pain points for many firms. So often there’s tension between the lawyers and the business developers around who should be responsible for keeping them up-to-date. And everyone tries to avoid customising their CVs to the opportunity. I’ll say that again for emphasis: If you’re serious about your tenders you will tailor each team member’s CV to each opportunity. In some cases, that might be as simple as shuffling the order of experience. In others, it might involve removing whole sections and expanding upon others to highlight the niche expertise the individual has been nominated to provide.

Sin #5 – Arrogance

(Answer the question)

When you’re media trained one of the first things you learn is to answer the question you wish you were asked. Not sure what I mean? Listen carefully next time a Minister is being interviewed on TV. He (or she) will communicate two or three key messages over and over again irrespective of the questions put to them. In tendering, it’s the opposite. To satisfy the evaluation panel, and allow it to compare like with like, you need to answer each and every question. In detail, if it asks for detail. Specifically, if it asks you to be specific.I recall an exchange I had with a law firm partner when we were in the final stages of an important bid:

Me:                   “It causes me angst when we don’t answer the question!”

Partner:           “Jaci, it causes me angst when we do!”

Sin #6 – Suppression

(Tender as evidence)

To me, it’s ironic that at a time when consumer brands are swooning over the opportunities presented by ‘big data’, law firms are still failing to analyse the intelligence within their own systems. Yet, all law firms boast about their matter management, case management, file management, workflow, knowledge management and relationship management software and systems. This failure is compromising their business development efforts. How? Because data provides evidence, and evidence mitigates risk. For example:

  • When asked about value-added services, most firms copy what was in their last submission, presenting an unoriginal, largely value-less, list of offerings. What they should do is tailor their value-adds to each client and, when re-tendering for an existing client, extract from their CRM system a history for every contact from that organisation: what they have subscribed to, what content they have received, what they have been invited to, what they participated in. Proof points.

  • When asked questions about local sourcing, most firms will get flustered and fall on a generic statement of willingness. Instead, they could analyse their workforce, suppliers and client base by postcode, and then graphically present their contribution to the region in question. Proof points.

  • When asked to demonstrate their knowledge of an industry sector, most firms will claim the sector is one of a handful it focuses on. A smarter approach might be to segment their client base by industry, have a track record of disseminating sector-specific content, be able to draw a list of practitioners who are not just members of relevant industry associations, but who are actively involved in steering committees and taskforces.  Proof points.

Whether in business or government, those in procurement positions must demonstrate they are acting ethically and transparently, and making evidence-based decisions. Data provides evidence, and evidence mitigates risk. I have proof of that.

Sin #7 – Ignorance

(What’s your strategy?)

All too often when I work with a new client or business development team, I discover the strategy piece is missing from their tendering process. That’s like marching in to battle without a plan or any clear sense of your opponent. It’s mad. In business development, as in war, you need to understand who you’re up against and how you will fare against them.

At the very least, conduct a SWOT analysis. Developed by Stanford University in the 1960s, a SWOT will help you to identify what could help or harm your prospects. In my experience, firms often make the decision to bid based on their perception of their strengths alone, for example: “We have lots of experience in employment law, therefore we should submit a tender”. It’s an incomplete approach unless you also consider your firm’s weaknesses, and the external opportunities and threats.

At the end of this process, you may very well have reached the same conclusion (to bid) but you will also be alert to the risks you need to mitigate or manage, the weaknesses you need to convert to strengths, and the threats you need to neutralise.