When I wrote my first book The Shredder Test in 2007, I wanted to help people who found themselves in the position of having to write proposals to win work.
In the decade since, many things have changed. The proposals we’re writing are far less likely to be small, one-page quote letters, and much more likely to be huge, time-consuming tender responses.
Today, if you want to win work of any size and scale with business or with government, you’ll be doing it through some kind of competitive submission. Australia’s Federal government alone spends more than $60 billion a year buying goods and services through competitive tenders.
A lot of things have been said about competitive tendering – most of them not very complimentary, and some of them just plain wrong.
Maybe you’ve heard a few of these hoary old chestnuts?
1. “Only relationships will win you business.” Relationships will always be important in sales, but the way relationships are transacted has completely changed. These days, the relationship is built on the other side of winning the business through a competitive tender – not beforehand.
2. “Tenders are a waste of time.” Heard mostly from old sales hacks who are terrified by the thought of competitive tenders and have never, ever won one. If you want business on any size and scale, you’ll need to bid via a competitive tender. Don’t let anyone hoodwink you into believing otherwise.
3. “If you didn’t write the tender you’ll never win it.” Pure fantasy. Buyers haven’t let prospective suppliers dictate their tender specifications for a long time – one reason why the scope of work is often so incomplete and difficult to understand.
4. “Just pump out as many tenders as you can – eventually you’ll win one.” Another attempt to dismiss the importance of submissions, and their role in winning you work. Putting junior people on the job and cranking out a pile of tenders is a good way to drain your bank account. Not, however, a great way to win business.
5. “Only the cheapest supplier will ever win a tender.” True, if you’re in a market that is highly commoditised and where the product is easy to understand. Absolutely false, if you’re in a complex services market, delivering anything that comes with a high degree of visibility and risk for the buyer.
The way we win business might have changed forever, but our thinking often hasn’t.
Too many of us are undermining our new business effort by following out-dated sales advice that belongs in the last century – when market conditions were completely different.
Winning business through competitive tenders requires a very different skill-set to selling face-to-face, and nowhere is this skillset more important than in professional services firms, who rely on fee earners to generate income.
A 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study of 116,600 employees across 20 professional services firms found that the level of employee engagement is a direct reflection of the bond, or attachment, between employee and employer.
This in turn determines an employee’s willingness to give discretionary effort, which is the kind of effort your proposals almost certainly rely on.
However, when your people view proposals as one of their most brain-draining, mind-numbing chores, you simply aren’t getting the level of effort and engagement you need to win the business you really want.
My new white paper Why Proposal Engagement Is The New Frontier For Professional Services Firms addresses this issue and offers a solution.