TechConnect 2017: Tenders are a #growthhack

Our founder and CEO, Tony Corrigan, shared insights about public procurement and demystified tenders for SMEs at TechConnect 2017 in Dublin in May. Here, we share his presentation with you and hope to surprise you with a few facts about government contracts – and how your SME can compete successfully for them.

Growth hacking is a new term to describe what SMEs have been doing since time began and that is looking for ways to grow their business quickly.

However, most SMEs ignore the biggest growth hack that exists and that is tenders.

Let’s take a look at a few facts:

  • Tenders are worth €9 billion in Ireland
  • Globally, tenders count for $3.1 trillion
  • Across the world, one in five dollars that is spent is for a government contract
  • Governments want to procure goods and services from SMEs and laws are in place that govern public procurement contracts being awarded to small to medium sized enterprises (e.g. in North America, 23% of government tenders have to be awarded to SMEs)

It’s not an exaggeration then to say that tenders are the most lucrative sales pipeline in the world.

So why are SMEs not taking advantage of this huge opportunity? In Ireland, only 10% of SMEs compete for tenders and SMEs across the world act in much the same fashion as their Irish counterparts.

SMEs don’t compete for tenders because they believe them to be bureaucratic, rigged, and too difficult to understand.

We’re not going to argue that public procurement is a perfect process, but we will say that, for the most part, government tendering works.

How can we make such a bold statement?

Firstly, believing that tenders are rigged because the same incumbents win time and time again is faulty causality. The same incumbents win all the time because they’re the only ones competing for the tender. More than 25% of tenders attract only one proposal – 10% receive none at all!

Secondly, tenders follow a standard procedure. SMEs that engage with tenders will quickly adapt to the process and find that public procurement is simpler than thought. 

Thirdly, governments pay. Any entrepreneur will know that finding business is only one half of building and running a successful company. The other half is getting the customer to pay. Doing business with governments reduces many payment headaches as structures are in place to pay suppliers on time.

How then do SMEs use tenders as a sales pipeline for their business?

As mentioned, tenders follow a standard procedure and SMEs that compete successfully for public contracts set up a system too.

This process starts before tender opportunities are published and ends a step after the tender is awarded. In other words, it entails more than submitting a proposal. We hope to encourage all of you here today when we tell you that TenderScout’s clients who implement these actions increase their win rates by 70% and more.

As a first step, engage with a tender platform that you like. TenderScout invests heavily in the user experience of our site and shares a lot of additional information about tenders to equip SMEs with as much data as possible, but there are numerous tender platforms out there that list country-specific and global opportunities.

Investigate the tenders currently open, but also look at tenders that have already been awarded. The smart money makes a note of the organisations that have already procured goods and services similar to the ones their business provides and makes contact with them.

This way, SMEs have a two-pronged approach:

  • They are building relationships with organisations that have shown they work with SMEs for the next time these entities need to tender
  • They are competing for tenders that are currently seeking goods and services

Part of this process involves qualifying the tender opportunity to ensure that it is a worthwhile one for your SME to pursue. We share more information on TenderScout’s blog about setting up a tender qualifying process. Doing this reduces the cost of competing for tenders and immediately enhances your win rate.

Next, begin to compile a tender library. Growth hacking is also about implementing scalable processes in a business, and having a tender library on hand is something you’ll use time and time again.

A robust tender library is made up of your industry certifications, CVs, testimonials and case studies. And when we say CVs, we don’t mean cut and pasted from LinkedIn. Craft CVs of your team members that highlight how your SME’s expertise will achieve what the buyer is looking for.

Compiling a tender library will take a bit of time, but if done properly, it needs doing only once. This leaves you with time to create value propositions for each new tender you compete for.

Once the tender is awarded, ask for feedback if you haven’t won. So few SMEs do this, even though they are allowed to. The buyer will be able to share information with you of the what sets the winner apart. This information is gold dust, since you’ll be able to incorporate it into your next proposal. We don’t need to say that this isn’t information you can lay your hands on easily in the private sector.

Quite simply, and we use the word “simply” deliberately here, since tenders are less complex than people think, this is how your company can take a slice of a €9 billion opportunity pie in this country. And an even bigger slice from a worldwide tender pot that equates to 18% of global GDP.

Winning tenders means that SMEs can strengthen their sustainability, protect jobs and create new ones.

Just before we conclude, we’re going to bust three tender myths for you. My team and I are on a mission to help SMEs win more government contracts and demystifying tenders is how we do this.

I’m too small to win a tender.

We’ve had consultancies of one win tenders. Half of the tenders in Ireland are spent in tranches of €25,000 or less; these are ideal opportunities for small agencies or consultants to pursue.

The tender requirements are too high for me to meet.

We have one word – collaboration! Yes, some tenders stipulate how much turnover a company needs to compete for the opportunity. This is an easy one to get around by collaborating with other SMEs. TenderScout has recently helped a Canadian company and an Irish company compete for a tender together put out by a Welsh university.

There aren’t tenders for my company’s goods and services.

You couldn’t be more wrong. We have seen tenders for turquoise jewellery, silk ties, chandeliers, recruitment services, cleaning services, video production, digital marketing skills… the list is endless. Opportunities exist for every type of business.

Finally, few Irish SMEs would know this, but Irish companies have the highest win-rate of all countries’ SMEs for winning tenders in the EU. Our enterprises are looked on as professional, able to deliver and cost-effective.

TenderScout is on track to help SMEs win €200 million worth of government contracts in 2017.

Now that’s a #growthhack!


Case study: Claire Mason wins a digital marketing tender

At TenderScout, we’re on a mission to share the news about tenders being a growth hack for SMEs with every business-owner. Although people are willing to listen, many have reservations about the tender process, believing it to be time-consuming, tedious and full of bureaucratic obstacles.  

So we thought it would be a good idea to speak to people and companies who have won tenders with TenderScout’s help. We enjoy our customers’ success as much as they do, and we’re aware that tender winners will have practical advice to pass on to other business people.

Today, we’re speaking to Claire Mason who won a digital marketing tender that she saw on the TenderScout platform. Disclosure: Claire is now Head of Marketing at TenderScout, and we’ll let her tell you that part of her story along with the rest of her tender experience below.

Hi Claire, how did you initially come to know about Tenderscout?

I found out about TenderScout in early 2016 when I was the part-time Project Manager for a communications agency. Prior to this, I had no experience at all of tenders and thought they were reserved exclusively for large-scale construction projects.

Did you find the TenderScout platform easy or difficult to use at first?

As part of my PM role, I was evaluating a number of different tender platforms for the agency I was working with. I was confused by a lot of them as only snippets of information were shared and the websites were laid out in illogical ways.

When I took a look at TenderScout’s platform, I felt for the first time that I could make headway in understanding which tenders to advise the agency owner to pursue. Part of engaging successfully with tenders is feeling empowered to do so and TenderScout’s clear UX gave me that shot of confidence.

I’m a bit of a stalker on the internet. I searched high and low for everything relating to TenderScout… and found a lot of information! This additional information and the TenderScout platform helped me build a better understanding of the RFP process and what it takes to successfully compete for one.

When did you become a TenderScout customer?

I became a TenderScout customer in December 2016. I was a tiny consultancy of one and would never have thought that such a small business had anything to gain from competing for tenders, but all my research had shown me that there were opportunities for individual business-owners too.

And then you found a tender to apply for?

Yes, sooner than I thought! About a week before Xmas, I saw a RFP requiring six months of digital marketing support by the UN in New York. The deadline for submitting a proposal was five days later. I thought that the notice was just a box ticking exercise but decided to compile a proposal as practise.

The notice said that people would be contacted on the 3rd January 2017 if their proposals were of interest. The first week of January came and went and there was no word, so I assumed I was unsuccessful and forgot about it.

However, on the 31st January, I got an email asking me to be ready for a Skype interview with the UN at a certain time. After this call, a further three interviews took place over February, and then I was told I won the tender!

Due to the time lag, I had been working on another project that still had some way to go to completion. I therefore had a difficult decision to make and didn’t pursue the opportunity, but I was thrilled to win, and when I realised that small to medium sized enterprises can win tenders, I became zealous about sharing the tender message. I think it was because of this that I became Head of Marketing at TenderScout!

What do you think helped you win the tender?

Without a doubt, the tender library that I compiled.

Tony Corrigan advises putting together a tender library that you can tailor for each RFP opportunity. This is not simply a cut and pasted CV from LinkedIn. I created a new CV that showcased exactly what I could do for the UN, wrote up two case studies to further illustrate how my skills could deliver what the tender was looking for and included three testimonials.

What would you advise another person to do who wants to win a tender?

Apart from establishing a tender library, I’d advise:

  • Think carefully about what the RFP wants to achieve – the tender I responded to just asked for digital marketing support, but I asked myself why would an organisation want to engage these skills. Is it to increase brand awareness, raise market share, relaunch a product, reach a new audience etc.? I then compiled my tender proposal around these desired outcomes.
  • Immerse yourself in the resources TenderScout offers – responding to RFPs truly isn’t as difficult as we all think it is. Tony speaks at lots of events and shares insights into how SMEs can win tenders. The TenderScout blog also has numerous articles that share practical ways you can enhance your win rate.
  • Identify the best keywords for your business – RFPs will be sent to you based on how you describe your business. Don’t try to be all things to all people but do think about your business in a comprehensive way so that you don’t lose out on an opportunity that could be ideal for you.

Any other advice?

I’m not sure if this will apply to all industries, but for digital marketing it certainly does. Many digital marketing businesses are small consultancies or agencies. There is a lot of revenue to go after in the low value tenders. These are tenders worth €25,000 or less; approximately half of all government spending in Ireland is spent in tranches of €25,000 or less, and the RFP process is quicker.

Thank you Claire. That was a motivating story and we’re delighted you had such a positive experience with TenderScout. We have a lot of digital marketing tenders on our platform right now and encourage agencies and consultants to pursue these.


Your checklist for winning government tenders

As an SME owner, do you avoid applying for government tenders? Do you think that public procurement is the reserve of Fortune 500 companies, and, in any case, deciphering what a RFP means takes times that you just don’t have?

Well, you’re in for a surprise.

Firstly, SMEs are actively sought by government buyers to provide services and goods. In the US, it’s law that 23% of tenders are awarded to SMEs, and in Europe, 56% of public contracts go to SMEs.

So there goes that excuse!

Deciphering a RFP does take some time, but we can share an insight here too that will work in your favour. Although public procurement is not a perfect process by any definition, all public tenders follow the same pattern. The best way to win a tender is to apply for one since the moment you start engaging with the tender process, you’ll start learning what buyers are looking for (and what they’re not). Soon tenders won’t look so cryptic.

We work with SMEs all the time, helping them win more business. Our customers increase their tender win rate from approximately 26% to more than 70%!

Using the checklist below is one of the ways we help increase win rates for our TenderScout customers.

First things first… choose a tender you can win

What we’re talking about here is a lead qualification process. We upload up to 15,000 new tender opportunities a day to the Tenderscout platform and we always advise the SMEs we work with to qualify the leads they pursue for their business.

Our Sales Director, Ronan O’Brien, speaks about a bid/no bid process here. Evaluating the leads you think are right for your business, and actively sorting through the tenders you apply for from the tender opportunities you discard, is one of the most powerful ways you can improve your chance of winning a tender. This method also reduces the cost you incur for compiling and submitting a tender proposal.

Build your tender library

This is a step that you do once but reap the benefits of each time you compete for a tender.

Buyers want to be reassured that you’re the right team to fulfil their tender requirements. Yes, that means showcasing your core set of skills in relation to the services or products the tender is looking to secure, but it also means convincing the buyer that your enterprise has the ability to carry out the job.

Make sure your accreditation certificates are compiled in one place. These could include:

  • Health and Safety
  • Professional affiliations
  • Equal Opportunities
  • Energy management
  • Information management

These accreditation documents count for a great deal in public tenders. Buyers have to show that they have conducted due diligence on the business they choose for the tender contract, and having accreditation documents at their disposal makes their job easier. Making the buyer’s job easier is a smart strategy.

If you don’t have any accreditations, research the ones that hold the most weight in your industry and begin applying for the qualifications. Alternatively, put policies and procedures in placed internally that show you care about good corporate governance.

It’s also a good idea to have documents pertaining to your company’s financial status, such as tax certificates and the last three years of accounts, saved as part of your tender library.

Finally, make sure you have a strong set of CVs on file. This involves a little more work than you might initially think. We’re not talking about CVs downloaded from LinkedIn here nor CVs that are formatted in a job-seeking résumé template. You need to develop rapport with the buyer. Crafting CVs that tell a story about each member of the team who will carry out the work is one way to do it. Listing qualifications and experience won’t. Speak about projects each team member has been involved in that correlate with what the tender is looking for to illustrate how your business can do the job.

Getting it pitch perfect

Once your bid/no bid process provides you with opportunities to pursue and your accreditation and CV library is up-to-date, it’s time to pitch!

Writing the best proposal relies on:

  • Research – the RFP is your starting point for understanding what the buyer wants. Read up about the organisation online and find out exactly what they do, who they work with and how the tender is going to help them achieve their goals. Many tenders allow applicants to ask questions until a certain deadline. Use this period to ask questions you might be unclear about. This is also an excellent way to establish your name in the buyer’s mind.
  • Showcase your business – weave your accreditation qualifications and experience into a document that shows why your business is the best company to do the job. Remember to reassure the buyer at every stage.
  • Communicate clearly – the proposal document is the only chance you have to showcase your business to the buyer. Make sure you communicate in clear language and eliminate any bad spelling or incorrect grammar. Double check that the facts and figures you’re quoting are correct. Then submit your proposal on time.

Remember the contract

When you hear that you’ve won a tender, as our customers do often, you’ll be very excited and want to celebrate. But don’t forget the contract!

Having a contract in place protects both you and the buyer. From your side, you’ll want to know how much you’ll be paid and when. For the buyer, it will be important to know what the project schedule is for delivery.

Stick to the deadlines and build a strong working relationship with the buyer. Doing this will ensure that you’ll be top of mind for other potential tenders.

Don’t dream it’s over

If the tender is awarded to another company, don’t despair and feel this is the end of the road. If you don’t pursue the feedback that you’re legally entitled to once the contract has been awarded, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. The feedback you receive will most certainly help get closer to creating a winning tender proposal next time. Each tender you apply for is a learning opportunity and we regularly see businesses go from thinking they can’t compete for tenders to winning contracts within three or four proposals.

TenderScout is on a mission to help businesses win more contracts. Contact us to see find out how we can help your enterprise get a slice of the very large tender pie (worth $3 trillion globally at last count).


How to write a winning tender proposal

Are you applying for government tenders? You should be.

Globally, government tenders are worth a huge 18% of GDP, and in the Republic of Ireland, the largest buyer from Irish suppliers is the Irish government.

Yet you could be one of the many business owners who don’t attempt to compete for government tenders, which could be in relation to anything from looking for a stationery supplier to seeking ecommerce consultancy services, believing that you’d never stand a chance of winning one.

We’ve got news for you.

Firstly, government tenders are regularly awarded to SMB suppliers.
Secondly, to win one you need to have a strategic approach. Applying for a tender in an ad hoc fashion is a waste of time and effort.

Winning a government tender rests on a few elements; one of them is the proposal, and we discuss how to write a tender bid here. (We’ll be speaking about the other elements, such as qualifying your leads, in other posts.)

What does the client want to see?

Here’s a little insider knowledge for you. Putting out a tender is a job that no one enjoys. It’s a time-consuming process for government departments (and for businesses who may occasionally issue tenders).

This insight can work to your benefit if you show clearly in your tender proposal that you understand what the client needs. It sounds simple, but few companies competing for government tenders do this, relying instead on populating free tender templates and speaking about themselves rather than highlighting how you can help the buyer with their requirement.

You’ll seldom find all the information you need to build this understanding of the buyer’s needs through the tender notice. They’re notoriously cryptic (though TenderScout provides extensive additional information for each notice we serve on our platform, such as highlighting all the documents that need to be completed as part of the proposal and rating the opportunity in line with your own business).

To show that you understand what the buyer is looking for, you need to ask questions to gather the information you need, and the best time to do this is before the tender process begins. Hence our advice earlier that to win government contracts you need to adopt a strategic approach.

Ensuring an even playing field for all prospective suppliers once the tendering process is in play often means that government departments are restricted in what they can tell you. This is why it is so important to meet the relevant buyers and speak to them prior to the tender going live. TenderScout provides users with a list of current active tenders at any one time, as well as information on potential prospects, including details on past tenders and information on when they were won, and who won them, to help business owners build pipelines.

Knowing whether the buyer is issuing the tender because of operational or financial (or other) reasons will change the approach you take, so understanding the buyer’s motivation, and showing that understanding in your bid, is your first step in writing a winning tender proposal.

Mind your language

When you write your proposal, make sure that you use the language the buyer uses. This immediately establishes rapport and highlights you as a supplier that has an understanding of what the buyer is looking for.

Unnecessary jargon is annoying and government procurement officers are able to sift through clichés and exaggerations at speed.

Communicating in your proposal as you would with a live human is what you want to do. It’s important to include case studies that show how your product or services can help the buyer achieve their aims, but do this in a way that seeks to inform rather than impress. Don’t describe every process you have as results-driven, and not everything you do is a paradigm shift compared to the rest of the industry so don’t depict is as such.

Time is of the essence for everyone. Write clearly and concisely in your tender proposal, and ironically, you will impress the buyer.

It’s not over until it’s over

Many SMBs set themselves up for failure by competing for one tender, not winning it, and then doing nothing.

Don’t make this mistake. You’re legally entitled to feedback on your tender proposal and to find out why you scored lower than the winning proposal.

This information is gold dust!

Actively ask the buyer for it. Not only does this provide you with a further opportunity to speak to the buyer and build the relationship, which stands you in good stead when they tender again, you will also receive first hand information on how to improve your tender proposal.

Then, use this information. Again, you’ll be surprised at how many SMEs don’t and submit a second tender proposal for an opportunity that looks exactly the same as their first. Another waste of time and effort.

We help businesses win more government contracts. Our method is exactly as we outline here, and businesses that work with us and follow our advice increase their winning rate to 70% within three tender proposals.

If you’re interested in how your business could gain a slice of the government tender pie, please feel free to contact us. We’d be delighted to hear from you and help you win tenders.