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.

 



Selling to Government Organizations – What do I need to know?

Government organizations invest millions of dollars in RFPs for goods and services each year; dollars they spend with small-medium-businesses (SMB) throughout the US. There is a huge potential for SMEs to participate and increase their revenue with public contracting. Yet most of them avoid it with lot of excuses including complaints about transparency of the system, time consuming process or budget. They struggle with finding and qualifying right opportunities. When they participate, their win rate is very low, typically around 10-25%. So what are they doing wrong?

Having participated in the qualification of thousands of RFPs, it’s clear that the norm is for SMEs to run headlong into seemingly attractive opportunities without considering whether it’s really for them – that’s not a recipe for sustained results. Winning contracts is a process that starts with baselining your capability and capacity to compete for opportunities. Once you recognise what your strengths are and you’ve a plan to rectify your weaknesses you’re ready to start finding, qualifying and competing for opportunities

Find the opportunity

There is a couple of public websites we mentioned in our previous blog posts (Finding government contracts that you can actually win) where you can find government contracts. These sources usually display opportunities from certain country or region.

However most bid managers will benefit from a single source of information. So instead of browsing different websites, use a single platform source like Tenderscout. You can search for more than 5,000 new opportunities every day from 100+ countries.

Qualify if it’s a right fit for you

Let’s say you found an opportunity in your country that matches your area of expertise. It seems like you can do this one, but should you go for it without further examination? The answer is no! Proper qualification is the most important part of the process. There can be a lot of hidden factors including past buyer records that may warn you from competing for this opportunity.

Make sure you have all the information before making a decision that could cost you a lot of time and resources. Use qualification analytical tools that will help you determine whether to bid or not and avoid contracts you have a very little chance of winning.

Compete

When you pick the ideal opportunity, here comes the real challenge – being the best one among all the bidders and winning the contract. That’s where you need to show differentiation. Show the buyer who you really are and why are you the best fit for them. Understand their needs, think outside of the box and offer the best innovative solution. It is also very useful to follow structured templates that will guide you through the process of writing the proposal.

 

To increase your chance of winning government contracts make sure you build the right process and long term plan. Find, qualify and compete for opportunities strategically. Every SME has a chance to participate and become successful public supplier. Use tools like TenderScout and start winning more business today.

Beating the Odds – How SMEs win RFPs

It’s common wisdom that for small and medium businesses (SMB) competing for government contracts is a waste of time. RFPs are loaded with legal jargon, the requirements are vague, the names of incumbents a closely guarded secret. And what? You want to know the budget? That’s just crazy talk.

Those are just some of the sentiments that I hear from bid managers and sales executive, when I ask them why they’re avoiding government contracts. To a large extent they’re right to. The average win rate for an SME is an appalling 26% according to PwC’s most recent report into European procurement Activity (Report).

To digress into figures for a moment, the same report indicates that the average contract value is €60,000. Most businesses spend around 5% of the contract value on presales activities. It’s plainly unsustainable to build a 20% margin into your proposals just to break even.

Next time you’re weighing up the odds of spending that money on writing a proposal or having a flutter in the casino, take note that in The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver noted that the odds of winning at Blackjack in Las Vegas were 48% – that sounds more attractive in the short term than slogging over a proposal you’ve little chance of winning!

But here’s the thing, there’s a small cohort of SMEs who are beating these odds and winning as much as 70% of the RPP proposals that they write. At TenderScout we studied over 100 of these businesses to try and understand what they were doing differently and how we could apply their strategies in our clients businesses.

All companies spend pretty much the same amount (between 3% and 6% of the contract value) on their presales activities; the difference is in where they spend it.

In most companies, around 10% of pre-sales cost is incurred on qualifying opportunities and almost 90% on proposal development – writing content, creating graphics and so forth In the cohort that are beating the odds, they spend three times as much, up to 30% qualifying opportunities (and conversely less time writing actual proposals).

The qualification process is fundamentally data-driven decision making around which RFPs, fit the sweet spot and are winnable. We identified 4 key categories of tools used to help make decision:

  • Customer Relationship Management Tool (CRM) to record details of your relationships with buyers and build up a record of your engagement with them.
  • Buyer Profiling to better understand who the buyer is, who the key decision makers are, what the buying history looks like, how they make buying decisions, how much they typically spend and what their needs are.
  • Competitive Landscape Analysis to acknowledge whom your competitors are, their strengths and differentiators, their relationship with the buyer, their track record, experience and expertise and whether they are likely to submit a better proposal than you can.
  • Bid/No-Bid process to standardize decision making in the context of your solution, the buyer need, the competitive landscape, the budget and timescales within which the solution is to be delivered and so forth to determine whether all else being equal your proposal will meet their needs and be a more compelling proposition than that of your competitors.

Businesses are using tools like salesforce, Datahug, VisibleThread and TenderScout amongst others to simplify the process, increasing the robustness of their decision making and ultimately giving themselves a platform for sustainable success.

Finding government contracts that you can actually win

Public sector contracts represent about 12% of the Irish economy. There’s huge potential for companies to grow their revenues through government contracting. Yet, the majority of businesses don’t compete for contracts because they don’t feel that their effort is worth the reward.

Many small and medium businesses have the potential to compete and win government contract, but there are challenges to overcome. The first is figuring out just why all of these opportunities are hiding.

The Irish government publishes around 7,000 tenders each year, the majority of which are between €25,000 and €135,000 in value. They can mostly be found on etenders.gov.ie. If you’re feeling more confident, higher value contracts are found on the pan-European website ted.europa.eu.

There are other sources of tenders, mostly paid-subscription services offering some value added features like email alerts and market research, but most of their opportunities come from these public sources.

The key challenge of course is not finding where the opportunities live, rather finding the opportunities that you actually have a chance of winning. There’s no point in writing proposals for opportunities that just don’t fit your sweet-spot. Even if you win the contract, you’re going to be up against it to try and fulfil the contract terms, much less make a profit.

It’s easy to miss the right opportunity if you’re spending all of your time sifting for hours through different websites looking for that perfect opportunity.

To increase your chance of starting out on the right path, choose a source of opportunities that combines multiple sources and automatics as much of the sifting through opportunities as possible. That means you’ll just be focussing on opportunities that are right for you.

To give yourself the best chance of success, focus on finding opportunities that you truly believe are ‘meant for you’. Use alerts services like www.tenderscout.com that give you a single source of information and fast-track you towards winning those contracts you deserve. There are a thousands of public opportunities out there. Make sure that you’re competing for the ones with your name on it.

How looking at different buying signals could boost your sales opportunities

I’ve arrived at Dreamforce 15 in San Francisco for a week of innovation, fun, giving back and learning about the latest trends in sales and marketing automation. As I walk around, I’m struck by the number of firms with really cool technologies that turn customer engagement into real sales. One thing that’s noticeably absent (although it’s a big conference, I may not have found it yet) are solutions that specifically address competitive selling – where the buyer isn’t looking to engage with you and, worse, is forcing you to sell through a process with a proposal at the end!

Marketing automation technology, such as Marketo or Hubspot, provides a valuable link between a company’s marketing collateral and its sales systems (e.g. Customer Relationship Management systems).  A core feature of these solutions is lead generation and qualification. They often rely on social buying signals – for example, qualifying a lead based on the fact that they have downloaded your white paper.

But such social buying signals cannot reliably predict outcomes in competitive sales, so businesses relying on such tactics are missing out on opportunities. Competitive sales is characterised by a Request for Tender (RFT) from a buyer. Most government contracting (worth 18% of global GDP) and an increasing percentage of B2B business is carried out this way.

Many SMBs never participate in a competitive sales process or, worse, invest in opportunities with a low probability of closing. Low SMB participation in competitive sales is due to two factors:

The first issue is SMBs believing they don’t have any chance of winning a competitive contract. The reality is that recent policy initiatives mean that more SMBs are being awarded contracts – by law, 23% of US government contracts go to SMBs (amounting to $83.1 Billion in 2014) and in Europe, 56% of contracts are awarded to SMBs (with a total worth of €123 Billion in 2011).

The second issue is SMBs failing to identify opportunities they have a good change of closing because they aren’t using competitive buying signals. Governments are precluded from awarding contracts on the basis of tenure, past relationships or because they like your marketing material – they make decisions to buy on the basis of formally submitted proposals.  In TenderScout research, we found that as buyers become more professional, just 1 in 4 contracts were retained by incumbents! Past performance is no longer a guarantee of future success.

Competitive buying signals are a different category of buying signal that offer the potential for more accurate lead qualification and predictions of success. For example, it’s much more valuable to know that the contract has been with the same supplier for 15 years, than the fact that somebody in the buyer’s organisation recently downloaded your white paper. Sales and marketing automation can make buyers aware of your business and solutions, which may increase your chances of being offered a chance to pitch. However, government and many B2B buyers, are unmoved by marketing collateral or invitations to webinars.

So, how can you add intelligence to your competitive selling? Many technologies, like GovWin IQ, collate government leads, while analysis tools can semi-automatically qualify them based on how well they fit both your ‘sweet spots’ and how likely you are to beat the competition. Signals such as how often a new supplier wins a contract with a particular buyer, what price was paid the last time this contract was put up, or who is already supplying this buyer are all available either through research or through market intelligence technology. The intelligence collated from competitive buying signals can be stored and used to create a track record of buyer and competitor behaviour – which can in turn help to predict future outcomes.

My view is that sales teams should be spending every minute of every day closing deals.  Generating and qualifying leads is time-consuming, subjective and challenging for many SMBs. But strategic use of technology based on competitive buying signals can deliver actionable, qualified sales opportunities and insights. Instead of guessing who MIGHT buy from you, you’ll know who WILL buy and what it will take to close the sale.

SMBs that can build competitive sales intelligence into their process are giving themselves a better way to score leads and a more comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape – they’re going to win more business. As I look around Dreamforce, I see great solutions from SalesPredict, Velocify, Radius, insidesales.com and Lattice which can help, although I haven’t found that silver bullet just yet. There are hundreds of potential solutions at Dreamforce though, not least SalesforceIQ, just released yesterday, so the search goes on.

If anybody reading this knows of any great solutions for competitive sales, I’d love to hear from you!

Gifts, inducements and rewards: what is going on in hospital procurement?

Last night’s Prime Time (RTÉ One) investigation into corruption in hospital procurement is another blow to public perception of the procurement process and has the potential to undo much of the good work that has recently been done by the government to restore confidence in the system.

The programme looked at the cosy relationship between the Sales Director and owner of family-run, Dublin-based Eurosurgical Ltd and senior hospital staff, one where trips to Florida and Portugal, televisions and shopping vouchers are alleged to have been used as inducements to circumvent existing contracts and procurement legislation.

Interviewed for the programme, Justin Carthy, CEO of the Irish Medical and Surgical Trade Association (IMSTA), said:

He also described some of the revelations from the programme as “bizarre and unbelievable.”

And it seems that the favours go both ways. The programme showed emails in which a Contracts Manager at St Vincent’s shared commercially sensitive information with Eurosurgical – in this case a breakdown of sales to the hospital by a competitor, John Bannon Ltd – disclosure which John Bannon describes as, “a very serious threat to our business.”

John Devitt, of Transparency International, Ireland, said:

In TenderScout’s 2015 Irish Procurement Survey, we found that 26% of SMEs intended to compete more than in previous years. This positive sign was as direct result of SME-friendly directives from the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform, combined with initiatives such as the Tender Advisory Service from the Office of Government Procurement, aimed at enabling SMEs to compete on equal terms.

The question that SMEs will be asking themselves today is how widespread practices of favouring particular suppliers, ignoring value for money propositions or willful non-compliance with EU and National procurement directives actually are. We were shown an example in last night’s programme of a buyer placing an order worth €7,000 with Eurosurgical, even though their price was ten times higher than that of the existing supplier.

Although the two hospitals mentioned in the programme are not run by the HSE, it is no stranger to allegations of irregularities itself. Last September, the Comptroller and Auditor General published a fairly damning report on procurement in the HSE. Compounding a lack of transparency and general under-reporting was the striking revelation that – in a sample of procurement competitions – 36% of the transactions audited were found to be non-compliant with procurement rules.

In the past five years, TenderScout has worked with SMEs on around 500 procurement competitions. While the tendency is to blame ‘the system’, in reality, most SMEs are unaware of how high the standard of competition is and are reluctant to make the level of investment necessary in their own sales process to be successful.

The variance in quality between Requests for Tenders (RFTs) remains high, although the OGP have established a degree of standardisation in recent years.  It seems that while the policy makers have done their part, there is very little policing of the process ‘in the wild’.

When TenderScout first launched its sales intelligence platform in 2013, it analysed all Irish public sector data as far back as 2003 and noted that for 80% of RFTs, buyers never informed the general public of the outcome. Although the OGP issued a directive in April 2014, mandating that all RFTs should have a corresponding award notice, this has largely been ignored by public sector buyers.

One of the most common uses of our TenderScout platform is to assess the transparency of a buyer. SMEs decide whether it’s worth their while competing for an opportunity by evaluating the buyers’ general compliance with procurement processes – using measures such as the percentage of contract award notices that they’ve published as an indicator as to how transparent they are.

Prime Time’s investigation is welcome in that it exposes unsavoury practices going back many years. While this doesn’t reflect the diligence of most public sector workers, it does undermine the progress that has recently been made. It is shocking that no official investigation has so far been carried out into the information provided by the Eurosurgical whistleblower.

Many small firms that previously indicated they were going to tender more frequently are now going to stay away – the result is lost innovation, competition and value for money to the public sector.

More policing of the procurement process is crucial. We should start with random audits and a Whistleblower’s Charter. The cost of mounting a legal challenge is a huge barrier, as is the total lack of transparency about the review process. We will never encourage more SMEs to tender while the entire process remains shrouded in secrecy. There should be a penalty for buyers that don’t comply with policy, starting with those that don’t publish award notices within three months of a contract award.

If you’re an SME in Ireland, please give us a second of your time to answer the following question:

Create your own user feedback survey

The TenderScout Report 2013 is released today

The value of the Irish public sector procurement market in 2013 was €12 Billion. It is the single biggest market opportunity for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

By exposing some of the trends within public sector procurement, we hope to demystify the process for the many SMEs who at present do not see this as a viable option for their business and increase participation amongst SMEs and positively impact the health and vibrancy of the SME sector.

Download the free TenderScout Report here