Understanding the ITT
The most important first step is to study the ITT (invitation to tender). This should tell you whether you should be writing the bid in the first place. There is no point spending time and resources submitting a bid for work which is not profitable or does not add something to your business. Mostly we want to work to make a profit, but sometimes we want the business because it adds to our experience, or it opens the door to more lucrative work. The first stage of the process should always this bid/no bid debate to make sure that your time is well spent.
The amount of time you can spend on making sure you know what is required will vary, but even for lower-value bids it is worth making sure you are clear exactly what the client wants. For major bids, it is worth having the team read the Invitation to Tender (ITT) independently and confer on their understanding of the requirements.
There are some basic checks you can make to ensure you are a good fit and these are:
- Relevant experience – do you have the right experience, quality of work, performance criteria, case studies and references?
- Qualifications – do you have the relevant certifications, accreditations, industry standards, trade memberships, policies and procedures? If the answer is no at this time, be positive and use this experience to make a list of what you need in future and make it happen.
- Price – do you have to ability to deliver at the right price (many ITTs will give a guide price these days), what added value can you offer, and are you competitive?
- Are you a good fit? – is there a comfortable fit in terms of management style, communication methods, reporting requirements and so on.
You have probably head the phrase ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. Read the ITT closely, with a highlighter in hand, several times if possible, and make sure you have answers to the following questions.
What are they asking for?
Most ITTs will detail the service that is required in addition to any SLAs (service level agreements) that are required. Check that you have recorded every requirement within the ITT, and that you are able to deliver as required.
Why do they want it?
Understanding the client’s need will help you to focus on solving their problem. Research the organisation to find news items about any issues they’re facing, any mergers or acquisitions they’ve made, or read annual reports. All of these will give you a better understanding of the reasons behind their need for services.
When do they want it?
This relates to both the completed ITT and also the service they have asked for. You must be sure you can hit all key dates for deliverables, and more importantly demonstrate to your prospect that you have evidence of delivering your service on time and to budget.
What are they asking for?
This may seem obvious, but make sure you know the location for the deliverables. If the delivery of the service is outside your normal area or even country, can you delivery the service in a cost effective way and can you demonstrate this? If it is not clear in the ITT don’t be afraid to ask.
There are two very good reasons to do this planning:
- It ensures that you are confident that you can actually deliver the service the client has detailed in the ITT.
- You can make sure that you don’t include anything irrelevant just because it is part of your standard offering.
Also check you know what format the deliverables need to be in. Can you prepare your own document, or do you have to complete a form or an excel sheet? Or, even type your answers into some sort of online portal.
Do they know what they want?
If you understand your client’s needs, you may be able to suggest solutions that haven’t been considered. Your research might indicate a better way to resolve the issue, or that there is an opportunity to offer additional services. Sometimes this can mean you have to submit an alternative bid. If you can, make contact with people in the organisation to discuss their requirements to help you put this in context and identify any potential misunderstandings. You may find your solution can solve the problem – just not in the way expected. Do check first that this is permitted!
What is the delivery schedule?
This is critical to planning your work on the bid. Also check any fine print, as your bid may not even be read if you have missed the submission deadline, it is in the wrong place or in the wrong format.
You might know who else is bidding for a project, or be able to make an educated guess. We all have a pretty good idea of who are main competitors are. When considering how to approach parts of a tender where you cannot supply exactly what is required, it might be worth asking if the competition could do better or not.
Bids are won by the company making the best overall offer, and sometimes this could be a bid which cannot offer everything the client asks for, but which can offer more of it than any other bidder.
There are many other reasons not to bid, for example:
- You don’t have the resources to fulfil the contract without significant investment (taking on more staff, TUPE, buying more equipment, IT services, vehicles etc.)
- The contract is worth over 25% of your current turnover which would make this client too large for you.
- You can’t offer a competitive price against larger competitors.
- You’re already bidding for other contracts. If they all accept, you’ll won’t be able to fulfil them all.
- The contract is taking you away from the future direction for your business.
My clients win more Bids, Tenders and Proposals. Don’t forget – you only get one chance to make a first impression. Most business is lost through poor communication, not through the products or services you offer.
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