If your business earns its living from winning tenders, David Molian, co-founder of Bidwriting Academy, has tips on how you can improve your success rate, drawn from his latest book.

This month I and my Bidwriting Academy co-founders publish How to Write Bids that Win Business*. Our book is the fruit of many years’ experience advising British companies that sell their goods and services by winning tenders. From our research we estimate that success rates across industry sectors average between 12.5 and 15 per cent. That’s to say the typical bidder wins one in seven or eight of the bids they submit. With a little focus and better understanding, however, that success rate can be doubled or even trebled.

Improvement starts with strategy. In the annual planning round, businesses that have reached a certain level of size and maturity work on their strategy. At the top level there’ll be a strategy for the company and supporting this typically strategies for marketing, sales, finance, logistics and so forth. These will detail the objectives of the various functions and spell out the activities and initiatives that support these. In a successful business that knows where it’s going, all the parts will fit together. Someone reading the plan will quickly grasp what this business is all about and where it’s heading.

But rarely will there be a bid-writing strategy. Maybe that’s not so important in companies that derive little of their business from winning tenders. What has surprised us, and continues to surprise us, is how few companies that earn a significant amount of their revenues through bidding have anything remotely resembling a strategy for this. Instead many adopt the “bucket of mud” approach, explained below:

The Bucket of Mud Approach

It works like this:

1. Take a bucket

2. Fill it with mud

3. Fling it against a wall

4. See how much sticks

5. If not enough sticks, find a bigger bucket and repeat the process

Translated into bid-writing, this equates to:

1. Start the year with a blank page

2. Bid at random for projects that come up broadly in your sector

3. Increasingly panic as you fail to secure enough business

4. Bid for anything and everything

5. Repeat until company bidwriters die or quit

The bucket of mud strategy will definitely not load the dice in your favour. A proper strategy for bidwriting, on the other hand, will get you off to the right start. The starting-point is to ask yourself what you are really good at. This general question can be usefully broken down into a number of supplementary questions:

- in your industry, what are you renowned for?

- if a customer recommends you to others, on what basis do they make a referral: is it, for example, your quality of customer service? Product excellence? Delivering on time and to budget? An innovative approach to solving tricky problems? A unique set of skills and competences? Excellence in a particular specialism? Solutions that are clearly tailored to the needs of the individual client? [You can no doubt add to the list.]

- where and how can you demonstrate this strength or strengths?

These questions are straightforward yet go to the heart of what the business is about. The clearer the organisation is in its responses, the easier it is to set both a top-level strategy and a complementary strategy for writing bids. A bid-writing strategy that plays to an organisation’s strengths is more likely to deliver greater profitability, reduced costs and less employee stress.

Greater profitability because the organisation is focused on what it does best

Reduced costs because the organisation is not wasting time and resources bidding for projects it has little or no prospect of winning

Less employee stress because there is a defined plan to work to and realistic targets in the short and medium term

Conversely, where an organisation has no proper bidwriting strategy, we frequently see a failure to control costs, a silo mentality, and the diffusion and dilution of resources

A failure to control costs because in the absence of a strategy the business is driven by events. Reacting at short notice invariably costs you money

A silo mentality because bidwriters are left isolated without organisational support and are told just “to get on with it”

Diffusion and dilution of resources as the organisation lurches from one short-term panic to another

In the next article, we’ll focus on how you build improvement goals into your strategy, to deliver both hard and soft benefits.

* How to Write Bids that Win Business now available on Amazon.

David Molian is a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management and co-founder of Bidwriting Academy