How to overcome the tyranny of tenders
The tender is a devilish device designed to cynically negate all the carefully crafted embellishments of the salesperson and all the wonderfully concocted unique propositions of the marketing department. However they are about as much use in choosing a supplier who will give you long term value, as a beauty pageant is as a means of choosing a life partner.
In the eyes of a procurement professional, a tender makes all other things equal so that the suppliers can be focused on sharpening their pricing pencil until it is little more than a well-chewed stub… so short it can barely be clenched twixt finger and thumb.
So how do you win business is in the face of such a soulless adversary?….
The first thing to say about tenders is, that if the first time you hear about one is when the request arrives on your desk, then you should assume that you have already lost (Sorry if this sounds rather like the old joke about the lost tourists who stop to ask a farmer for directions and get the reply ‘If I were you I wouldn’t start from here’)
You need to consider how a tender comes about to understand how to tackle it. In instances where there is already an incumbent supplier, the technical part of the tender document will be written based on the product or service they are already getting. Unless they have a burning desire for change, what in effect they are asking for is ‘more of the same please… but cheaper’.
Because the document assumes there is only one way to provide the product or service, you have no way of registering that yours has an advantage and that they will need to accept some risk or cost of change….Also I have never seen a box in tender documents asking you to put in why they should pay more.
So, turning hindsight into foresight this is how you go about it:
- Identify all the potential customers that you think could especially benefit from your product or service….regardless of where they are in the tender cycle.
- Research them like hell and set about building contacts at as many levels as possible. If there is not a tender in the offing they should be more inclined to talk to you.
- If you are successful in making contact, use your very best discovery skills to understand the world from their point of view…How they make their money, what’s important to them, what makes the individual decision-makers tick, what gets them worked up.
- Gently and subtly, without being rude, point out what they are missing by using the incumbent supplier and make sure that you are on the next tender list. If they can see that you have invested time in them it would be mean to exclude you.
- Turn up the volume a tad just before they start to draft the technical section of the next tender. The aim is to have it written it in such a way that only you can fulfill its requirements.
- Make sure that they see value in doing things differently and expect to pay more for this approach.
A tender is not the time to do your selling, it is a time to remind them of the (very subtle) selling you did months if not, years ago.
If you are going to have to undergo the somewhat degrading spectacle of appearing in a beauty pageant, it probably helps if the judges already know you and you have been out on a few dates together.
I know this doesn’t help you win the tender sat on your desk today, but it should help you win some a couple of years hence.
The Moral of the Story is simple…. be proactive not reactive. Put the first step in place today. If you want a rich seam of business to mine in the future, make it someone’s job to find and engage targets now.
Believe me, you will thank yourself (and possibly me) in 2-3 years time!
…of course we can help, if you need to build this capability.