Why you should not write a bid or proposal

Finding ‘biddable opportunities’ is the holy grail for some companies.

The business development team spend hours at their desks trying to identify contracts which are due for renewal.  They search databases, read journals, email their contacts and set up customer visits.   Then they go on the road, attend networking events, meet existing customers and make presentations to potential ones.  They talk about the company’s capabilities, they listen to other people’s needs and try to work out where the two overlap.

Finally, after many hours of work and numerous conversations, a biddable opportunity arises and the sales team rejoices.

They log it in their database and start the process of writing a compelling proposal.  They agonise over how to present their services, which staff to offer and how to price the deal.   They argue with the technical staff about how honest they should be.  Do they tell the client what won’t be included and risk sounding negative or do they leave them to find out after the contract has been awarded and risk the client’s satisfaction?

The team works long hours, feverishly trying to write the perfect proposal yet they have all overlooked one vital point.   Did they really need to write a proposal?

For many sales and business development people, being asked to provide a proposal or bid is seen as a success.  We often see it as failure.

We are bid and proposal professionals.  We thrive on helping companies write winning bids and tenders either through consultancy or training however we always start by asking “Do you really need to do this?”

We know that the best way to win business it to talk about it.  As soon as you write something down, no matter how well you write, some of the nuances of the offering will be lost.  You also lose the ability to get immediate feedback.  When talking to someone, you know if they are concerned and can clarify your point or offer an alternative.  It is not possible to gauge this when submitting a written document.

A written document can be circulated to people without the necessary supporting information.  It can be compared to other documents and analysed by people who will read between the lines in different ways.  It may be sent to your competitors or used to develop a specification for a future project.

If the opportunity to submit a bid or proposal arises, talk to the client and see if they would be interested in a presentation instead.  Or you could invite them to evaluate you at your premises.  Your aim is to deal with them face-to-face and overcome all the barriers mentioned earlier.   Be creative and think about what they are trying to achieve, then offer them a solution.  For example, if you could reduce the selling price of the product or service by the amount that it would cost you to produce a proposal, would that be attractive?

We know that this approach is not always possible and some clients will demand a written submission but it is usually work investigating. You may not eliminate the bid or proposal but you may be able to reduce the weighting on it.  Bear in mind that evaluating proposals and tenders is time consuming and costly for the client.  Given a feasible alternative, many will welcome the opportunity to remove the pain.