Be In No Doubt: Public Sector Tenders Are Difficult To Win

by Rob Harris 08/02/2017

Stepping Out Associate Rob Harris is one of our Bid Experts. He talks here about how charities and social enterprises can beat the 'Big Boys' of the private sector to win public service contracts.  Rob also runs Love My Tender Ltd.


Be in no doubt: public sector tenders are difficult to win. 

Large privately owned providers invest heavily in pre-bid business development (talking to commissioners)  and in-house bid management teams to narrow the angles and give them the edge over less well resourced competition. Neither are they averse to using their financial power to make tempting offers to cash strapped public sector bodies.   

So should we all pack up and go home? Of course not. Charities and social enterprises can and do win regularly against the corporate giants.  

They do this by articulating a value proposition that is clear and compelling. Furthermore they are able to compete by implementing a bidding strategy and creating a culture that continually improves bidding practice. 

Here I focus on this side of bidding. Below are a few of my top tips to get you to a winning position.

1. Evaluate your strongest services before you start writing bids. Organisations that continually improve their services and outcomes generally win more bids. Success begets success.

2. Invest in a full-time Bid Manager and put them in your Business Development Team.  A Bid Manager is like a record producer, mixing the sounds until the record is pitch-perfect. If you can't afford one internally, buy one in for the tender (talk to us!).

3. Raise awareness with staff about what it takes to win a tender – all staff must be committed to delivering high quality data as well as great services.  Winning tenders is a team effort.  Only full-on effort across your major functions - ops, finance, biz development -  stands a chance of success. 

4. Get the CEO or MD to promote the importance of staff engagement in the bid writing process. The CEO is Head Salesperson and Top Cheerleader for the bid.  If he or she isn't excited, how can others be?

5. Select  your bid targets carefully - don't go wide, go narrow.  Then implement a process that the management team follow each and every time the organisation is considering a tender. A quick rule of thumb is you should reject more than you go for. Better to win the few you go for.  

6. Identify a permanent Tender Administration resource and use it for.....yes you guessed it, administering tender processes! Someone in the organisation needs day to day version control on the bid and to hold people to deadlines. And to press send in good time!

7. Implement and administer bid systems that track your performance, keep you on schedule and make it easy to locate relevant high quality responses.  You should have a 'bank' of strong stock answers to basic questions about your organisation.

8. Put tenders and bid development on every Exec Team Agenda. Your pipeline is your future and needs regular discussion at the top table.

9. Brand it! The big boys use marketing and branding to make their services look great. This is now cheap and easy to do. Do it. 

10. Check out the competition – it’s amazing what you can find out when you start digging about prices, what is winning and how others are constructing their proposition. Borrow without shame! 

11. Get your numbers right! Lots of providers can deliver great expensive services – if you’re not competitive enough you won’t win. Benchmark. Nor will you win if your figures are not quite adding up. Check, double check, triple check. 

12. Promote your social enterprise principles including where your profits go, what your social impact looks like and how embedded you are locally. This is your value-add. Done well it can impress more than the financial sweeteners offered by the larger bidders. Play strong where they are weak. Talk constantly about added value. You may or may not end up cheapest but you must sound like the best.


Happy Hunting!!

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