A good many column inches are taken up in the press and specialist trade magazines about potential contract opportunities for SMEs and larger companies within the rail industry. If the existing narrative is taken at face value, then there is literally a pot of gold just waiting for you to find and take advantage of, isn’t there?
Well yes… and no.
It is true that there a significant volume of tender and contract opportunities within rail. Network Rail alone states a £7 billion annual spend across categories. If you add Crossrail and London Underground to the mix, then there are substantial potential profits to be had.
The problem is that many of the opportunities are via a competitive tendering process and require companies to be adept at tendering. Not only must they be skilled tender writers, but they also need to have the time, resource and body of evidence to successfully write a winning tender. I place emphasis on the ‘winning’. Many companies produce and submit tenders on a regular basis but do not win, often leading to accusations that the system is flawed or corrupt. ‘They knew who they wanted before they issued the tender,’ is a common complaint. Yet, when I review previous submissions from the losing firms the painful truth is that the quality of submissions is simply not good enough. I have not had one single firm challenge my evaluation when I point out their shortcomings.
So, how can firms increase their success rate when bidding for rail projects?
Here are my top five tips:
- Don’t just be descriptive. For rail-related products and services there is often a very prescriptive specification. It is, after all, a heavily regulated industry. If you simply describe your service, how can it be differentiated from all the others being offered by your competitors? You must be persuasive; this is a sales document after all.
- Don’t provide generic solutions. Buyers are looking for a specific solution to their problem and often bidders do not think this through, believing that all specifications and requirements are the same from tender to tender. This is not so. Always read the specification and tailor your solution to their needs.
- Don’t make unsubstantiated claims. If your product or service is ‘the best on the market’ or ‘recognised as the industry standard’ then it has to be backed up—see point 4.
- Use evidence. Any statement you write or any claim you make must be backed up by concerted, auditable evidence. So, if you say that you currently have a 98.7% customer satisfaction rate this needs to be explained. How has this been measured and by whom? How was the information gathered? Who collected, collated and analysed the results? What improvements have you made as a result of the analysis and what is your future target for customer satisfaction?
- Don’t be passive or vague. Words and phrases like ‘attempt’, ‘aim for’, ‘strive’, ‘numerous’, ‘several’ and ‘if required’ have no place in tendering. Be positive, be direct and provide the numbers. If you write ‘We have undertaken numerous projects similar to this one,’ my comment would be: ‘Is it a secret? How many?’ or ‘don’t you know how many?’
There is obviously a great deal more to tendering than this, but if you follow these five guiding principles you will improve the quality of your PQQ and tender submissions by quite a margin.
Even specific rail-related questions such as collaborative working and the Lifesaving rules need to be discussed in detail, evidenced and provided with clear differentiators. Ask yourself this: ‘If we cannot differentiate ourselves from our competitors, clearly articulating the benefits of working with us, and support this with solid, evidence-based responses, why would they award us the contract?’ Answer these questions succinctly and persuasively, and you will drastically improve your chances of success.
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