The incumbent: bidding to retain a contract

Re-bidding when you’re an incumbent provider brings with it all the usual demands associated with tendering for contracts, but it also presents additional challenges. In this blog, one of our quality managers, Rachel, discusses three key points to bear in mind if you want to retain a contract in years to come.

It’s practically impossible to start preparing too early for the re-bid

If you’re hoping the new contract you’ve just won with a client is going to be the start of a beautiful, long-term relationship, you need to consider re-tendering for it from day one. That might seem premature: however, three years down the line, will your client be wooing a competitor because your tender was full of empty promises? Failing to implement the solution you proposed in your tender is a serious risk to the subsequent retention of the contract and for that reason, it’s important that what you promise the client in your bid is what you deliver. If it’s not, then there had better be a good reason.

That said, it is sometimes difficult to achieve this as the demands of day-to-day delivery, particularly early on in a contract, can mean some things get ‘de-prioritised’. This is often the case when it comes to the non-core added value initiatives that were included in your original tender. In view of this, once your contract is up and running it’s worth revisiting what you promised to do so you can kick-start any initiatives that have failed to gather momentum. You can do this later, but ideally, this should be at least 18 months in advance of the re-bid, as intervention any later than this might be viewed rather cynically by the contracting authority.

Other activities that can be useful in the long-term lead-up to re-tendering include:

  • Identifying the client’s ‘bid influencers’ – both the people who’ll have a key role in deciding the format of the new contract that’s put out to tender and those who’ll be involved in evaluating the bids submitted. Once they’re identified, generate a communications strategy so you can understand the influencers’ areas of interest and key concerns with the aim of guiding their thinking and perceptions of your business in the direction you want them to go.
  • Don’t hide your light under a bushel – create a proactive ‘positive news’ marketing plan to make sure your client, and particularly the bid influencers, hear about all the good work you’re doing, including innovation introduced, awards won, accreditations achieved, and improvement initiatives implemented.
  • Analyse your performance to date and address any vulnerabilities. What do you need to improve? Is there something you don’t currently measure that would be useful evidence to use in your bid?
  • Take a look at your likely competitors – forewarned is forearmed. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Keep an eye out for anything new they are doing and try to find out how they are viewed by the client. Then work out how to counteract any advantages they have.

Do you know too much about the client and the contract?

This may seem an odd thing to say, but sometimes having an in-depth knowledge of your client and the contract, warts and all, can be an issue.

Imagine the following scenario: a manager new to the business suggests proposing a novel delivery approach for a particular workstream. On hearing this, established members of the contract team shout them down saying, “we’ve suggested that before and they weren’t interested – it’s a waste of time putting it in the bid.” Consequently, the proposal is shelved. The incumbent loses the bid and is subsequently dismayed to hear that the idea they rejected is cited as one of the key differentiators that led to the new company winning the contract.

Why did this happen?

The factors at play here are most probably timing and access to decision makers. During a tendering exercise, clients are likely to be more receptive to new ideas than at other times. This is because organisations frequently use this stage in the procurement cycle to take a more strategic look at their future requirements and the range of solutions on offer in the market. Coupled with this, when submitting a tender, you’re more or less guaranteed to get your proposals in front of senior people who have the power to give the go-ahead to new ideas, something that can be very difficult to achieve at other times. The net result of this is that ideas you had no chance of getting off the ground with the client a couple of years ago suddenly become real possibilities.

Bring some outsiders into your bid team

Related to the previous point, it’s also important your bid team doesn’t just consist of people on the current contract team. If it does, there’s a danger that your proposals will end up sounding stale and blinkered in comparison to those of your fresh-faced competitors who haven’t yet had any first-hand experience to dampen their optimism and belief that anything is possible. Having “a fresh pair of eyes” involved can deliver real benefits when it comes to reviewing the client’s invitation to tender, undertaking answer brainstorming / storyboarding sessions and drafting tender responses. Furthermore, on a strictly practical level, it’s also worth having outsiders in the team to spread the workload around, enabling those delivering the contract to have some time to attend to their day jobs.

Who should these outsiders be? Well, obviously that depends. But personnel from other contracts or different workstreams, from head office departments and recent recruits to your business can all help challenge entrenched ideas, drive innovation and inject the sparkle needed to make your bid a winning bid.

A professional bid consultant can provide an invaluable external point of view, to review your tender submission and give advice, comments, critique and suggestions to improve ahead of submission.

Re-tendering can be particularly stressful; jobs, reputations and company turnover are at stake. This blog has, we hope, provided some useful insight into what you can do to maximise your chances of success.

Contact us to discuss how we can support you at any stage of the bidding process.

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