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Tendering gets emotional

12 September 2011

For many professional service firms tendering has become a critical source of new business. The attraction is obvious – a ready made client with money to spend on a service that you provide. Sounds perfect. The downside is the time it takes to put the tender together to get on the short list and then the low conversion rates – 20% on average in a five way pitch.

The time investment is substantial so it is important to understand how the tendering process works and how to stack the odds in your favour. Most people think tendering is a cold, dispassionate, hard nosed process – but is it?

Getting on the short list certainly is – its about the quality of your document, past experience, the size of your firm, good references, and of course, price. This allows the client  to put a shortlist of potential firms together from which they can chose one winner. Lots of time and effort goes into putting all this together in a typo free, beautifully bound masterpiece. But this is just the beginning of the process….

Stage two tends to involve a face to face meeting with a brief presentation, followed by a Q&A session. The decision to appoint the firm will be based on this meeting. Given that the client thinks that all of the firms on the short list can do the actual work - what are the decision making criteria? The answer is certainly not a rehash of stage one. The client already knows that you can do the work technically. Now he is deciding who he wants to work with. So the answer is lots of soft stuff like – who do I trust, who could I work with, who makes me feel comfortable, who really listened to me, who got me to reveal the real issue that I am facing, who got me excited about a future vision, and softest of all – who did I really like !

Professional services firms are great at putting the bound documents togther but preparing for the face to face sessions needs to be given as much if not more work. If it takes ten man hours to put a tender document together how about putting ten hours or more into:

  • rehearsal of presentations using video feedback to sharpen the message.
  • listening skills training to avoid over- talking which is so easy to do when the adrenalin is pumping and can kill a pitch.
  • consultative sales skills that need to be learned and practiced – they focus on building rapport, uncovering the clients pain, revealing a brighter future, highlighting the value and demonstrating the first steps along the new path to resolving the problem.

The key  is winning tenders is to understand how clients buy. Getting on the shortlsit is about marketing your firm well and the initial tender document is important in that regard. However winning the tender is about empathy - the ability to enter my world and see it through my eyes. Tendering just got emotional !