Ask the Expert

Biggest Challenge in Bidding?

Question by: Jo Brassington

What has been your biggest bidding challenge to date and why?


Hi Jo

Thank you for your question – it’s really made me think! I find every bid challenging in its own way, for many reasons, but I thrive on the various demands of each bid and individual situation.

My biggest challenge to date was putting together a large framework bid on my own. I knew my client’s competitors would be using teams of bid specialists, and there was little old me trying to do the same thing. It was daunting, challenging and downright scary. My client was super keen to get a place on the framework, targetting it as part of their business development plans – losing was not an option, I had to make it work within the budget they had available to put the bid together. Their budget didn’t involve a bid team!

The pressure was immense and I knew I would have to be extremely organised to ensure we got the right message across while providing a compliant bid. I wasn’t able to rely on a team of writers, a bid manager, a graphic designer, or a coordinator – it was just me. And some part time help from their brilliant staff, who also had demanding day jobs…..

This is not a dissimilar scenario to many SMEs in this industry wanting to bid on the same stage as the ‘big boys’. Some public sector clients are moving towards procurement from second and third tier suppliers, but do not seem to have tempered their bidding processes to reflect this. These large and complicated tenders are placing huge pressure on companies that are not used to the world of competitive bidding. They are often tripped up at the first hurdle.

So how should we tackle such a challenge?  And how did I tackle putting together one of the largest bids of my life on my own? As we know, each situation is different – from the size of company to the evidence available – however, there are certain activities that will give you the best chance at winning that work, mostly concerned with planning, preparation and organisation. This is by no means an exhaustive list – every situation is different:

  • Programme – Making a plan and sticking to it wherever possible will ensure that you don’t have that last minute rush which ends up creating awful mistakes – sometimes mistakes that could mean your tender is thrown out before it is marked
  • Compliance Matrix – To ensure your bid is compliant, a compliance matrix is essential. Work out exactly what needs to be returned, how it impacts on the scores and how it needs to be presented. You need to ensure that bid evaluators can work down their list of tick boxes.
  • Kick Off Meeting – Getting the rest of the company to ‘buy in’ is so important – you will rely on them for evidence and operational input. If they understand how important this is for the company and their future, they will be more focussed on providing the assistance you need. Get the MD to say a few words, stress that you understand they have a day job to do, but that you can’t win this work without their help, be empathetic at all times but absolutely clear that their input is key
  • Answer Structure – Developing a structure for each answer will make your life easier. Break down each question into response sections, copy the words within the question and make sure you really understand what they are asking for. If you are not sure, ask a tender clarification question via the agreed process (often via a portal in the highways industry)
  • Storyboarding – Once you have your structure, get the operational team in to ‘storyboard’ each response. This can be done as a big brainstorm session on big flip charts, or as a smaller group or one-to-one in a laptop – whatever works for that response. These sessions will be used to discuss your methodology and approach, as well as highlighting potential evidence to back it up, all within the structure you have previously identified
  • Evidence Gathering – Evidence is key to backing up your approach. Quite often, operational staff will not realise they know the answer to the question you are asking, when in fact they know a great deal more than they think. Mostly it is about asking the right questions, tailoring your approach to each individual and teasing out the information you need
  • Writing the responses – Once you have structured your answer, storyboarded the contents and gathered your evidence, it is time to write! Quite often I find that this becomes an organic process, creating more questions and gaps along the way and resulting in further sessions with the operational team. Go with it and stay organised!
  • File Sharing – File collaboration is evolving on a daily basis and there are many brilliant tools and apps out there for the discerning bid manager. For simplicity in this instance, I used Dropbox. I shared an organised set of folders for staff to drop records, images and other documents into. I also shared specific documents for review and comment. Web-based file sharing ensures that all documents are in one place, and even if the servers fails or tea gets spilled on a keyboard, the most up-to-date versions are always available. No panic.
  • Managing Change – Keep a log of Clarification Questions and Responses, crossing out those that have been actioned to keep from going over the same things – some public sector bids can involve hundreds of CQs. The same with tender amendments – only work from the latest documents – save previous versions in a ‘superseded’ folder so there is no confusion
  • Review – A set of well-organised reviews is essential to ensure you are telling the right story. Every company is different and larger companies can have quite complicated sign off needs. As a minimum, I would always suggest a 1st draft review, final review and sense check. Ensure your reviewers know what is expected of them – if you need content/solutions reviewed, explain that they don’t need to look at spelling  and grammar, it will just waste time. Leave enough time to make the changes required and come back for a further review to ensure the suggestions been understood and actioned properly.

The good news is that the bid I put together was successful and saw my client taken through to the next stage of the procurement process. At this present moment in time, we are still awaiting to hear the final outcome.

My final thoughts? Challenges, big and small, can be overcome with a little planning and organisation – nothing is impossible!