The Australian Government spends some $50 million a year on its Enterprise Connect program to arm small and medium-sized businesses with the skills they need to compete in a global economy.
But ask any small business in Australia and they’ll tell you that winning government deals at home remains one of their toughest challenges.
Today iTnews dropped in on a two-day intensive workshop for small businesses attempting to win business from the Australia’s largest buyer of IT, Defence.
Workshop leader Mike McNamara of Shipley Asia Pacific sat down with us to discuss the top ten biggest mistakes and missed opportunities SMEs tend to make when pitching for government business.
Our hope is that this will serve as a guide for those keen to win business in the future.
1. Prepare your bid before a tender becomes public
SME suppliers often commit resources to a bid without gathering enough intelligence about a prospective procurement.
This is what McNamara describes as the “capture” phase. This is so important that McNamara dedicates a full day of his two-day workshops to addressing the issue.
“If the first time you see a tender is when it’s on AusTender – don’t bother bidding,” he told iTnews.
“You won’t have time. You won’t have done the prior work. So we build a “capture” plan that looks at the various issues you need to consider before the tender hits the streets.”
This includes interacting with the customer to find out what their requirements are and gain a better appreciation of how to prepare. McNamara said this helps an SME supplier better understand (and be seen to be interested in solving) the customer’s pain points.
For example, a big issue in the Defence sector is the strategic reform program (SRP). That acronym might not always appear in tender documents, McNamara said, but it would be a very courageous tender respondent that didn’t take its direction into account in their submissions.
2. Bid to win, or don’t bid at all
McNamara said SME suppliers can waste time and money chasing deals that aren’t worth their effort.
“We spend a lot of time in our workshops on deciding a 'bid or no bid' situation,” he said.
McNamara used a flow chart to help SMEs decide whether they were ready to sign-off and spend money on the tendering submission.
“We did a workshop in Newcastle last year,” McNamara recalls. "One of the attendees said we did such a terrific job that they had just withdrawn a tender they had submitted.
“It would do us no good,” the supplier had told McNamara. “We want to bid for this work again. But we don’t want to have a bad name with the state of our current tender.”
3. Address the client’s problem, not your solution
It is essential to project a customer-centric position throughout a tender.
Showing how a solution complies with the tender or solves the customer’s pain points will always trump a list of the features your solutions offer out of the box.
4. Sharpen your Executive Summary
Executive summaries are the most important part of a proposal, McNamara said.
“They set the tone for individual evaluators and are often the only pages read by decision-makers”.
Too many SME tenders fail because they forget or neglect to include a cohesive executive summary. An executive summary can range from one up to a few pages.
5. Target your CVs
Often a tender calls for submissions of résumés of nominated experts to assist with a solution.
McNamara said that too many SME undermine their bids with inappropriate, dated or poorly edited descriptions.
Avoid this by ensuring the skills and experiences are framed to reflect the issue the tender wants resolved.
Read on for our top five tips...
6. Leave space for ticks
Like a news story, responses to tenders should avoid long slabs of text.
McNamara said evaluators might prefer summaries with bullet-points that evaluators can tick.
“You can’t tick paragraphs,” he said.
He counsels that SME suppliers should consider that they are helping evaluators if they provide a clear, concise set of promises.
Also consider using flow charts and pictures to break up the text.
“A photo of your workshop floor can convey a lot more than just slabs of prose about the products or support services you might offer,” he said.
If in doubt, go for more white space, he advises.
7. Have realistic expectations about government panels
SME suppliers that are included on panels sometimes burn out by investing too much in a capability on the assumption they will win a lot of business from their newfound status.
Being on a panel is merely “a ticket to the dance”, McNamara said.
In practice, it is rare that anybody beyond the top two or three companies on a panel get the majority of the business.
The rest, he said, will continue to miss out unless they find ways to continually engage with the Government client.
8. Choose partners carefully
A major issue for an SME as a subcontractor is partnering with a larger vendor without due care.
Some SME suppliers have negotiated deals with larger prime contractors without reading the fine print and have effectively lost ownership of intellectual property.
“You could sell the farm very quickly, if you are not careful,” McNamara said.
He said it was important to understand that a prime contractor likes to have two or three companies that perform the same basic function for them – at times in competition. SMEs need to take care to check whether the prime has done an exclusive deal with them or the same deal with three or four others.
SMEs also need to work to develop the trust of the prime contractor such that the large organisation believes that the smaller can deliver.
“You need to demonstrate that,” McNamara said. “Get referee reports from people you have done some work with. That weighs very heavily in our experience.”
9. Get it right the first time, on paper
Orals (or in-person presentations of responses) are not often used, in McNamara’s experience.
He said bidders should avoid using oral presentations to vary or amend a response.
“That would seem disingenuous and a client would conclude you don’t know what you are doing,” he said. "You are moving the goal posts. You would not want to do that.”
The tender response has to be as close to perfect as it can be. Any mistakes you let by will come and bite you, he said.
10. Learn from your success
While it seems standard to request a debrief from an agency to learn from your failure to win, McNamara is astonished by the SMEs that fail to request a debrief when they succeed.
“A smart SME tenderer will insist on a debrief as to why they won - and what issues may have counted against them - to indicate areas they need to improve upon,” McNamara said.
Debriefs of successful tenderers should happen more often, McNamara said.
“It is an important first step in getting the confidence of your client. Not only can you do the things you are good at, but you’re keen to address any perceived weaknesses. That’s really important.”
Do you have any further advice you can contribute? Please comment below.
Copyright © iTnews.com.au . All rights reserved.
Issue: 316 | July 2013
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