Winning new business will never be easy, but when industry was buoyant, opportunities came along regularly. Now though, each opening is chased ferociously, not least as companies look to keep their workforces intact by competing for contracts they wouldn’t once have even considered. Bid management has become a fine art, and each tender must be assembled with care, attention to detail and speed, putting a premium on easy access to all your in-house info.

Can your data be accessed quickly?

So what should a business do to give itself the optimum chance of success? Taking on a specialist bid manager might work; they even have a global organisation, the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, and demand for their services is increasing. However, with or without such a manager, companies can do much to push the odds in their favour, notably a blend of effective software, a solidly-grounded data base and strong project management skills.

Technology specialist James Benham offered a detailed overview of how science and software is replacing guess-work and piles of paper to Construction Executive Magazine, and his overview is:

“A seamless, yet secure, flow of data between complementary accounting, bid and project management software would create the most efficient platform for the end-user and ultimately increase innovation and collaboration among technology providers. ”

Of course, before you know how to create better bids, you have to realise where previous ones went wrong, so set time aside to analyse the makeup of your failed tenders. Factor in anything you know about the successful bids from your rivals, responses – formal or otherwise – to your submissions, then discuss everything with your bid management team in a relaxed environment.

Either take your time or don’t start

This isn’t something to be left until 6pm on Friday; it’s a crucial strategic issue which will define the fortunes of your business for years ahead. If you don’t commit fully to this process, you’ll just keep repeating the same mistakes, and blaming pressure, tight deadlines and the companies who rejected your tender.

There are several immediate areas where your systems, and your approach to project management, can be fine-tuned for greater efficiency:

  • Establish and effectively manage a database of sub-contractors, not just for the skill-sets you require today, but for the ones you expect to need in the medium-term.

  • Quality subbies are never easy to find, and you can’t afford to wait until a tender is accepted before you start looking around for people you can trust and rely upon.

  • Bring your sub-contractors into your supply chain, by either integrating their software into your back-office, or persuading them to use specialist software.

You might also need to fine-tune your approach at the PQQ stage, so be careful to study the new financial requirements of local authorities. Don’t just assume that the previous rules still stand.

Camden, for example, requires independent financial appraisals for its contractors, and only Experian will do. Further checks on your finances will also be made throughout the tender process, and the lifetime of the contract.

This is where software hooked into your accountancy package really justifies the investment, because you can’t just offer a pile of paper invoices to Experian. Although some do try:

It’s the quiet ones you need to watch

Also, don’t leave much of the tender info you need between the ears of the ambitious manager, who’s been quietly doing his qualifications online. When he drops in to say he’s owed so many days that’s he’s off on Friday, it’s too late to ask for info on the last dozen projects, which will most likely be on print-outs, and memory sticks, in numerous folders and drawers scattered around the place.

To improve your bid success rate, several core elements must be in place.

  • Experienced project managers who understand past errors.

  • A strategic plan which identifies solutions to what went wrong.

  • Comprehensive and accessible data on past and current projects.

An 80s pop song did suggest that ‘Two out of Three Ain’t Bad’, but in 2013, you won’t make progress in the fiercely competitive bid environment without all three. You may be rightly proud of your company’s project management expertise, but it’s no longer just about that. It’s about managing people properly, so make sure that everything each key individual knows is also stored safely in your database. For example, every business has someone who loves spreadsheets, and can read them from side-to-side and upside down.

There’s always a spreadsheet geek

However, if they leave, you’re in trouble, so utilise their expertise, invest in software to make their life easier, then make sure several other people understand the new system. US construction entrepreneur Fred Ode once penned a heartfelt piece on when spreadsheets made sense… and when their time passed. It’s seven years since he wrote the below, so the message is even more relevant.

Another common mistake is to imagine that a successfully completed project is history. In these litigious times, claims – from the main contractor, subbies, suppliers,  or even the public – can land at any time, so create and maintain a comprehensive audit trail.

Another issue which surfaces regularly, throwing bid calculations into disarray, are contract variations, even with the best-intentioned client. As Michael Gove demonstrated, when suddenly scrapping Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, government interference can throw well-planned projects into chaos.

When budgets are slashed, and clients cry ‘cheaper’, then your project managers will find it virtually impossible to manage variations without specialist software. At least, they probably could, but other work would be piling up as they did. As with so much in modern business life, the people and the data may be just fine, but it needs technology to bring them together.

P.S. Want to read more about using software to improve how you do business? Visit EQUE2.