When I’m asked what exactly it is I do for a living, one of the best ways I’ve found to describe bids and tenders is ‘a bit like writing a job application but for a whole company’. It’s not entirely accurate; there are obviously many differences, but it’s similar enough to get my point across.
I’d like to address one of those similarities today, because understanding it is crucial to success in tendering and because it’s something that I frequently find myself explaining to new or potential clients.
When you apply for a job, the employer is generally looking for evidence of a combination of skills, experience and ability. That is, before they will even consider what you can do for the company once they employ you, they want to know that you have the right kind of experience behind you already.
Likewise, tendering organisations are looking for the combination of skills, experience and ability that they feel will be most beneficial for the tendered service.
So what happens if you haven’t yet got the exact kind of experience they’re asking for?
Well, just as some employers will be comfortable with ‘transferable skills’ and similarities in how an applicant performed their job in another industry or business type, some tendering organisations will be happy to contract companies who have transferable or similar experience within another sector or project type so long as the ‘bones’ of that experience relate well to their spec (e.g. if you’ve been supplying calculators to schools for 15 years successfully, there’s no reason to expect you couldn’t supply them to universities; if you’ve been providing maintenance and refurbishment services to private landlords, there’s a likelihood that – with some additional checks and paperwork – you could also supply similar services to councils).
Then again, some won’t. Some will insist on like-for-like experience and will immediately discount any applicants who don’t have that experience, insisting that you have undertaken almost exactly the same projects for a different – but equivalent – organisation (particularly councils).
This is simply the nature of work; sometimes it can seem fairly arbitrary (and frustrating) and sometimes it is, in fact, essential. But that’s not for us, the ‘applicants’, to determine; all we can do is look for the jobs (contracts) we are qualified for and apply for them.
Weighing up your chances
What all this means is that, while there is often some scope for flexibility in the way you respond to those questions that ask about how you are going to do this or that in the future (more on this in a later post) when it comes to providing evidence of how you have done this or that in the past, you need to be upfront, honest and open:
Pass/Fail: If the organisation specifies that certain experience is essential and you don’t have that experience yet, then you should reconsider bidding; why spend the time and effort of putting a bid together when you know you’re going to be passed over? Better to focus on something else more probable.
Weighted: If the organisation states that they will be allocating points against met criteria (e.g. 1 = criteria not met at all; 3 = some criteria met but not all; 5 = all criteria fully met or exceeded), then you need to consider what your likely points will be based on an honest representation of your company’s experience and your knowledge of your likely competitors’ experience.
Even then, if you do have the ‘right’ experience, often it still can’t be guaranteed that you’ll get the job. Again, as with job applications, there may be applicants (competitors) who have more experience, or even the same experience but who score better in other areas, which may bump them up – and you down – the rankings.
It is what it is
No amount of clever writing or promises for the future can alter your actual previous experience and organisations are going to take up the references you provide and check that what you claim is accurate. You would expect to do this for potential employees and would disregard them if they didn’t fit the job requirements, or worse, had exaggerated (fibbed about) their experience. Tendering organisations – particularly those funded with public money – are duty bound to ensure that they get the best value for money and that includes contracting companies with the right skills and experience.
(Although, I will concur, that it doesn’t always seem like this level of diligence is met – I think that topic is better left to a further, more rant-infused, post!)
On the bright side
However, by immediately turning to the ‘experience’ section of a tender you’re thinking of going for and assessing how your company would likely score against the given criteria, you are able to make a reasonable call right away as to whether you’re in with a chance.
Having established that, you can then look at contract value and other aspects to determine whether this particular contract is viable in the context of your individual business plans, as part of your ‘Go / No Go’ strategy.
It will also help you figure out a suitable path to take in the present – via accruing the necessary experience through other contracts – in order to later be able to successfully bid for those opportunities that are currently beyond your company’s reach.
What do you think?
If you have any questions, comments or anecdotes about the ‘experience’ aspect of tendering, please let me know in the comments below, or contact me directly to discuss in more detail.