A Necessary Evil

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					                                       A Necessary Evil?

In the three years since we established Practical Bid Solutions, we have worked with an array of
organisations. This experience has highlighted the fact that formalising your ‘offer’ in a proposal
as part of a sales campaign is fundamentally undervalued, and is generally perceived as a
necessary evil at best, rather than a key business enabler. Why? The problem lies in two camps.

Firstly, customers are inclined to issue tenders with little notice and then expect them back in
what we would consider to be unreasonable and demanding timescales. Throughout this
procedure communication is, to say the least, minimal. They are reluctant to let us talk to them,
and some even go on holiday to avoid us! Furthermore, the documents they issue are often rife
with ambiguous questions that bear little or no relation to the requirement, and the format of
response required is always different. On top of all this the terms, conditions (T’s & C’s) and non-
disclosure agreements (NDA’s) are often unreasonable or even unacceptable.

Secondly, the fault can lie with the supplier. Most have little understanding of the procurement
process, and are therefore unable to navigate through it. Sales are, by nature, far better utilised
in front of a customer selling, than sat behind a desk responding to a tender. The infrastructure to
support them is often inadequate. For example, if a bid is considered as a project, should we
expect a sales person to double as the project manager, especially on more complex
opportunities? No. In that case, some form of ‘bid’ management is needed, so those on the
frontline can concentrate on selling.

The commercial aspects such as T’s & C’s and NDA’s can delay the start of the response
process, as legal will want to have their say before a word is written. Early on in the process, a
management summary from sales would act as a useful guide to everyone else involved in the
bid, but this rarely happens until the very end.

Customers will always ask lots of factual questions, especially in the public sector. If the answers
to these ‘frequently asked questions’ are not readily available, valuable time is lost. Solution
specific questions need subject matter experts to craft individual and specific answers, rather
than have the sales team scouring through old proposals for a near (or far) miss. All these
contributions (research, solutions, answers, etc.) then need collating into one document,
structured to comply with the customer’s instructions, to avoid disqualification.

Once complete, the draft document must be validated and refined by sales, who must weave in
their sales messages, understanding and expertise, answering the ‘so what’ question, and
ensuring that they ‘sell’ the proposed solution. However, we are now probably 8 hours away from
having to deliver the final proposal, so time is tight, which brings us to the worst part of all –
printing and binding. Customers always want six bound copies in full colour, one with the pricing
removed. This takes a long time, and if the printer doesn’t fail, the ink cartridge will run dry or you
will run out of paper or time. Let’s just hope the courier is on time and the traffic isn’t too bad!

No wonder they are perceived as a ‘necessary evil’.

So, what can be done about it? Firstly, suppliers need to understand the buying process – how
can you play a game if you don’t know the rules? They then, crucially, need to implement a bid
infrastructure that includes an effective bid process, relevant and key information and the tools to
manage it, and to allocate the appropriate resources with the right skills. Apply and implement
these solutions in order to create an environment in which producing a customer proposal is, by
definition, a more cohesive, productive, and most importantly a more successful experience for
everyone involved. This will ensure customer proposals become the key business enabler that
they undoubtedly should be. The net result will be greatly improved win ratios and sales
effectiveness, reduced cost of sale, greater profitability and accelerated growth.

  Chris Whyatt, Practical Bid Solutions, June 2002 – 07768 850976 or chriswhyatt@pbsl.co.uk

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