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Injecting marketing input for winning tenders

June 7, 2022

In most large IT businesses, responding to RFPs and tenders is the domain of the sales and bid management team. The marketing department usually doesn’t play a direct role – which is a shame, because there is a lot of value they can add!

At Explore Communications, we were a little bit surprised when a request came out of the blue some years ago to assist with an RFP response for a major IT contract. However, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise; after all, the role we play is to help articulate the value of our clients’ products and services to the market. There can be just as much benefit (if not more!) in articulating that value to a single customer, especially when that could result in winning a multi-million-dollar deal or a highly strategic engagement.

Since then, we’ve helped out on a range of strategic bids for a few different clients, with our focus primarily on the executive summary and supporting content, including presentations and videos.

We’ve found that there are some really effective areas for marketing input in this process.

First of all, it’s great to be engaged early on. It’s much more difficult to have an influence on the overall direction and focus of the response just a week or two out from the submission deadline. By engaging early, you can better understand the motivations behind the RFP or tender, and have greater context based on the initial discussions that have taken place with the customer and also internally amongst the sales team. This in turn helps to distil what’s important to the customer, and to understand the core strategy and approach the sales organisation plans to take for the bid.

Second, having a marketing lens involved ensures that the bid response process maintains an external perspective, and doesn’t become too internally focused. Marketing can stay at arm’s length from the technical, logistical, financial and contractual elements of the bid – which are critical to ensuring the response meets the tender criteria but can also take it away from the overall theme and value you want to convey. By not being heavily involved in putting together the detailed response, marketing can have a much more objective perspective on the content and approach.

Third, it’s vital to get the executive summary just right. This is the one piece of content that every customer stakeholder will read, before they delve into their area of specialisation in the detailed response (which is potentially hundreds of pages). It’s also the content they will use to support their justification for their final decision when they need to convince the senior executive or board that they have made the right choice. Ultimately, anything you can do to make the job easier for the customer’s stakeholders in winning internal approval for their decision, the more likely you are to win the deal.

Three steps for getting the executive summary ‘just right’

In writing the executive summary, do it with the specific audience in mind – something in which marketing specialists excel. You also need to take a hierarchical approach with the content, prioritising what is of the most value to the customer.

First, clearly articulate what you see as the customer’s most critical objectives to be gained and problems to be solved with your solutions and/or services. You don’t need to repeat every one of these from the RFP or tender – that’s the job for the more detailed response behind the summary. What you are demonstrating is that you have not only listened to the customer, but you have thought deeply about their business and how you can help. It’s marketing’s role to challenge the sales team on what these most important elements are – if you get this right, the customer will immediately sit up and take notice of your response. Marketing’s early engagement in the process really helps here because these ‘nuggets’ might not necessarily be present in the tender documents themselves; they might have been gleaned in earlier conversations and meetings with the customer.  

Second, tie these outcomes to the value that your solutions or services can provide, and be more descriptive on how they will achieve those outcomes. At the end of the day, the customer is buying something from you. This will also be the critical component supporting how the customer will sell their decision internally. Here it’s worth keeping in mind what will differentiate you from the competition.

Third, and this is particularly relevant to significant multi-year or multi-million-dollar contracts, articulate why your company is the right one to choose. Again, this needs to be tied to the customer’s objectives and concerns, but the criteria are more likely to be general in nature – risk, security, profitability, competitiveness, longevity, viability, etc. This content will also be relied on to justify the decision internally.

Finally, it’s not a bad idea to challenge the customer’s thinking at the end of the summary. If they have read this far, then it gives you an opportunity to plant a seed in their minds – something that might influence their decision on the proposal. It might be a different way of tackling the project, an additional offering that you think will add value, or it might be related to a future opportunity that you know is coming up with that customer, where you can already start the sales process. It shows that you have gone over and above the constructs of the original tender or RFP, taking into account the customer’s broader organisation and needs.

Explore Communications has had a high success rate on the bids we have worked on over the years, but we certainly can’t take credit for the wins achieved – there is so much more that goes into a successful tender response! However, it is worth taking that extra bit of effort on those contracts that you really have to win (or should win!) and that will really make a difference to your business. If the one document that every customer stakeholder reads is not up to scratch, that puts you behind the eight ball at the very start.

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