While definitely not most law firms’ preferred way to win a client or retain business, tenders, proposals and formal procurement processes have become a fact of life in many market sectors.
This is especially true if your firm works with the government, banks, insurers, listed companies and other big corporates.
If winning work through tenders is important to your firm, read on for some of our top tips to reduce angst and stress at tender time.
Don’t sit back and wait for an invitation to tender
To pursue the ideal work you really want, with dream clients, you need to be prepared to invest effort and play the long game (which can take years). Build the perception (and reality) with a prospective client that you’re an expert in the field who’s great to work with. By properly positioning your firm, you will increase your chances of being invited to tender in the first place.
>Optional further reading Playing the long game.
Do qualify the “opportunity”
Before you put pen to paper, make sure you have properly sized up the bid opportunity and assessed your strategic position. You must critically evaluate:
- how much the work is worth to your firm
- how hotly the tender will be contested
- how your firm compares to [known or likely] competitors
- whether there any threshold issues your firm cannot meet
- the strength of your relationship with the tendering organisation.
Helpful “bid or no bid” tools are available on the web to help you run through key considerations so you can be sure it’s a real opportunity.
>Optional further reading is here at Bid or no bid?
Do get evidence ready ahead of time
When it comes to tenders, winners are separated from losers by strong, evidence-based submissions. While you can never know ahead of time the exact questions that will be asked in a tender, you can be sure that you will need to provide certain key evidence that includes:
- lawyer profiles (with tailored examples – general website bios won’t do)
- case examples and project or deal lists
- statistical indicators
- conflicts of interest policies and procedures
- flowcharts of key processes
- longer case studies or success stories highlighting core expertise
- client service credentials or quality processes
- pro bono and other corporate social responsibility activities
- strong, focused references or testimonial quotes from satisfied clients.
Additionally, tenderers are increasingly looking to reduce risk and are seeking proof by requesting full details (or actual copies) of firms’ governance and management policies and procedures.
It’s no longer enough to just describe or allude to the standards and processes you need to show them.
Getting items prepped ahead of time will ensure you’re on the front footwell in advance of any RFT release.
>Optional further reading Exhibits A through Z essential evidence for your tenders and proposals
Don’t ask clarification questions if you’re not sure you’ll like the answer
Ambiguously worded questions in tenders are not uncommon and can work to your advantage. They allow you to interpret and respond to the question in a way that is compliant, but potentially favourable to you.
On occasion, you may genuinely need to seek clarification, for example, to cover a situation unique to your firm. But before you ask questions, consider if the answer makes a significant difference to the way you address the request.
Or can you work around the question in your responses in a way that keeps you compliant?
>Optional further reading – Should you ask clarification questions during a tender process?
Don’t be indecisive
Make early, clear-cut decisions on the scope of your bid – this may include choosing areas of law and jurisdictions to bid for, as well as nominating team members. Late changes to any part of the scope may have far-reaching implications and affect many sections of the tender response. They will certainly add to the overall time, cost and stress of production.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to put a bid together
Tender turnaround times for legal services are becoming increasingly truncated. Firms can have as little as 10 business days to complete a response, and three to four weeks seems to be average.
You cannot afford to start your response late!
Don’t assume you can write a strong, competitive response in your first draft. In our experience, most tender responses need three rounds of drafting and editing before they are of a high enough quality to be truly competitive.
So for contributors, the time for suggestions, commentary and feedback on drafts is early in the process. Resist the urge to involve multiple team members as your stop point approaches, and have a single senior person responsible for the final sign off. Approve and sign off on standard sections (for example contact detail pages) as you go so you are not trying to review 200 pages on hand-in day.
For hardcopy submissions, we recommend you have a stop point 24 to 48 hours before the delivery deadline to allow adequate time for printing, collating and delivery of your submission (essential if you need to deliver interstate).
Don’t assume prior knowledge of you and your firm (even if you are incumbents)
You can never be 100% certain about the procurement process, so don’t assume the evaluation committee has any prior knowledge of you and your firm. Even if you have strong relationships with internal staff, they may not be involved in evaluating tenders or have any decision-making power. Think of each of your responses as needing to be read in isolation and where necessary ‘introduce’ your firm. Alternatively, where you are well-known use responses as an opportunity to remind evaluators of the great results you have achieved, and reinforce the relationships you have developed with the tendering organisation by evidencing these in your response.
Do be clever about constraints
If the tender request format is restrictive in terms of what is allowed in your response (e.g. through page limits or low word counts) consider appending supplementary supporting material that is relevant to your case for an appointment.
Most tendering organisations will allow supporting material to be included, provided it is relevant, adds value, is clearly flagged as additional content and is not mixed in with your main response.
If you do include additional material, you will still need to provide a compliant answer in your main response document and then clearly refer the evaluators to the appropriate attachment for ‘further details’. Some evaluators will simply skim your responses in the ‘main’ response document, others will be eager to read further and learn more about your firm. We call this writing ‘short and long’ so you can be sure you are meeting the needs of both kinds of evaluators.
Find more helpful tender hints and tips at julianmidwinter.com.au.
About the Author:
Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced bidder, business developer, marketer, and copy-writer who has worked with more law firms than she cares to remember! She is a Partner and Consulting Director at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy whose team has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.