Machiavelli on rebidding

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We recently wrote an article on what Sun Tzu had to say that was relevant to rebidding (see the article here). It got us thinking about what other historical figures might have to say that was relevant. Here are just a few of the quotes we found.

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)

One of the lessons we have learned whilst helping a range of incumbents with their rebids is that one of the great incumbent advantage is the customer knows how well you have delivered the contract to date -if you have delivered a great contract. If you haven’t, then one of the great incumbent disadvantages is that the customer knows how well you have run the contract to date.

A great rebid preparation, and a great rebid that focuses on the customer’s future needs can help overcome a poor contract performance. But only so much. And if you try to ignore issues with your previous performance, then the dissonance between what the customer is reading in your submission and what they have experienced from your performance will usually lead to a rebid loss (or at best a serious mark down of your quality section). The customer is much more likely to believe their own experience than your promises of future performance (even if they are true).

So how to overcome this? Well the first way is to deliver a great contract. But that is often easier said than done, and if you are a bidder coming in to rebid a contract near the end of the contract period, it’s not much use for you in the short term. But there are a few things you can do:

  1. Look at what has been poor and see if there is time before you put the rebid in to make at least some improvement. The customer may well realise that you are making the improvement as part of your rebid (and wonder why you didn’t bother before), but at least they will see you are capable of doing so
  2. Recognise in your submission that things need to improve. Simply glossing over, or ignoring poor performance will most likely come over as arrogance or ignorance to the customer. Recognising the issue and showing in detail how you will address it (vague promises of future high performance alone won’t work) gives you at least some credibility to your submission
  3. If the issues have been from events rather than continuous poor performance, look at those events, their causes and how you solved them. Showing you can solve issues can be a positive. Showing you understand the risks on the contract and have overcome or mitigated them with your new solution can also act as a positive (even allowing you to ghost competitors)

‘Tardiness often robs us opportunity, and the dispatch of our forces’ (Niccolo Machiavelli 1469 – 1527)

‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ (Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

One of the gaps we often see in incumbents’ rebid processes is a clear and specific process for preparing prior to the rebid. A process might be put in place for big or particularly important rebids, where senior management attention is on winning. But few businesses have the same type of well documented, repeatable and reviewed process they have, for example, for the bid process itself, for capture of new contracts, or for implementations. That means most rebid preparations are often ad hoc, unplanned and not regularly reviewed for progress towards a clear end goal (e.g. being fully ready for when the customer documentation appears). In fact even what ‘fully ready’ means is often not clear in many rebids.

Leaving your preparation too late means you have lost a lot of potential advantages: to understand (and collate data on) the history of your contract and what has gone well (and not so well), to build new relationships with the customer, understand their needs, set out a new solution and check it (with the customer if possible), influence the customer and ensure you have your full rebid team in place.

Your customer will be preparing for the rebid. They will deciding (usually months before the rebid is announced) whether to rebid or extend the contract, deciding on their aims for the next contract period, deciding on the scope of services required and the geographic scope of the contract, deciding on the process they will go through, the staff to be involved, how they will manage evaluation and what questions they will ask. Too many incumbents just focus on who in the customer organisation will make the final decision of who will win. But by then a huge amount of decisions which could impact your chances of winning (and the deliverability and profitability of the future contract) have already long been made.

If your preparations don’t start at the same time as the customer’s (or earlier) you will have missed the chance to understand, plan for and perhaps influence these important decisions.

Creating, putting in place and managing a clear ‘recapture plan’ (that you can repeat for other rebids, and becomes part of your standard company processes) means you start early enough, do the right things in the rebid preparation period, and arrive at the submission stage much better prepared to win than through the usual ad hoc measures many take. Not having such a plan in place – and implementing it properly, means you are less prepared than you could or should be – and have spurned the opportunity to increase your chances of retaining your contract.

‘Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.’ (Machiavelli)

‘I am not interested in preserving the status quo – I want to overthrow it.’ (Machiavelli)

Too often, incumbents lose their rebid because they have failed to offer real changes to the solution they are already delivering in their submission for the next contract. To take some more quotes, this time from some of the respondents to our survey of procurers when we asked why incumbent lose:

“They submit the exact same bid they submitted for the first contract without regard to spec changes”

“Understand the new requirement and not assume Business as Usual”

“Complacency and just presenting the current service with no new developments”

“Overpriced shoddy bid that did not address the ITT but merely rehashed what they had done before”

This doesn’t (usually) come from laziness or a lack of new ideas within the incumbent business. More often we find there is an inertia, caused by the existing solution (which might be delivering to existing KPIs or SLAs well), that drags back any willingness or even ability to really drive forward with new ideas. Combined with the operational team often having their best relationship with their customer operational counterpart (who might not see the strategic need for change, or be unwilling to see reductions in delivery levels to enable cost savings) the messages about the real desire and need for radical change from the customer can get lost or downgraded.

To improve the opportunity of winning however, rebid leads must be willing to overthrow the status quo and be ready to build a new solution from the ground up based on the customer’s future needs – not simply offer a variation of the existing solution (which may have met the customer’s past needs). The processes, staff levels and structure, technology and approach of the existing contract might be entirely the wrong foundation for a new winning solution, trying to twist it into something that is closer, but still isn’t best for the customer can lead to too many compromises. The rebid is the customer’s opportunity to test the market for the best possible offer – and to get a contract solution which will best fit their organisation’s requirements for the future. If the incumbent isn’t able or willing to change their offering, a competitor certainly will. “A man who is used to acting in one way never changes; he must come to ruin when the times, in changing, no longer are in harmony with his ways.” (Machiavelli)

See how we can help you apply best practices to your rebid to make sure you retain your contract here