We are often asked to review customers’ rebid proposals before they are submitted. In these reviews we always check the usual things you would for a new bid such as the quality of the writing, layout, clarity of win themes etc. But for rebid submissions we also focus on a few other things. These are areas specific to an incumbent’s rebid proposal. We particularly look for these as they should be advantages the incumbent has. But sometimes they can be issues incumbents also face when rebidding.
Here is a summary of some of the things we look for – and what we think any incumbent rebid reviewers should be checking for in their proposals.
Is your rebid submission compliant with the customer’s instructions and questions?
Yes, this is a standard you would use for any bid. But there is good reason we particularly check for compliance in rebids. As the incumbent there is a danger your team know the details of the contract so well they answer the ITT/RFP questions based on their knowledge of the contract. Not on the specific question asked or specification set.
Even if they are right and have come up with a superior solution, if your rebid submission isn’t compliant you can still lose marks with evaluators. Or even have your bid rejected. And if the team have included some element of work that isn’t in the specification, but the team ‘know’ needs to be delivered because it’s what the operational customer has told them must be there, you might find your price is too high to win. Especially against your competitors who are bidding only against the specification. If you find this problem in your rebid, perhaps you would have benefited from influencing the rebid specification earlier. Or perhaps you can use a clarification question to get the spec or question altered to reflect what you see as the reality of the contract. If not you need to answer the question and specification as it is set – even if it is ‘wrong’. Perhaps you can also put in an alternative solution. But only in addition to a compliant one if you don’t want to risk losing marks (or having too high a price to win).
Are you (intelligently) using evidence from the contract?
Rebid proposals need balance. Too much emphasis on your existing contract delivery can read as a lack of innovation and fresh thinking, or ‘business as usual’.
But sometimes we read rebid submissions at PQQ/RFI and ITT/RFP stages from incumbents which barely mention the fact they are the incumbent. More often we simply see vague assertions in their submission that ‘because we are the incumbent our solution is…’. They don’t draw on their knowledge of the customer and contract to give real evidence about how their solution is a good fit for the customer. And they don’t use the detail of (hopefully) high levels of performance delivered on the existing contract to give the customer confidence they are the right choice for the next contract.
Sometimes this can be because the team writing the rebid don’t know the contract performance. Often this is because they haven’t properly engaged with the operations team and spent time really analysing the figures. Sometimes there is an assumption that the customer knows the incumbent’s performance and it doesn’t need repeating in the proposal. It does. The evaluators might not know the contract either. And in most cases they can only give marks for what is actually written in the proposal – even if they do ‘know’ the incumbent’s great performance to date.
You should have a lot of evidence from your existing contract you can use in your rebid proposal. Evidence about the volumes and variations of the demand for work on the contract you can show to back up the number and disposition of staff or offices in your solution: evidence of meeting (and exceeding?) KPIs over the contract period to show how you have performed; evidence of customer feedback or from end user surveys to show the levels of satisfaction and good work you have delivered; evidence of how you have reacted to customer needs; evidence of how you have improved.
If you have prepared properly for the rebid you should have all this evidence to hand for the bid team. And you should be using it to back up all your assertions of how good a supplier or partner you have been – and will be in the future. Which leads us to:
Are you using the evidence to support your new solution?
This is a ‘next step’ from the above point. Once we can see evidence being used from the existing contract we look to see how this evidence of knowledge and past performance is being used to inform the new solution. Just telling the customer you did a great job in the last contract isn’t enough. You need to convince the customer your performance will continue (and ideally improve) in the next contract. And you ideally want to see knowledge of the customer and existing contract being clearly shown to be influencing improvements to the new contract.
For example if as the incumbent you know average weekly volumes vary from day to day during the week how does your new solution react to meet these variations? And are you showing the data from the existing contract as evidence, together with a clear justification as to why these variations are likely to continue in the next contract period? And are you making it clear how your new solution will successfully address these variations?
This is the sort of detail the competition might not have. It shows your solution is more responsive to the customer’s real needs (whilst still being compliant of course) and that you have learnt from the contract. It can also, evidenced properly, put a question in the mind of the evaluator about the validity of competitors’ solutions.
Are you recognising the customer’s culture and strategic goals?
Understanding the customer’s culture and the strategic context of the contract should be one of the advantages you have as the incumbent. Together with being able to show you can work in a way which fits in with the customer’s culture and helps the customer meet their wider goals. Customers expect incumbents to have learnt this during the contract. In fact from our survey of procurers it was the most mentioned thing they expect to see done better by incumbents than new bidders. Customers will often include their own aims and objectives in their information to bidders. Ideally you should already know what these are from working on the contract. When we are reviewing rebids we always look to see if it is clearly reflected in the proposal. And just as with the points made above about using evidence we look for real understanding reflected in the solution – not just quoting back the customer’s own mission statement and list of aims.
Are you taking into account changes in the new contract?
Even if the customer has not changed the specification from the previous bid, the market, technology and best practice will have moved on, demanding a reaction from your solution. Much more usually the customer has changed the specification and form of the new contract. The changes could be radical or subtle. But whatever the level of change you must be recognising (and be seen to be recognising) the changes and addressing them in your solution. Emphasise this recognition and reaction to changes. In some ways you need to do this more than a challenger. Doing so overcomes any fears in the evaluator’s mind that you are just focusing on ‘business as usual’. And that you aren’t repeating in your new solution what you have been delivering for the past few years without recognising or offering the latest technology, ways of working or reaction to changing customer needs for the next contract.
When we work with incumbents prior to the bid writing phase we usually ask them to list two sets of changes they need to address in the rebid:
- Firstly the external changes in technology, competitor’s approaches, best practices which have happened or been introduced over the period of the last contract, and those they are putting into the latest new customer bids;
- Secondly the changes the customer has asked for, both in their pre rebid conversations and specifically changes from the customer’s rebid documentation.
We regularly go back to these lists as the rebid is being written to ensure each item is being addressed. And as we review the written rebid we again check all have been clearly covered. So should you.
Are you delivering anything new?
How much is genuinely new in your new solution? One of the issues incumbents face is that their existing delivery and solution can create inertia, or act as a ‘drag anchor’ in their thinking about change. The way they are delivering now is seen as the base from which to make changes in delivering a new solution. Unlike competitors, they aren’t thinking from first principles.
Ideally during the rebid preparation stage you will have completed a ‘ground up’ or as we call it ‘Green Field’ solution review which ignores all the existing assumptions from today’s contract and focuses only on creating a solution delivering what the customer is now asking for in the future.
Even if this hasn’t been done, when we review incumbent’s solutions we still want to see real innovation and new (relevant) elements in the rebid solution. This is the flip side of the balance between use of knowledge and performance from the existing contract we covered above and offering a fresh, new approach.
On a simple level we look to see what proportion of the solution benefits, discriminators and differentiators are based on new ideas vs those that are taken from the existing contract. And we want to see evidence of these new ideas from outside the existing contract experience (perhaps from other contracts, industry data or other work). The exact balance between innovation and experience will vary from rebid to rebid. But there has to be a real balance of some sort.
To gain the highest marks in the technical / quality part of a bid, customers usually tell bidders what they need to be offering. Our research in the UK identified four common areas the evaluators want to see:
- Understanding – they want to be clear you show real understanding of the customer and how your solution will meet their needs;
- Confidence – they want to be confident your solution will work (or put another way they don’t want to feel the solution will put them, or delivery of the services you are offering at risk);
- Evidence – they want to see substantial, clear and well-founded evidence to back up your solution and assertions about its benefits;
- Added Value – they want you to be offering benefits over and above the basic specification or KPIs they have set.
As the incumbent you should be well positioned to show the evaluators they can be happy with understanding, confidence and evidence provided by you. Added Value: something new and above the norm, is what is often missed by incumbents. To be clear – your existing solution is not added value. And describing what you are already doing in detail will not get you any additional marks for added value.
The competition will be emphasising change, innovation and fresh approaches. You mustn’t fall into the trap of (only) being the safe option.
There are of course other things we look for when reviewing rebid documents. They include all the standards such as clarity of benefits and discriminators, customer focus, high quality writing and presentation you would expect in any bid, as well as others such as effective use of the risk of change. But the list above are those we go to first as they are the most common, and often easily fixed, pitfalls we observe in incumbents’ rebids.
The best rebids are those where all the information is already available to the writers about the (hopefully great) performance on and experience of the contract. We usually see this when the incumbent has completed a full rebid preparation process. But even if it’s too late to do this and you are in the latter stages of reviewing your rebid documents you can still make a difference. Take a look at your rebid and use our headings to check whether you are making the most of your incumbency, rather than just relying on it. You might be able to make some simple adjustments which will improve your chances of success.
See how we can help you improve your rebid submissions here