Having recently been asked by a listed company to talk to its bid team about trends in tendering, I got to thinking about what’s changed in the 20 years I’ve been involved in tenders, proposals and bids.
The basics haven’t changed. Tenders and proposals are still tiresome and time consuming. And for many, they are still the most important means of winning new business. There have been technology changes, of course, but uploading to an online portal doesn’t change the fundamentals of tendering.
The most striking change has been the rise of procurement in listed and private companies. It used to be that you tendered directly to the people who would be using your service or product. Now, tenders have to first get past the anonymous procurement gatekeeper. That means making sure you comply with all the requirements, or you’ll be knocked out in the first round.
And along with the rise of procurement, compliance has increased. Coincidence?
There’s dismay that procurement’s rise is making tenders more transactional than relationship-based. It’s very frustrating when a business has been doing great work for a client for years, only for its service to be unexpectedly put out to tender. No wonder businesses feel so frustrated by procurement and the tender process.
What was once the cause of great angst among tenderers is now taken for granted. Think Quality Assurance and Risk Management. Nowadays, it’s cyber security, corporate social responsibility, transition-out plans and ‘innovative solutions’ that are causing the hair-pulling. Precisely what an innovative solution is, is anyone’s guess. Which means tenderers have scope to set their own agenda, as long as their innovative solutions save time or money.
In Australia, there’s an increasing focus on indigenous purchasing and on encouraging SMEs to tender. In reality, though, having the right insurance coverage, as well as a whole raft of policies and procedures in place, is beyond the reach of many SMEs. Sadly, that means companies and governments issuing requests for tenders or proposals miss out on opportunities to source services or products from a wider range of suppliers. Perhaps even those offering innovative solutions.
Another big change recently is the advent of disruptors promising to streamline tender and proposal writing. Online proposal creation technology may well evolve to become a bigger player than it is currently. In theory, it will save businesses the expense of hiring bid teams or consultants, at least for smaller, more routine tenders. Time will tell.