Ita McAndrew is the Product Manager for the SMB Office Client at Microsoft UK.
Question: Our company is aggressively pursuing new sales opportunities and thankfully we’ve got a healthy pipeline. But the cost of sales, especially proposals and responses to tenders, is worrying. It takes up far more man-hours than we can cope with and we can’t continually cut and paste from previous proposals. Can you offer any suggestions? - Annette
Answer: Hi Annette.
Yes - responding to tenders and preparing bid documents can be an unwelcome drain on the resources of a midsize company. Indeed, just being fit to take part in a tender process puts you ahead of many potential competitors! There are many ways that technology can help.
Collaboration is non-negotiable
The first thing I’d say is that, as a general rule, sales people are not great at administration and good administrators are rarely the best at selling. Responding to a tender document should therefore never be left to one individual - it calls for a team effort and close collaboration between a range of people with different skills.
Secondly, managing the process is invariably complex and therefore costly in terms of your people’s time. And, of course, in today’s economy, time means money. Yet skimping on the response to a tender doesn’t make sense, because a well-produced document that addresses the prospect’s concerns is more likely to be favourably received.
To make matters worse, though, public sector organisations in particular expect you to jump through hoops to demonstrate your credentials. You need to submit lots of pre-qualifying evidence, like trading accounts, customer references, health and safety policies, and much more.
To ensure that your document is watertight, pitched persuasively, and scores as highly as possible when reviewed, you must therefore involve experts right across your company - from legal and financial specialists to those with expertise in equal opportunities policy and so forth. The bottom line is that collaboration is absolutely non-negotiable.
In an ideal world, everything would be carefully project managed and coordinated to meet the deadline. But life is never that simple: people go sick or on holiday; or get tied up in meetings - which leads to massively extended timeframes. Worse still, the information and expertise you need at that moment is invariably locked away securely in people’s individual PCs.
Slashing those timeframes and bringing staff together is, however, now an option – and you can achieve it with the kind of technology your employees are already familiar with and that you mostly already own. It’s important not to think of software programs like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook as individual productivity solutions in isolation as we’ve tended to do in the past.
These software packages are no longer restricted to the individual employee’s desktop. The arrival of Office 2010 means they can be integrated easily with the many live data sources within your company or across the Internet. This dramatically improves collaboration within a team by enabling them to do more with their data.
Secondly, Office 2010 offers bags of new functionality, such as:
Broadcast Slide Shows in PowerPoint: make live, ad-hoc presentations from a simple email invite
Co-authoring in Word: collaborate with colleagues not only in real-time, but with improved tracking and markup. Plus, open a phone call directly from a shared document with one click.
Sparklines and Slicers: Represent data with intuitive graphics, improving understanding and value
At the same time, staff must also be able to collaborate effectively on the production of documents wherever they happen to be. In this respect, Office 2010 provides the kind of tools previously available only to larger companies - employees can now access documents from wherever they are and on any device; safe in the knowledge that edits to the all-important tender document will always be faithfully reproduced.
By providing a powerfully-featured Office interface in a browser, Office Web Apps puts the Office suite online, enabling your staff to access, co-author and collaborate on Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents in real-time anywhere, anytime - and without the expense of installed software or a server.
Another cost-effective alternative to consider is a subscription to a new Microsoft service called Office 365, which will shortly replace the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS); providing:
- Cloud-based versions of Office for productivity, SharePoint for data management, Exchange for email and Lync for unified communications.
- Access to email, documents, contacts and calendars anywhere and on practically any device, enabling staff to collaborate easily and securely, whilst saving time, money and freeing up valuable IT resources.
In short, these collaborative technologies can transform your sales processes and help you to reduce the time needed to produce tender and application documents. Responses which might previously have been beyond your scope, and therefore closed to your business, can now be put back on the agenda – a fine example of technology opening up new lines of business and opportunity.
Some Simple Tips on Planning for Tenders
Start early: The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have for the inevitable last-minute changes.
Open a bid file: Get everything you need in one place (perhaps a SharePoint repository?) for easy access and reference. It will save time later.
Plan and project manage: Setting timescales and ensuring they are met will help you meet deadlines.
Read the ITT and instructions carefully – twice: You can easily miss things first time around, so always re-read. Get other members of your team to contribute, to make sure you’ve not missed or misunderstood anything.
Double-check commercial conditions: You must make sure you’re happy signing up to any contractual obligations. There are also often important commitments in the small print; such as monthly meetings or service level agreements, to which you may need to respond in your tender submission.
Clarify what’s required: Most tenders want ‘best quality’ and ‘best value for money’, but what else is required? A bit of research may reveal other criteria which the client really wants to achieve – if you can show understanding of these issues, you stand a far better chance of success.
Research the prospect and competitors: More understanding of the prospect and the competition always helps!
Big bids take time and money: so make sure you’ve the resources and if necessary re-qualify to check it’s right for you.
Aim to finish early: Planning to finish early gives you some contingency if things go wrong. More importantly, it allows time to give the submission the ‘overnight test’ i.e. leave it and read it again the next day when your mind is fresh – that’s when you’ll spot all the little mistakes and areas for improvement.