Does humility have a place in tendering?

By David Lunn CP APMP, MCIPS.

A hero in a cape exposes his chest in a superman pose – representing a lack of humility in tendering.

‘Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way…’ sang Mac Davis back in 1980.

In a few recent bid strategy development sessions I have come to wonder if the spirit of Mac is alive and well… given the prevalent and almost unassailable C-suite view that tenders are primarily an opportunity to harp on about benefits, expertise and ‘value’.

Face up to fallibility

I get it. It’s hard to face up to fallibility. And harder still to share it. For many, reflecting on any performance failure, weakness or even a perception of the same is tantamount to waving the white flag before the fight has even begun.

Of course, businesses will sometimes venture into tender messaging humility – usually through an opaque lens like ‘lessons learned’ or ‘continuous improvement’. But in my experience this is reluctantly undertaken and rarely are the underlying issues effectively exposed or the consequences, subsequent introspection and redemption shared.

Don’t get me wrong – I can’t see much sense in a full-on ‘fall on our sword and beg for forgiveness’ bid strategy either. ‘Pick me because I really have reformed…honest…’ is unlikely to appeal. It’s a bit like Morgan Freeman’s wonderful character Red’s appearance in front of the parole board in The Shawshank Redemption. Over the decades the board continues to be unmoved by his claims to be a ‘changed man’. It’s not until he genuinely reflects on his remorse – and acknowledges that in doing so his claim may be further denied – that he gets his request.

Humility improves believability

In a similar manner I argue that the believability of an offer can be dramatically improved if warranted humility is present. The skill is judging when and how to do this. For example, if you believe your client or prospect (or even a key decision-making individual within them) has an issue with your organisation, then they most likely have. And ignoring that in your tender shows, at best, tone deafness; a trait rarely lauded. A more specific example of this might relate to addressing poor incumbency performance. You know you aren’t ticking all the boxes. And they know it too. So you think sweeping it under the carpet is the better strategy? Really? That’s a bit like ignoring the laws of gravity. It works on the way down but there’s still the sudden stop.

Self-reflection builds trust  

In a perfect world, effective account management and capture management processes should identify and address these types of issues. So hopefully by the time it comes to the next bid there is nothing but clean air and blue skies. But sadly, this is rarely the case. Therefore, the next best thing is to face reality by having well framed issues and problems, clear views on how these are being (or will be) tackled and proof that will eliminate any concern as to the genuineness or commitment to addressing what needs to be addressed.

More importantly though, doing so just makes common sense. We all appreciate and respect genuine introspection and apologies where needed. And if you think the recipient of your introspection or apology will see it as a sign of weakness do you really want that person or organisation as a client?

In the final line of his song, Mac Davis sings – ‘We are doing the best that we can’. Are you? Do you have the courage to make genuineness and trust the cornerstone of your next tender? If you have an inkling that this might be the best path for you, I’d urge you to frame up your thoughts further by reading our trust triangle post. And if you like the sound of that but aren’t sure how to achieve it, feel free to give us a call.

P.S. Sadly Mac ‘the sage’ Davis passed away in 2020. RIP.


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