Avoiding tendering firefights: Key reminders from emergency services

Sirens atop a police car and emergency services lights in the background.

During the last year we’ve helped many businesses learn how to improve their bidding capabilities. We’ve enjoyed face-to-face training in Tasmania and Townsville, and have delivered more than twenty online training sessions with participants from across Australia and New Zealand – and even Singapore and the Philippines.

Earlier this week, after an invitation from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), we delivered online training for New Zealand emergency services organisations wanting to break into the Australian market. To prepare, we looked at 7 key principles of emergency services, aligning them with the fundamentals of writing a compelling, client-focused bid.

It was a fun activity and we wanted to share it with you. So how can you apply these key principles when preparing your next tender submission?

Principle 1 – The importance of being trusted

For our emergency services to perform their best work, it is critical that they are trusted before, during and after an emergency. They must be perceived as caring and understanding, and we must have confidence that they are equipped with the appropriate skills and experience to manage dangerous and challenging circumstances.

Similarly in bidding, you must also demonstrate to your client that you can be trusted. In their eyes, there is a lot at stake.

Trust is built on empathy, authenticity and logic – three key drivers that form what is known as the Trust Triangle. You can use these drivers to build trust between you and your client.

Principle 2 – Making sound decisions

During emergencies, sound and appropriate decisions can mean the difference between life or death. Time is precious and resources are limited, so a responder must assess the situation they’re presented with and quickly decide on the best course of action.

Thankfully, although lives aren’t at stake when an RFT is released, businesses do need to take a strategic approach to bidding and make sound, rational decisions about whether and how to deploy their tendering time and resources.

Focussing energy on bids you are unlikely to win is a waste, so making an informed Bid / No Bid Decision about each opportunity can help you maximise win rates, optimise costs and reduce risk, making the whole tendering process far less stressful. It seems ironic, but bidding less can result in winning more.

Principle 3 – Position well

Although emergency services are mostly experienced as a reaction to a specific event, the reality is that they’ve done their homework on likely situations well in advance. Their preparation involves understanding the needs of their likely ‘customer’, knowing what other services are available to help and realising what capabilities they need to develop in order to do their job well. Through this preparation they’ll have a clear sense of the landscape they operate in.

Likewise in bidding, positioning involves having a clear understanding of your customer’s needs, a clear understanding of the competitive context and a clear understanding of the capabilities required to win a contract. We call these ‘The Three Cs’. Once understood, they can be used to develop a win strategy designed to position yourself as an expert in your field, or as a preferred candidate.

Principle 4 – Stand out in ways that matter

It’s a given that first responders need to stand out and be noticed by the people who need them, so they can be quickly sought out for guidance and expertise. However, it’s not enough just to stand out. What’s more important is that they stand out in ways that matter.

This applies equally to bidding. In fact, client-centricity is a cornerstone of all bidding activity. Your bids are not about you. They are about your client’s needs and how you can meet them. You may have a perfect, and ideally unique, solution to your client’s issues, but if you don’t frame it in a way that puts your client at the centre of your offer, you won’t matter to them. They are why you are bidding in the first place. So when writing, keep a clear focus on WIIFT (what’s in it for them).

Principle 5 – Clear communication is crucial

At the scene of any emergency, clear communication is crucial. Emergency responders need to be supreme communicators because any misunderstanding can quickly take a situation from bad to worse.

Absolute clarity is also important in bidding. You need to communicate in a way that will be readily understood by evaluators. Avoid meaningless statements, redundant or unnecessary words and use of the passive voice. Instead, use the active voice, simple words and short sentences. Answer all questions directly and where appropriate employ bullet points, graphics and diagrams to break up walls of text.

Easy-to-read tenders score more highly, while a misunderstanding may cause your submission to score lower than it should. Choose your words carefully to make your bid easier to evaluate and to maximise reader impact.

Principal 6 – Being local is important

During a disaster, being local matters. Local emergency services arrive in good time and are familiar with the area, the community and in many cases, the people. Furthermore, through their presence and ongoing engagement with the community, they add a welcome and positive contribution to overall local capability.

The same is true in tendering, with tender response requirements often focussing on how your business will give back to local communities through things like:

  • engaging local suppliers
  • supporting local community programs
  • providing employment and development opportunities to local people

While not every successful tenderer can be local, everyone can have a positive impact on local communities.

On a national scale, the Australian Defence industry provides an exemplar of this with their ongoing focus on the importance of Australian Industry Capability (AIC) plans as a means to develop Australian sovereign capability.

Principle 7 – Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance (PPPPP)

Well–prepared emergency plans ensure safety and wellbeing, reduce potential damage, protect resources, and significantly reduce the overall negative effects of an emergency situation.

Similarly in tender submissions, an effective bid writing plan improves the coordination, communication, timing, quality and overall effectiveness of your bid. We recommend following the industry standard 20/60/20 rule for managing bid timelines:

  • 20% – Planning
  • 60% – Writing
  • 20% – Review

Spending the first 20% of your time on planning and preparation will help you maximise the precious bid open period, allowing you to spend time on the things that matter. Early planning is a vital enabler for success.

It was a pleasure

While writing a tender submission is a far cry from attending an emergency, for inexperienced or ill-equipped bid writers scrambling to meet a deadline it can sometimes feel like fighting a fire.

By applying the principles and methods outlined here, you can both reduce inefficiencies and last minute stress, and increase your win rate, thus improving the return on the time and money you invest in this vital work-winning process.

We thoroughly enjoyed working with these New Zealand companies whose staff operate in such a vital sector. We’re grateful to NZTE for the opportunity to assist, and we look forward to doing so again in the future.

For information on how NZTE supports the international growth of New Zealand businesses, please visit www.nzte.govt.nz. If you’d like to contact someone directly, reach out to either:
Scott James – Market Manager Aus Pacific
Sally Wells – Market Manager Aus Pacific


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