Ten Tendering Trends for the 2020s: Reflections on a decade of change
By Nigel Dennis, CPP, APMP Fellow
As the 2020s start, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on some of the things we take for granted today that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Uber, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tinder, iPads, Fitbits and Bitcoin are all part of many people’s lives today but either didn’t exist or were in their infancy at the start of the last decade. Even Airbnb and LinkedIn were only just becoming truly international by 2010. How did we ever survive?
What if we applied the same reflection to the world of tender responses? What’s different at the start of this decade, compared to the start of the last? Given BidWrite helped businesses successfully win bids during every year of the last decade, I wanted to share ten current tendering trends, comparing them to popular approaches from 10 years ago.
- Painful Printing to Proficient Portals: Remember a team sitting around a boardroom table on the last day of a proposal, a printer whirring, and pages being haphazardly inserted into binders? Then there was the packaging and the mad dash in the car across town, with someone always riding shotgun, to find a tender box to insert your package minutes, or even seconds before the lid shut. It was commonplace in 2010 but rare today. Uploads to portals, or even simple electronic submissions to an email address, are now the norm. Watch out this decade as technology improves even further. More and more portal providers and software providers are entering the market and the idea of artificial intelligence entering the world of bidding is no longer science fiction.
- Compliant Responses to Compelling Stories: At the start of the last decade, bids could be won on compliance alone, especially for less sophisticated industries. Once non-compliant bids were excluded, winners were almost selected by default as the last compliant bid standing. That approach no longer works (but it’s amazing how many companies still think it does). Compliance now just stops you losing. Going into this decade, bidding is much more competitive, strategically focused and harder to win. Consistent winners are now those that articulate compelling stories with singular client focus, benefit-laden solutions, concrete proof and value driven submissions.
- Torrid Text to Powerful Presentations: The default response 10 years ago was to answer questions with text. If a graphic was used, it was often an afterthought. As a result, the wall of text and bland presentation that evaluators were forced to wade through made for some long and boring reads. Visual stories, with text to support them, are now the starting point for many responses. As such, there is now a growing relevance and reliance on graphic design skills. With that comes much better presentations, bids that are easier to read and more success.
- Reactive Chaos to Proactive Capture: At the start of the last decade, many businesses would react to a tender only when the thud of the Request for Tender (RFT) package was heard landing on the Sales Manager’s desk. There was also a tendency to bid on everything that moved. The resulting bid efforts were often chaotic, at best. Capture or Positioning were not even words in a Sales Manager’s vocabulary 10 years ago. At the start of this decade, these activities now include the proactive and strategic engagement with a prospect for a specifically selected opportunity, all prior to the ping of an RFT in an in-box. They are also now essential activities with the size of the investment effort being almost directly proportional to bid success.
- Industry Ambivalence to Industry Engagement: In many sectors 10 years ago, industry engagement by buyers was a one-way street – “just do as I ask”. At the start of this decade, buyers in many sectors are becoming much more sophisticated and collaborative in how to engage industry and seek innovation to deliver tangible and ongoing value. Take advantage of this trend for this decade to better position your company to win. It’s also a sign that the procurement industry is maturing. Further signs of this maturation are that sustainability and ethical sourcing were rarely seen in formal bid questions 10 years ago, but are common today.
- Pricing Suicide to Commercial Savviness: 10 years ago, “the lowest price always wins anyway” was a common catchcry of organisations, especially from those that consistently lost! To start winning, some companies would then commit the equivalent of commercial suicide, using unsustainably low pricing, just to try to ‘buy’ a tender win. Thankfully, as we start this decade, companies have now become much more commercially savvy. Providing choice with pricing options, quantifying commercial benefits, articulating contract terms and their risk, and articulating a clear pricing story are all tools now used by companies that consistently win bids.
- Stop Gap Job to Full-Time Career: If you had a job managing, writing or coordinating proposal submissions 10 years ago, it was often something you did for the short time, while on the way to a “better job”. Roll forward to this decade and, thanks largely to awareness created by the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), you can have a rewarding full-time career in proposals – almost anywhere in the world. Furthermore, this career could take you from a corporate role, to a freelancer, to a full-time bid consultant across multiple industries.
- On-the-Job Training to Structured Development: Almost every proposal person 10 years ago had fallen into their role by default. Training was essentially all on-the-job and by the seat-of-your-pants. As we enter this decade, a professional APMP Certification qualification is now becoming a common requirement for proposal response roles. Engaging and practical training workshops by certified proposal professionals are available in nearly every capital city and this strategic development of proposal staff in companies that “get it” pays off in spades. What was seen as an administrative burden is now a measured and positive contributor to ROI. This has spawned a large increase in the numbers of proposal consultants in the last 10 years. But if you’re thinking of engaging a proposal consultant to help you win more business, ask them how they will deliver you best practice? If APMP is not part of their answer, think again.
- APMP ANZ Chapter – Fledgling to Flourishing: The APMP, which started in the USA in the 1990’s, is now a global industry association approaching 10,000 members. But our APMP Australia New Zealand (ANZ) Chapter had only just been established at the beginning of the last decade. Back then, it was a fledgling chapter with less than 50 members. At the start of this decade, our ANZ Chapter now has over 420 members, is one of the fastest growing in the world, supports countries in Asia Pacific, has held three stirringly successful conferences, runs industry certification workshops with exam qualifications, and has a very strong and active regional committee.
- Mental Stress to Mental Health: Sadly, proposal people used to be no more than corporate cannon fodder. A decade ago, regular 60 plus hour weeks and weekend work were not unusual. It was also a time where an all-nighter was unfortunately viewed as a badge of honour. It’s no surprise that stress and burnout were common. Looking back, lasting two years in a proposal role was seen as a long time. Thankfully, awareness of mental health within companies is now much better. Organisations who look after their staff benefit in the longer term and I predict that better management of mental health for proposal professionals will further improve this decade.
Overall, the biggest takeaway in all this relates to the pace of change. Having started in the 1990’s, I’m personally entering my fourth decade of bidding. Upon reflection, I can say that this last decade has witnessed more change than the previous three decades combined. I don’t expect this to slow down and the ten points outlined above may just give some insight as to what trends are in store for the proposal profession throughout the next decade.
One thing is for sure, if you think you can bid competitively, and win, based on knowledge you gained a few years ago, let alone 10 years ago, think again. The pace of change means that companies cannot afford to rest on their bidding laurels.
But change affects all parts of companies. Much of this agent for change, by the way of new technology, ongoing development or innovation, actually starts during the proposal phase for retaining or winning new contracts. In this regard, it is our proposal profession which is at the forefront for communicating change for organisations and for industries. As a longstanding member of our professional bidding community, that’s a fact I’m both proud of and excited about for the profession going forward.