Bids and proposals

Better bid/no-bid decisions – three signs you should say no

7 minute read

Think ‘bid strategy’ and you probably think action. The opportunities you’re going to go after. Your plan of attack. What you’re actually going to do.

What’s easy to overlook is that success often comes down as much to what you choose not to do. And that’s why the bid/no-bid decision is a critical one.

Pursuing only opportunities you’re likely to win is, of course, a very good way to improve your win rate. Yet bid managers and writers often complain to us that they’re under pressure to bid for anything that moves. This approach is very shortsighted, not just because the bidding will often be futile but because it dilutes resources, reducing the chance of winning contracts that should rightfully be yours.


Quality versus quantity

You need to make a choice. Are you going to spread your bets – and your resources – by chasing every opportunity available? Or are you going to develop the most compelling, customer-focused bids possible by focusing your resources on the opportunities you have the best probability of winning? You can’t do both – it’s one or the other.

As a bid consultant, I’d love to be able to tell you that I could help you win all the opportunities you want to pursue by simply developing an ingenious win strategy for each one. But that would be nonsense.

While developing a win strategy is critical, there’s a lot more to winning bids than just coming up with clever ideas. Win strategies are all about action. If you pursue too many opportunities, your bid teams will be overstretched and they simply won’t be able to implement the strategies effectively.

You can still improve success rate by improving your bid capabilities. But if you go after too many opportunities, you will have a worse win rate than if you were able to select the ones that you have the best probability of winning. That’s true regardless of how skilled your bid team is, how rigorous your processes or how clever your technology.


Choosing what not to bid for

You might think the best approach is to try to predict which bids you’ll win. But it can be much easier to identify the ones you’re likely to lose. Remember: success is as much about what you choose not to do. And although some of these riskier bids can look tempting, the safer options are usually a better use of your resources. Of course, if you take on lots of long shots, you might actually win some. But you’re likely to lose lots too – and spend lots in the process.

With that in mind, below are three of the clearest indications that you probably shouldn’t bid for an opportunity.


1. You don’t fully understand the customer or the opportunity

It’s not a big leap to say that anyone’s chances of winning an opportunity would increase if they knew certain things about the customer’s needs. But all too often, businesses find it hard to resist pursuing opportunities even when there are big gaps in their customer understanding.

I get it. If you’re responsible for growth targets, then of course you’ll be tempted to go after the big opportunities. But alarm bells should be ringing if the customer hasn’t been talking to your organisation about this opportunity. Because if they haven’t, it’s likely that they have been talking to some of your competitors.

If the customer hasn’t been talking to you, they’ve probably been talking to your competitors. – Bid-strategy expert Paul White @EmphasisWriting Share on X

Of course, depending on what stage of the pursuit we’re talking about – and how big the gaps are – this issue can be overcome. Gaps in your understanding can be fairly easy to fill if you’re early in the pursuit and you already have good relationships with the key customer stakeholders.

But if you’re at the point where the RFP (request for proposal) is about to be released and you still don’t understand the opportunity in detail, then it may well be too late to achieve a reasonable probability of winning.

That’s not to say that you need to know every detail by the time the RFP is released. It’s still likely that you’ll need the customer to clarify certain things while you’re developing your proposal. But the more significant those things are, the lower your chances of winning. (And by the way, if the customer seems unusually unhelpful with answering your clarification questions, that could be another sign to reconsider bidding. It might indicate that they already have a bidder they prefer to you – or it could be a sign that they’re a difficult customer who you might prefer not to work with.)

Some of the most important things that you’ll want to know early on are:

  • the customer’s relevant business needs and issues
  • how the purchasing decision will be made and signed off
  • the customer’s budget and the likely winning price.


2. You don’t really have the ideal solution

If you understand the opportunity well, then you should know whether you genuinely have a solution that’s a good option for the customer.

When developing a solution, it can be easy to convince ourselves that the customer doesn’t really know what’s best for this contract or that certain requirements probably aren’t that important. But if you find yourself thinking along these lines, try to take a step back and look at the situation as objectively as you can. Are you really trying to make your solution meet the customer’s needs or are you perhaps trying to make the opportunity meet your company’s needs?

It can also be tempting (especially for those of us focused on winning business) to ignore the inconvenient fact that, if we win, our organisation actually has to deliver this work for the customer. It’s easy to say, ‘We’ll worry about that if we win it’. Until you win it.

It’s easy to say, ‘We’ll worry about that if we win it’. Until you win it. – Bid-strategy expert Paul White @EmphasisWriting Share on X

If you’ve made the effort to develop a competitive strategy for your business, then you will have had to identify the types of work that you won’t be the best option for.

It’s obviously better for prospective customers if you tell them as early as possible if you aren’t well placed to meet certain requirements and that, therefore, you won’t be bidding.

But it’s also far better for you. You’ll earn their trust and this might pay off next time they have an opportunity for you to consider. Or they might even be willing to change certain requirements in the current opportunity to suit your approach.


3. You don’t have a clear strategy for beating the competition

But let’s say you know all about the customer and you know you’ve got a great solution for their needs. That still might not be enough if you don’t know how to convince the customer that you’re their best option.

A key part of achieving this is understanding your customer’s options. Have you thought about competing organisations? What about competing options (such as doing nothing or performing the services in-house)?

Have you assessed the strengths and weaknesses of those options – from the customer’s perspective?

And have you used that assessment to develop a strategy that makes the most of your strengths and that mitigates your weaknesses?

If you don’t have a clear understanding of the competing options or the right resources available to develop a competitive win strategy, then your odds of winning will be much lower than they could otherwise be.


Improve your win rate by skipping the long shots

The caveat to all of this is that you can often change the situation in your favour. But improving a hard situation will always take time and hard work.

So, if you want to increase your win rate, you need to acknowledge the incompatible options of either pursuing everything or developing the best bids you’re capable of.

Help your bid teams do their best work by avoiding overstretching them. Make sure they have the time and resources to develop a comprehensive win strategy for each opportunity and to put it into practice. And give yourself the best opportunity for success by focusing efforts away from opportunities that you’re likely to lose and towards those you’ve got a good chance of winning.


If you or your team need support in the bid-writing process, defining your strategy or nailing down the most effective messaging for a big opportunity, check out our bid-consulting services to see how we can help.


Image credit: bentrussell / iStock



Bids and proposals

Better bid/no-bid decisions

Free specialist worksheet to help you pursue the right opportunities and maximise your chance of winning.

Paul has helped some of the world’s leading companies bid for their most complex opportunities, with contract values that have run from tens of millions up to hundreds of millions of pounds.

He works with bid teams to help them to maximise evaluation marks by focusing on delivering value to the customer and by uncovering ways to outsmart the competition. He shares his methodical yet innovative approach in his articles on the Emphasis Knowledge Hub.

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