We didn’t win. What did we learn? Would we tender again?
We’ve just been through the process of submitting a proposal for a branding project – via a tendering portal. You can see the case study here.
Like any business, we need to deal with risk and right from the outset, we understood (for a whole host of reasons) there was a big risk we wouldn’t get this contract.
We rarely pitch let alone tender – but we decided to throw our hat into the ring anyway.
- We wanted to understand the tendering process more
- We wanted to test how working with almost no client contact would work
- We wanted to see how much time we would need to commit – to the process, to developing concepts – to delivering a considered response
- We liked the brief! We felt that our work would at least make an interesting case study that we could share
Bottom line? We lost.
So we need to decide whether we’d go through a tendering process again.
Bottom line? We’re unlikely to do it again.
If you’re thinking about running a tender for a future branding project, or you’re interested in submitting a bid for one, here’s what we’ve learnt.
1. The tendering process
Relative scoring and guessing what’s required
In this instance, design concepts accounted for 20% of the final evaluation score.
Price was twice as important (40%) and yet the maximum value of the contract was limited to £6000.
But the bigger issue was there were no specific, comparable requirements. You were free to choose whether to submit a few logo concepts or to show a developed brand. Equally the tender specification required you to submit sections on, amongst other things, ‘Experience’.
How points would be awarded was explained but not what was specifically required. How, for example, do you judge someone’s 30 year experience against 12 months worth? Who’s to say which is more valid? This is a lot easier to evaluate in person than it is in writing.
2. No client contact
Taking away 1:1 conversations means yet more guesswork
With on-line tendering portals you can often ask questions – but these threads will be seen by the competition. So you may not want to ask anything that might hint at a potential solution.
This is perhaps the biggest risk for an agency – without talking to a client there’s no way of gauging likely reactions.
Having gone through the process we’d suggest that some form of videoconference might be an idea. Allow everyone to submit potential questions beforehand, select a set to answer and then talk about the issues. Let the agencies hear your views, critique approaches already on the market, discuss why you have set certain priorities.
Just an hour would make a huge difference to help agencies gain some real understanding of the project and the client.
Motivation and competition
In many pitch situations a client is effectively saying “I’m looking for new ideas”. In any pre-pitch meeting you would certainly want to ask who the incumbent was and why they weren’t doing the job in question.
In a tender situation you need to assume the incumbent will be submitting a bid.
They’ll probably have big advantages over you:
- Personal relationships
- Prior knowledge – style likes and dislikes
- Established processes – trust
- Budget understanding
We made the mistake of assuming the incumbent wasn’t an option and guess who won the contract? Lesson learned.
If there is a next time, we would be asking questions about motivation and perceptions of any current output right at the outset.
4. Time commitment
Do you have a spare week in the month ahead?
- Take any time off
- Produce any speculative work for existing or former clients
- Support a local charity
- Work on promoting our business to the markets we’re already successful in
This might sound flippant – but, having committed to the project, we spent significantly more time than we’d planned preparing our submission. This is an easy trap to fall into when there’s no definitive list of what’s required in concept terms.
5. No feedback
Refining your approach is a challenge
The tender we were involved with had scheduled a 6 day gap between the submission deadline and the announcement of the winning bid. The winners were announced after 3.5 days, Why so quickly? – we won’t have been the only people to wonder.
Of more concern though, is the lack of any feedback. This specific tender specification had assured bidders the client would “inform all Tenderers of the weighted scores they have achieved in the process, the identity of the successful Tenderer(s) and their scores achieved”.
No such scores were sent.
Whilst a client has no obligation to justify its decision a simple “thanks but no thanks” message gives you no way of judging your own approach or, indeed, to work out if were close enough to warrant investing time in future bids.
If you’re thinking of running, or responding to, a tendering project we hope this article has been of use and wish you good luck!
We’ve published some of the concept work we developed for our tender submission here.
Design & marketing tutors – if you’d like to use this as the basis of a student project please get in touch, we’d be happy to provide more background.
Feel free to comment and let us know what you think. We’ve got many years of experience but we’re always learning – so please keep the feedback coming! If you want to ask us any questions please feel free.
Out of House is one of Cambridge’s leading brand and creative agencies. We work for clients across a wide range of sectors including non-profits, charities, corporates and start-ups. To see more examples of our work please click here.
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