‘High value services delivered by skilled, qualified and regulated individuals’. This sounds like a Unique Selling Point but a combination of this phrase appears in every Professional Services tender submission. Whether it be an Accountant, Auditor, Lawyer or Management Consultant, the public and private sectors need all of these professional services to help them comply and thrive. The challenge for both buyers assessing bids and suppliers is how to differentiate. For example in Added Value responses, firms often just put in their full menu of added value options, thinking they are offering a range of USPs. Far too often these are not unique, because every firm offers the same thing (Management Information, Reports, Newsletters, Seminars, Meeting Rooms etc.), but these are often seen as part of the standard service clients expect. They are also often uncosted and when used extensively eat away at the carefully crafted profit margins.
In the last 15 years, more of these services have gone through the same procurement process that organisations use to buy other goods and services. The size of the prize of winning new work and increasing market share is growing each year. The legal market alone is worth £30.1bn (according to the Office for National Statistics) with a variety of high street firms, regional specialists, national and international firms, offering a variety of price points and services.
Many larger firms have established bid teams, and this was my route into Professional Services tendering. But a fully serviced bid team is a significant investment, and often smaller firms cannot justify employing specialists, meaning bids are a small part of someone’s role. As anyone who has managed a bid of any size, it takes focus and time to craft the response with many underestimating the time involved in finalising the response and delivering a compliant submission before the deadline.
The challenges of delivering this compliant solution are also different, whether firms are bidding to the public or private sector. The significant differences include:
• Operates under EU procurement rules
• Heavily weighted in favour of price
• Obliged to give bid feedback to all bidders
• Generous timeframes
• More single stage processes
• Higher quality element vs. price
• Don’t always provide feedback
• Shorter deadlines
A prime example of public sector procurement is the current Crown Commercial Services Legal Services Marketplace which is due to be released at the end of February, following a large-scale market engagement exercise. Across 5 lots, the total value is £650m, a ‘must win’ Framework appointment for most firms.
So how do you stand out in a crowded market? You could be the cheapest. You could produce the bid as a shiny printed designed document. Are you the incumbent and so can point to a record of service delivery? You could promise to deliver outstanding customer service. In my experience, the key challenge is knowing how to hit the correct emotional and strategic notes for your potential client. But how do you know what these ‘hot buttons’ are?
This is where the benefits of external assistance can make a significant difference to your prospects of being successful. Looking back on 10 years in professional services bidding, so many big bids I have managed would have benefited from a critical friend; someone asking questions which those of us in the middle of the bid just couldn’t see. This is vital when thinking about all of the key elements: the solution, the price, added value and areas which really differentiate such as community benefits/social value.
For example, AM Bid Services were brought in by a large international law firm, to provide that external perspective and work as a critical friend. This review, marking the bid in the same way as the procurement team, but also pushing back internally to get the right decisions on price and quality, brought an excellent result when the contract was awarded.
So, in a diverse and challenging professional services market, think of how you are going to stand out from the crowd. Make your USPs genuine USPs and think about how yours will be the bid which makes the procurement person want to champion your case. But most of all, think about how you will make your finished bid the best it can possibly be. The answer can be just an email or phone call away to an external bid specialist.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Blackburn is Senior Bid Manager at AM Bid Services Ltd, which is rapidly establishing itself as one of the UK’s leading bid consultancies. AM Bid Services launched in October 2014 and has enjoyed remarkable growth, already winning a string of awards and nominations for its work. It is a Corporate Member of APMP UK – the professional body for people working in bidding.
Chris has a strong background in bids and tenders having worked across professional services in senior management roles for the last 10 years. He has extensive experience in managing and developing bids across many sectors. This has included legal and recruitment bids in: Architecture, Consumer Services, Education, Infrastructure, Legal, Public Sector, Rail, Real Estate and Sport. Chris has managed multi-functional bid teams across multiple locations, working with a range of professionals to deliver high calibre winning tenders. His main strength is his ability to communicate and work with teams at all levels, empowering teams to deliver winning submissions.