How to gain winning habits when bidding

20160608_0046September 19, 2016: Few things are more important than winning new business. The latest research by the Association of Professional Sales shows that some sales organisations perform better than others at the vital process of bidding for work.

With average win ratios around the 40% mark, some of the organisations surveyed by the APS were averaging in excess of 60%, while nearly a third had a win rate of 30% or less. 10% didn’t even know what their win rate was.

While there can be several reasons for a high win ratio, including the nature of the market and the amount of competition, the economic advantage and the benefit to team morale of winning cannot be under-estimated. No-one wants to play on a team that loses nearly three quarters of its matches.

Winning habits

So what do these more successful organisations do differently? First of all, they plan ahead. They choose carefully what to bid for, with an eye to how much work they already have in the pipeline, and they consider how to approach each individual bid rather than employing a scattergun, one-size-fits-all approach.

Secondly, they understand the client’s needs and in some instances have been able to influence the bid in their favour. They continue to keep in touch with their own and the client’s needs as the bid progresses, making repeated adjustments as necessary – and making sure everyone involved knows what is changing.

Thirdly, whether they win or lose, they probably review how each bid pursuit went, and learn the lessons of what went well and what they could have done better.

Fourthly, bidding is probably an important priority for their organisation, and the bid team has the active involvement and support of leadership all the way through.

“Of those getting win ratios of 60%, the main difference is that the qualifying process is regularly reviewed, fuelled by pre-tender influencing and therefore an understanding of the client’s issues, and a high level of support from senior management,” Chris Whyatt, an APS Fellow and CEO of Get to Great, told an APS webinar on bid management.

What you told us

An APS survey of more than 120 sales professionals, with nearly 50% of them in leadership roles, found that 60% felt that their organisation could improve on their planning around bids, making this the number one issue.

More than half, 54%, said there was some attempt to qualify and prioritise as bids progressed, but that decisions tended not to be reassessed and changes in approach weren’t properly communicated to all involved.

Anne Blackie. APS Board Meeting at Grange Langham Court Hotel, London. 2.12.15 Photographer Sam Pearce/

Anne Blackie, APS Fellow and head of bids and client care at Grant Thornton

The survey also revealed some interesting differences between the attitudes of senior management and the people involved in day-to-day work on bids.

Those in leadership roles were far more optimistic about being able to influence bids than those on the bidding front line, suggesting that leaders may be too divorced from what is really happening.

This was borne out by responses to a question on how well the bid process was led, with 40% of respondents highlighting that they had very little to some leadership, and that managers were too reactive. Predictably, respondents in leadership or bid consultancy roles were more likely to say the bid process was well led.

On the other hand, the more senior the role the more likely respondents were to appreciate the importance and value to their business of putting in professional, well-executed bids. 71% in senior management roles but only 56% in dedicated bid roles felt that bidding was business critical.

Heart and soul

Anne Blackie, APS Fellow and head of bids and client care at business advisers Grant Thornton, who co-led the bid management webinar, warned that sales organisations could damage their reputation by putting in a half-hearted bid.

“When you put in a bad bid, when you haven’t put your heart and soul into it, the client can tell,” she said.

The sectors that put the highest value on bidding were tech, business support services and aerospace, while logistics and professional services organisations put a lower premium on bidding.

More than half of the respondents said their organisation made no effort to review and learn from bids once the process was over, which Chris and Anne said was a vital opportunity lost.

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