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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

Building from rejection: Learning from your bidding mistakes

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

2016 and 2017 sees many public service spin-outs face the prospect of re-tendering for their core contracts. To mark this milestone, we are publishing a series of articles on bid writing and business development. Read the eighth in the series below.

There’s almost nothing more crushing than the news that you’ve missed out on a bid by a few points. All those late nights, that last minute rush to get the documents emailed, disturbing your FD on her first week off for six months. Aarrgghh!

Take a breath.

Like psychologists’ model of the stages of grief you are likely to go through a phase of denial, anger, maybe a bit of depression, and then come to acceptance.

Naturally, there are questions: what was wrong with our bid? Where did we lose out? Who won it?

The starting points should be a bit of a self-assessment. If the bid involved a presentation, inevitably you will have a sense of what went well and what didn’t from the body language of the panel.

You can expect to receive written feedback. Authorities vary in their approach to this: sometimes it’s a scant line or two of text that doesn’t give a whole lot away, and sometimes it is a very structured response where you have to read between the lines. Either way, it should shed some light on your strengths and weaknesses.

After you have received written feedback, ask if you can have it verbally too – by requesting a conversation. This is likely to be much more revealing and will let you know just how close you came. If you do get to speak to the commissioner, be gracious in defeat and look to the positives: that will stand you in better stead for next time.

Reasons for failure could be almost anything. It might be a small detail, or it might be significant area of weakness. One of my clients working in adult social care scored lower on the ‘user voice’ element, while their bid rival impressed by taking a service user to the pitch. In another case the bidder had a systemic weakness: it didn’t have a convincing system to monitor and track its outcomes. On the other hand it could be a tactical error – where you go for something that you never really had a chance of landing. If this is the case, the lesson is to do your homework.

‘Who won it?’ should be a more straightforward question to answer. All public authorities are obliged to publish a Contract Award Notice, or CAN, so it’s not a secret. If they are being slow, don’t be afraid to ask them because whoever it is will be delivering services in a few weeks or months anyway.

When you do get a rejection the most important thing is not to despair. But make sure that you don’t just ignore what you are told. Address your areas of weaknesses and be honest with yourself. If you need training on presentation skills, book on a course. If it is better to leave one of your colleagues at home next time you are invited to pitch, don’t be afraid to make that call. If you need to better data then don’t put off investing in that system.

For more articles in this series click here.


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