How to best prepare to win a tender

Many inexperienced bid managers make the mistake of starting the tender process before doing a thorough review of the tender documents – even if the tender sounds like it was written specifically for their business. Do not make this mistake!  

Always start your tender process with a Go / No Go assessment. 

Without proper preparation, you could discover that you are unable to complete the tender in time, you cannot fully deliver the requirements, or face some other impassable obstacle.  

Tender Go/No Go assessment

The Go/No Go assessment is a series of questions you can use to determine if a tender is worth pursuing or not. It will force you to carefully review the tender documents, and ensure you are ready to start planning your bid.  
Your assessment should allow you to answer the question ‘Can we win this tender?’ 
With experience, you can build a more relevant and comprehensive list of questions, but to get you started, here is a basic template: 

Does this tender align with your business strategy?
Based on reputation or experience, do you want to work with this particular customer?
Would you still have enough resources for other upcoming opportunities & accounts?
Is it worth assigning resources to bid for and deliver this contract?
Do you have a realistic chance of winning the contract?
Do you have an existing, positive relationship with the buyer and / or decision maker?
Can you offer a suitable and affordable solution?
Do you expect a lot of competition?
Does the competition have a better chance of winning the work?
Do you have the resources and experience to create a compelling bid?
Can you deliver what you promise?
Do you have the resources to deliver the requirements?
Can you get the resources to deliver the requirements?
Do you have experience in delivering this type of service?
Can you deliver to agreed standards and proposed budget, while still making a profit?

Public sector market preparation

If you are new to the public sector market, then there are additional assessments you need to make if you want to win a tender. 

Do you have industry-relevant accreditations and qualifications? 
By looking through historical or current tenders in your field, you can discover what accreditations and qualifications are often requested. If there are standards that you have not met, you should address these before fully committing time and effort.  
Do your research, learn how to meet these standards, see if there is leeway for alternatives, and check if they make sense for your business. 

Can you reference and demonstrate your ability to deliver similar projects?
Ideally, you would want to be able to provide references of projects within the public sector of similar scope and size, but similar privately delivered projects will serve as suitable references. You may also wish to highlight individuals within your business who have public sector experience and will be involved with project delivery. 
The public sector uses public funds for projects, and experience helps ensure they spend money with suitable suppliers. If you lack experience, you could consider joining frameworks for the provision of smaller requirements.  

Can you provide 2-3 years of audited accounts? 
Most tenders require companies to provide 2-3 years of accounts to show the sustainability of well-established businesses – a risk-reducing measure for buyers. If this cannot be produced, you need to find an alternative way of proving you are viable and do not pose a financial risk to the buyer. Please be aware this is not always the case, if there is little competition or the scope is small – it might not be necessary.  
If you find you do not have enough trading history, either work on building a private sector portfolio first, or look at subcontracting for larger contract winners.

Planning your tender

Your tendering success is heavily reliant on how much planning you do. Your Go/No Go assessment is a great foundation for developing a bid plan, as you will have established the reasons why you should bid for this contract.

The next steps will be working out your timeline of activity, and what to include within your proposal. The following articles will help you plan your activity: 

Planning Your Winning Tender Submission – a sample guide for what should be included within your plans.

Pricing strategies to win tenders – strategies and considerations to help you prepare your next bid.

What criteria do buyers use to evaluate bids? – will help you review the tender documents and decide on your approach.

What are your chances of winning a tender?

Tender evaluation is a very fair process, where your chances of winning tenders depends on the quality of your submissions and how they compare to your competition.   
The psychology of bidding is a quite complex and expansive topic. It is natural to get down on the process if you are consistently getting unsuccessful letters. The reality is that tenders are nearly always published in good faith and are designed to identify the best suppliers to then award the work to. If your results are consistently not what you would hope for, then you need to reflect on what is going wrong, rather than just blaming the process.    

Proposals measure two things;  

  • Your capability to meet the buyer’s requirements 
  • Your capability to complete tenders to a high standard.  


You normally need both to be successful. Being great at one and terrible at the other won’t work. It’s worth reflecting on where you think you have issues:   

  • Are you not winning work that you feel is absolutely perfect for you and you have a great track record of delivering? It’s probably your tendering that’s letting you down.  
  • Are you bidding for things speculatively that you don’t really have experience delivering?  Then it’s probably your organisational capability.  

Always ask (and ask again if required!) for feedback from every unsuccessful tender.  Use this feedback, and do an internal debrief (lessons learned) after each submission. This should help you identify where the issues lie and drive improvements for future submissions. Don’t despair, just be honest and the ways to improve should be clear. 

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