When an unsuccessful tender is still rewarding

I thought I would share our experience with a recent tender process, for which we were unsuccessful, as it is a model for how these processes should be conducted. The result might not be what we had hoped for, but the tender was conducted in such a way that the experience was rewarding, and respectful of the effort required by small businesses to bid for work in this typically time consuming manner.

The tender was conducted by the Camberwell Girls Grammar School, and is ongoing as I write this; we were shortlisted to a semi-final group of eight and invited to submit a formal bid, but did not get shortlisted to the final three, so we are out of the picture for now. Despite this disappointing outcome, we enjoyed the process of tendering, and this was entirely a result of the thoughtful and respectful structure of the tender as set up by the School.

The School’s initial public expression of interest was structured in a clever way that was easy to respond to, and I believe, subsequently easy to assess - the tenderers had to submit no more than five single pages, Arial font at 12 point, with no graphics or marketing materials accepted. This has two benefits. Firstly, for the respondent, it allows you to concentrate on making your case based on the facts, and forces brevity. You have to get to the point. Secondly, time and effort is not wasted on unnecessary and typically distracting graphics work, or on the effort to make the submission appear more appealing through superficial means. The end result is a ‘lean’ process, which is of benefit to all parties involved. From our point of view, it also levels the playing field between small firms like ours, with constrained resources, and large firms with graphics teams and bidding teams who can invest large amounts of time and effort in multiple tenders. We like that.

When it came time to prepare a formal bid, the School convened an information session with the semi-final eight teams, and as a result our subsequent tenders were informed and could once again get to the point. At this point the tender response was unconstrained, and marketing material and graphics could come into play; however, the incentive and potential payback on the investment of effort at this stage of the process is much higher, as you have already been shortlisted. The result is a sustainable process - if all tenders were conducted in this way, they would be more affordable for small businesses, with better odds of success warranting the investment of time, effort and intellectual property.

Finally, after we learnt that we were unsuccessful, the School took the time to offer meaningful feedback in a generous manner, further ensuring that our investment of time and effort was not lost, but translated into valuable lessons for future bids. All in all, it is the most fruitful lost bid that we have ever experienced.

The Camberwell Girls Grammar School’s approach has, overall, been the opposite of the scatter-gun approach indulged in by many tender issuers. We appreciated their investment of time and thought in the process, and commend them for conducting their bidding process in this way. If only more tenders were structured in this manner, we might have a sustainable and worthwhile bidding environment for small and medium sized firms.