Monday, 23 July 2012

How to win Competitive Dialogue bids – Inspired by Team Sky Pro Cycling and British Cycling

The Competitive Dialogue bidding process can take a long time – it is a multi stage, high cost procurement method.   However it is popular in the public sector as it clarifies the requirements and solutions between buyers and bidders and helps ensure bids are compliant.  There is a lot of contact with the customer and therefore a lot of opportunity to influence the direction of the bid.  But how do you do that amongst other bidders trying to do the same thing?
The head of Team Sky and British Cycling, Dave Brailsford, knows what it takes to win.  He has transformed British Cycling in to world beaters.  Over the past 2 years I have applied Dave Brailsford’s philosophy to my own bidding activities at the company I work for.
Dave Brailsford talks about a strategy called ‘Controlling Variables’.  This means that you take into account conditions which may vary during the bid (and possibly change the results) and control them to remove or minimise their affect on the result of the bid in your favour.
I see each bid requirement as a variable that needs to be controlled and managed so that the proposal is perceived as the best.  I can then start to see the variables I will be best at amongst the competition and the ones I need to improve. 
The Competitive Dialogue bid process is essentially a great big arms race. There are a lot of requirements to get right in terms of commercial proposals, service delivery methods, proposed operational people, the price and the quality of the written submission. 
There is no doubt you need to compete with the other bidders on all these variables.  Controlling the direction of discussion in customer meetings is important to ensure that the bid is perceived as the best, most innovative and compelling.
The way to do this is to make sure nothing is left to chance In terms of knowledge, preparation, other work pressures on the team, support, stakeholder knowledge, research, analysis of dialogue meetings and so on.  Work everything through in detail. It is all about finding the incremental advantage – the nugget of information or idea that the other bidder hasn’t thought about that improves your bid.
Dave Brailsford calls this – “performance by the aggregation of marginal gains.” He says, “It means taking the 1% from everything you do; finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything you do. That's what Team Sky and British Cycling try to do from the mechanics upwards.   For example, If a mechanic sticks a tyre on, and someone comes along and says it could be done better, it's not an insult - it's because they are always striving for improvement, for those 1% gains, in absolutely every single thing they do."
Naturally, all these tiny gains can add up to large gain – and that’s the approach that has underpinned Britain's phenomenal success in cycling.
So if a bid can be the best and the bid team performs to the absolute highest level, this is success from a process point of view.  If you start looking at the outcome in terms of just the result it is impacted on by so many other variables that you are putting yourself and your team under an massive amount of unnecessary pressure.
The one thing you are in charge of is being your best. It’s therefore critical to have the right people with knowledge and motivation. 
This is the most important variable. It is one you are totally in control of and can not be influenced by other companies.  The behaviour, attitude and motivation of your dialogue team is as important, if not more, than the actual nuts and bolts of the bid. 
There is always room for improvement here because to keep going for (in some cases) up to a year in Competitive Dialogue is such a monumental effort.  To carry on making the investment must largely be in the mind. That is where there is an opportunity. Psychology is everything.
After a long process, put yourself in the best place to win
In a Competitive Dialogue situation, part of the psychological armoury is that rivals simply look at the investment being made and think: well, there's no point competing. That is a clear advantage that didn’t need any innovation. 
This is one variable that each bidder cannot control, that is the rate of progression of the other bidders. So, if you perform better than other bidders and progress faster, you will cover more ground, leave less to chance or luck and be in the best position to win.

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