5 ways to deal with increasingly cost-sensitive tenders for work

business development

And now for a look at tomorrow's headlines

Despite what anybody tells you tenders are designed to lower costs. They may request all sorts of information from you; encourage you to be creative and innovative and bang on about quality and value but when they open up your response the first page they turn to is the one headed “Costs”.

Since there is always somebody in your peer group who is more desperate than you it means there is always somebody out there who is going to be cheaper than you. Tenders are creating a race to the bottom of the price barrel and that isn’t good for anybody including the client.

So what are your options? Here’s five of the best…….

1. Keep doing the same old, same old.

Einstein’s definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over in the same way and expecting a different outcome each time. This option is not recommended by your local business development specialist.

2. Become a Cost Plus Operator

Instead of plucking hourly rates out of the air why not work out what it actually costs to provide a service including direct (what is the true cost of a partner, say) and indirect costs (overheads and so on). Once you have added your margin to this you can be sure that this is a reasonable price and hopefully will be somewhere in the ball-park.

One side-effect of this approach is that it throws a spotlight on the way in which you deliver your offering. By innovating, using new technology and standardisation you may be able to lower the delivery costs and so lower your bid prices and therefore increase your chances of winning the deal.

Of course this is setting you on a path of providing a commodity based service. Some firms will make a lot of money by doing this. I personally wouldn’t choose to work in that part of the field myself though because it’s not much fun and it also happens to be highly vulnerable to the effects of market fluctuations.

3. Go Niche

People recognise that when they base their decisions on cost they will not actually get the best possible service available. It’s a trade-off they’re willing to make. But some will also recognise that certain types of work do demand extra skills or a more studied approach where the price of under-performance is high perhaps.

When you submit your proposal you point out the value of your offering, admit it is not the cheapest but single out when a more expensive flavour (yours) is the right one. Price it up based on decent rates and position yourself as an escalation supplier: in other words work only comes to you when it needs to and you charge differently to the rest of their suppliers.

If your offering genuinely is much better than the competition and there is a real need to use it under certain circumstances then you could be onto a winner here. Note you could do much less business then the other suppliers but make the same amount of profit!

4. Change the game

Always submit a tender response in the format, style and content that the client requested but include a second option which is disruptive. So they ask for hourly rates which you provide but you also offer to take a risk and do all the work for a fixed price with no if’s, but’s or maybe’s. Game changer; makes them begin to think of things other than comparing one suppliers prices against another’s.

Risky and needs innovation but can work handsomely – worth some thought I’d say.

5. Just not bother

Seriously. If you’re not going to change your business to use a cost-plus model; take risks or have a real niche then my advice is don’t bother responding to tenders. If you take this option there is one thing you have to do: build yourself an active sales environment which systematically generates lots of new leads; has a process to grade the leads and then convert the good ones into clients where you have an outstanding client care programme in place to maximise ongoing revenues.

Qualified volume coupled with effective processes, tools, techniques and control mechanisms when combined properly will provide more of the target clients who base their buying decisions on more than just cost.


Tendering is here to stay and if anything will become even more prevalent and cost-sensitive. The “do nothing” option really isn’t an option so whatever you do do it soon and do it well.


Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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Posted in Business Development, Lawyers, Lead generation, New Business, Sales, Targets, Uncategorized
One comment on “5 ways to deal with increasingly cost-sensitive tenders for work
  1. Great blog, really interesting read about business development.

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Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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