Q: My small service company has been established for a couple of years now. While we’ve built up a decent client base, we always planned to go after tenders from state agencies. However, in the last year, we’ve submitted about ten tender documents for contracts that were extremely suitable, and failed to win a single one. Is this lack or success normal, or does it sound like we’re doing something wrong? And is there anything you’d suggest to improve a company’s ‘strike rate’?


A: Tendering for public sector work can be a frustrating process, particularly if it’s for renewal of an existing contract. While a Department or agency might be perfectly happy with how a service is being provided, they’re legally obliged to test the market on a regular basis – but the existing supplier, as a known quantity, will always have an edge. In this way, a system designed to make public tendering more efficient can potentially end up wasting everyone’s time as the Department or agency simply opts for the status quo. Some businesses simply face an uphill struggle cracking the market.

That said, having submitted ten tenders without success, you’re right to be analysing whether you have the correct approach. As Einstein once said – and a famously competitive Corkman repeated – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So, look back through the most recent tenders and analyse the feedback scores that you’ve received. Look for a pattern – are you consistently scoring low in a key area such as price or expertise? Or are different things letting you down each time? Do you think a score, whether related to the expertise of your team or the ability of the proposal to deliver on what’s required, was incorrect? In that case, you may have an issue properly communicating what you’re offering. In the majority of cases these days, of course, it will come down to price, and the winning bid will almost always come with the lowest price tag.

Aside from this, you should look to get more detailedfeedback if at all possible. Sometimes this will be offered in a formal interview setting – more often, you’ll be able to request a quick coffee with the decision maker. In either instance, it’s invaluable for finding out important information. Why exactly did your bid fall down in each area compared to the winner’s? And is there anything you could have done to make it more competitive?


Even if this isn’t possible, you may be able to identify the progress of a contract – whether that’s producing a magazine, delivering a website, or running a call centre. Getting as much information as possible over the life of the contract will tell you how the winning bid actually delivered on the ground and, in turn, what the decision-makers wanted. That in turn can inform your efforts for the future.

I’d also suggest that, if you’re adopting a scattershot approach to your bidding, you’re making a mistake. Rather than spreading your time across ten bids in a year, you’re better off focusing more energy on fewer tenders. This lets you select the ‘low hanging fruit’ and invest more time to really understand your targeted tenders in depth. Best of luck.

Declan Dolan

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