If you find yourself wishing for the creative freedom of a campaign when you’re writing your bid, you’re not alone. The RFP process is, at best, limiting. At its worst, though, it’s stifling. Many bid teams we work with struggle to bring their value to life in a prescriptive Q&A format that seemingly offers little scope for exploration.
One of the downsides of the rigid bid format is that it’s easy to think of it as a science: it’s not. We’ve spent over 18 years perfecting the art (yes art!) of working creatively within even the tightest of procurement bid processes. Here’s 4 tips for making your bids just as hard-hitting as your campaigns:
1) You can STILL tell a story
In any dialogue where your audience is time-poor and spoilt for choice, you have to get to your points quickly, make them clear and keep them short – this is especially true in a typical bid scenario. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tell a story. Using simple, human language you can paint a picture of the people behind your business and convey a more personal sense of what it’d be like to work with you, both of which are key considerations in an industry where the solution is really only half the battle – as people still buy from people. Key to this is creating a strong, overall vision for your response and then absolutely threading it through every element of your response. Demonstrating the value your solution will bring – not just by answering the exam questions, but by artful storytelling that – as any really good story does – helps your client visualise how you will take them towards their goals. We used this technique to help one of the UK’s leading contract caterers win an unprecedented 4th term contract by devising an entire story, featuring the passionate cast (their team) in words, film and photography; from the bar person hand-cleaning glasses to their chef in a field plucking fresh carrots from the ground. All was designed to show their long-term investment and enduring commitment under the creative “Hungrier than ever” win theme.
2) You can be creative AND compliant
It goes without saying your bid needs to stand out. To make that happen in the bid process, you have to push the creative boundaries further than you normally would, but often potential creativity gets stifled by fear of non-compliance. But there are ways to tick the boxes and still put creativity to work – which in itself often demonstrates the innovative approach you’ll bring to the client. One of the advantages of working on a bid is that you have a very specific and fairly captive audience, so take the opportunity to make the design and creative concepts as bespoke and personal as possible. No matter the format you have to ultimately deliver and even when the RFP is especially restricted, there’s always way.
As an example, we were told it wasn’t possible when we were working with a global network IT and communications services provider pitching for a leading high street retailer’s digital transformation programme. It was a Microsoft Word submission, via a strict procurement portal, so our client couldn’t see a way to creatively stand out. But we strongly believed to not do so would be to deny our client the best chance to bring to life their digital innovation vision. So we did some digital transformation of our own – turning Microsoft Word into a ‘digital’ tablet by clever use of embedded creative breakout visuals. The Word document was uploaded – meeting all of the required constraints and we created a printed copy, which was hand delivered to the senior decision maker in a customised laptop sleeve. Where there’s a will, there really is a way. This behaviour showed the end customer the lengths our client was prepared to go to live and breathe innovation. And it resulted in a winning outcome.
3) You CAN make it personal
A bid needs to demonstrate an empathetic mindfulness that explores and addresses the full extent of your client’s preoccupations. That means showing you care not just about their business, but also their customers and the people behind the business, and that you know how to combat their individual pain-points. Go beyond the immediate concerns laid out in the RFP and address the the issues your client may not have considered yet.
We’ve done this time and again through multiple, often very simple, tactics such as re-writing case studies to sift out the “so-what” factor that will appeal to the individual client and save them trawling through more generic bumph that quickly loses their interest, or showing the people behind our clients’ business by taking a more candid and open approach to their biographies. We’ve created completely different responses for stakeholders from the creative director to the commercial director where we know they’re looking for totally different things (the clue was in the titles….creative versus the commercials, this is NOT a one size fits all scenario), so that each could immediately see their specific interests were being understood and prioritised. It speaks volumes about the personal type of relationship they can expect to have with you when they engage you.
4) And don’t forget…
…ANSWER THE BLOODY QUESTIONS!
An obvious point but one that’s often inadvertently overlooked. This is where many bid teams shoot themselves in the foot. While creativity is important, a bid is not the place to get attached to content that only works for you. If at any point you feel your response is becoming more about self-expression than rigorously answering the questions on the page, stop, step away, identify where you went wrong and try again. A bid is a dialogue where the questions have already been asked and the scale of success is measured by how well you answer them – so you need a razor sharp focus to make sure you get it right.
There’s a lot more to consider if you want to make your bid truly stand out. So if you’d like a few more practical tips on how to significantly improve your win-rate based on our winning formula, download our free guide or get in touch to see a few more examples in action.