How an SME can win business from a big corporate (Part 2)

In Part 1, I discussed how large corporates do partner with small to medium business entities and how to start the process as an SME to win their business. But I left you at a critical point…

What if you’re invited to tender?

Private and listed companies generally issue requests for tender, pitch or proposal to a select few, so scoring an invitation to do so is your first challenge.

Usually, those invited may have approached the company before; some may even have had lengthy discussions over a considerable period of time. Invitations will go out to businesses who are well respected in their industry, those known to key staff members or those who come as a result of recommendations, referrals or from researching the market. It’s also normal practice for the incumbent provider to be asked to rebid.

Attend any briefings

Many large corporates and government organisations hold briefings for major tenders, so that’s your starting point. Make sure you attend and get as much out of the briefing as you possibly can.

However, make yourself very familiar with the RFT or RFP before you go. You don’t want to get caught out by asking a question that’s already been answered by the information in the RFT.

Find out beforehand who’ll be presenting and what their role is. Stay behind for refreshments if invited to do so, and connect with the procurement team. Informal chats can be very informative!

How can your business stand out from the rest?

RFTs and RFPs are very prescriptive. If you fail to comply with any aspect, you’ll be disqualified.

So first, make sure you answer absolutely every question in the RFT or RFP and complete every form and compliance statement.

It is imperative you tick all the boxes, dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. Take the time to check and double check.

Make sure, for instance, that you provide clause-by-clause comment on the contract, if asked.

Second, answer all the questions clearly and succinctly. Don’t provide extra information – only what is asked for.

Go hard where you can present your company’s credentials, people, products or services and their benefits. That is, the value they will bring.

It’s about them, not you

It’s important to understand that you are not trying to sell; you’re trying to interact with the business which has asked you to bid. To do so, and to have a good chance at winning, your pitch, proposal or tender needs to personalise the experience for them. You can begin to do this by using their company or department name, referring to them throughout your submission as “you” and “your”.

It’s tempting to begin every sentence of your bid with “We will…” or “Our company can…”, because that’s what they want to hear, right? Wrong.

What they need to hear is how working with you will be of benefit to them. So make it easy for the organisation to understand this by using phrases such as

“XYZ Department will benefit from our…” or

“ABC Company’s need for high security will be met by our ability to…”.

Writing this way places the emphasis on their needs being answered; it focuses on the outcomes they will achieve by choosing to do business with you.

Talk in their language

Take the time to notice the tone of the company’s RFT or RFP. Is it very formal or is it conversational? You can pitch your proposal at the right level by reflecting the terms and phrases they use themselves.

Do more to fine tune your approach. Read their website, check out what their marketing material says, listen to their advertising on TV and radio and use the same terminology. Show that you’ve taken the time to do your research and are in tune with the way they project their business.

RFPs and RFTs always ask for ‘innovative solutions’. What does this really mean?

Innovation has a different interpretation for different organisations. Generally, companies are looking for evidence of features, technology, events or people that will help to move their business forward in some way.

Put simply, innovation can be broken down into five areas.

  1. Financial innovations: your business model; risk sharing; revenue sharing; outcomes or results.
  2. Process innovations: time savers; cost savers; enabling processes.
  3. Delivery innovations: customer service; product performance.
  4. People innovations: key staff; leaders in their field; brand ambassadors.
  5. Technological innovations: engagement with latest technology; best security solutions.

It may be appropriate in your pitch, proposal or tender to describe how your business has introduced and benefited from innovations, whether they be technical, financial, digital or workplace.

For example, how do you connect with your customers? How do you connect with staff in different locations? How do you service your customers? How is your product performing? How does your system work? How do you create an integrated experience? Examples like these can help illustrate how you could replicate your successes for your customer.

Demonstrate how you can help to move their business forward, even in a small way – what will the outcome be?

If your product or service offers a first-to-market opportunity or something else unique, you need to point out not only why it is original, but exactly how it will help the organisation to move their business forward. Consider offering a trial period or proof of concept as a way of increasing the value you can add.

How important is the environment and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

It varies of course, but in the last 10 years, large corporates, listed companies and government have included questions about tenderers’ environmental and CSR credentials as part of their tender process.

Clearly, if a company sets out its sustainability mission statement on its website and in its annual report, it needs to be confident that its suppliers share the same values.

This is why it is important to have an environmental policy or a CSR program in place, no matter how small it or your business may be.

What else can you offer?

We’ve mentioned how prescriptive RFTs and RFPs are. Even so, large corporates and government bodies usually give tenderers an opportunity to provide a more creative solution or an alternative solution. This is your chance to really sell your product or service. It’s also where you can point out anything the organisation has overlooked.

If you already have a relationship with the organisation, point out to procurement your trusted advisor status, the advice and support you already provide. Large corporations tend to look to their current suppliers to fulfil their needs for new commodities or services. So if you do have a relationship with them, make the most of it.

Aspire to be a trusted advisor. Using existing relationships to identify new leads at the organisation. Keep the procurement team (all of your contacts there, not just one) informed with what you do and any new services, products or innovations.

In summary…what to do to win business from a big corporate
  • Use referrals from within the organisation to nominate your business to procurement.
  • Connect with the procurement team. Show that you’ve taken the time to research and listen to them and that you have a proposal.
  • Demonstrate the ROI for their business.
  • Demonstrate how you can help to move their business forward, even in a small way – what will the outcome be?
  • Understand your own business’ point of difference and how this can help the organisation.
  • Make accurate, timely and relevant offers in your pitches, tenders and proposals.
  • Share the risk and the reward.
  • Offer a trial or proof of concept.
  • Answer the RFT or RFP correctly.
And finally… what not to do
  • Don’t lose heart.
  • Don’t cold call.
  • Be patient. Be tenacious. Large organisations have a lot of decision makers and many layers of input. It can take months and months for a decision to be forthcoming as the process moves through the bureaucracy, so be prepared for the long haul.

And if you want more tips, head to our Tender Writing & Proposal Writing services page where you will find a short video and a tender checklist to download, or read our most popular blog: Top 10 tips for writing tenders and proposals.


This article was written by Proof Communications Director and Founder, Rosemary Gillespie.

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