Beating Your Competition Through Differentiation October 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm

The Public Sector bidding processes appear to force you to bid exactly the same proposal as everyone else. This process is set up to allow the evaluators to be able to compare one bid against another as easily as they can. The processes seem to stifle any ability to differentiate your offering and slaps down any attempt at innovation! However, we all know that we must stand out from the other bidders if we are to win the bid.

So what can you offer to beat your competition? It appears that you only have two choices: Offer the same thing as your competitors and hope luck is on your side, or take the risk of offering something different and which might not be evaluated.

If you do offer the same thing as the other competitors, your only option is to underprice them. This is the presumption behind the Public Sector approach to procurement which seeks to minimise cost to the public purse. Moreover, if you are required to bid the exact same as the specification demands, you cannot bring your expertise and innovation which differentiates you in the marketplace to give the client a better result than it can appreciate is available outside of its own thinking.

Change the Specification

So the first rule is to get the specification changed! How do you do this? The best way is to talk to the client before the procurement specification is finished. Educate them about the possible and encourage them to specify it.

The next way is to challenge the specification. If you are clever, you can do this through the formal questions process. However, a better way may be to arrange a meeting with the client under the conditions of an NDA. If you get such a meeting you will need to demonstrate significant advantages, sufficient to get the client to cancel its procurement and restart it with a new specification.

Alternatively, you can submit a variant bid. Often the rules state you can only do this is you also submit a compliant bid as well. Nevertheless, if the reasons behind the variant bid are compelling, this will usually be sufficient to get the attention of the client’s senior staff.

Do It Differently

If the route to change the specification cannot be made to work, then you need to get your thinking cap on and approach the response in a different way. Consider offering the client the same as the specification dictates, but propose:

  1. A proposal which meets their procurement process requirements better than anyone else (and, thus, scores more)
  2. A solution which is developed or delivered in a different way
  3. An approach which delivers better results
  4. A solution with more reliability
  5. A proposal with more future options
  6. A solution with more growth potential
  7. A solution with more flexibility
  8. A solution delivered faster than specified
  9. A solution which is better integrated into the client’s environment
  10. A proposal with better after sales support
  11. A contract with a better warranty or guarantee
  12. A management organisation with more accountability or transparency
  13. A proposal with better risk mitigation and risk transfer to the client
  14. A delivery with more sizes or better quantities
  15. Penalties for under performance
  16. Cash flow which better meets the Public Sector funding cycle

Resonate With the Assessors

Finally, for each element of the proposal response think about who will be marking it and make sure the descriptions and examples you provide have the maximum impact upon them. To do this you must consider:

Who (individually and collectively) participates in and benefits from the project (including the citizens and voters!)

  1. What you do or deliver best
  2. Where you work, produce, deliver, or support your offering
  3. When you work, produce, deliver, or support your offering
  4. How you work, produce, deliver, or support your offering
  5. Why you approach it the way you do and what the benefits will be for the customer

Use your market intelligence and address each of these points as if you were the client. See what a
difference it makes.

If you cannot change it, then identify it, make it clearer or just describe the results more
comprehensively for the customer and how they will benefit from it. That alone can set you apart
and make you a more attractive contractor.


When you offer exactly the same thing as everyone else, you only compete on price. When you offer something different, you compete on value. When you offer the same thing, only you do it in a different way, you gain the ability to offer them something better, without increasing your price.

If the specification is so specific that you cannot have a better offering, then you can still be a better supplier. The customer is always looking for differences, so make them clear. Give the client a clear choice, even if it is for the same deliverable.

Ultimately, you can and will always be different. You have to make that difference clear to the customer and, most importantly, show the benefits of these differences in the proposal in their terms.