Design thinking as a tool to win tenders

A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) found that a third of British businesses are actively looking to suppliers in the UK to replace those in Europe, ahead of Brexit negotiations.

The reshoring of supply chains could provide an excellent opportunity for manufacturers looking to win new contracts, but it also comes with significant challenges.

One of those challenges is the procurement process itself, increasingly conducted via tenders. These can be a costly consumer of time, with many forms to be completed just to prequalify – let alone actually tender.

Add in online reverse auctions and e-procurement, and it can be a nightmare of commoditisation. But tendering is here to stay, and online portals and agencies have emerged to try and help point businesses in the right direction.

Naturally, buyers see it as a great way to control costs – but do they always get the best solution?

As the former astronaut Alan Shepard said, “It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realise that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”

So how can manufacturers use tenders as a way of stimulating their businesses to create differentiated products and expand into new markets? And how can buyers break out of the ‘race-to-the-bottom’ model?

This article first appeared in the June issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here

Looking beyond price

Design and ‘design thinking’ are vital tools when creating tenders that differentiate – and more importantly – win.

The issue I want to highlight here is that it is possible to design your product or service so that it isn’t all about price; it isn’t all about the one-off payment; it isn’t about just staying in your market niche.

Tenders can be a great way to leverage your manufacturing and marketing competency – and an effective way to stretch your brand into new and complementary channels. Tendering can inject energy into your business by pulling together cross-functional teams and empowering and focusing them to the task and timescale.

This is where design thinking comes into play. In the case study below we used the stages I’ve discussed previously, and in particular we were able to Empathise, Uncover, Ideate and – up to a point – Prototype and Test. Read on to find out how we were able to make our tender really stand out.

Design Case Study: How to win the tender, create a new market and challenge the incumbent

This example relates to a tender Westminster City Council issued as part of its initiative for implementing Automatic Public Toilets (APTs). Our client was Clear Channel Adshel, a leading provider of street furniture, including bus shelters and poster sites. Adshel did not have an APT to offer, so was at a significant disadvantage when tendering for council contracts.

The world leader in APTs – in fact their inventor – was the global advertising giant JCDecaux. The ‘clever’ business model they pioneered was the use of advertising panels to help fund council infrastructure, services and facilities.

1. Understanding the business problem

This was relatively straight forward: Adshel needed a fully accessible APT offering to maintain relevance in the Westminster City tender and for tenders in the rest of the world.

Like all public bodies, Westminster City has strict tendering procedures. We had just a few weeks to design, visualise and pull together a credible offering, capable of winning the bid – or at least buying sufficient time to reach the short list.

The tight timescale demanded parallel working – from researching accessible WC provision to materials and finishes, and from finding a credible manufacturing and service partner to demonstrating the financial backing of a global media business.

Look around Westminster and you can see we succeeded thanks to an amazing design and tender document (including a development program).

2. Prioritise alternatives

We knew from the start that JCDecaux would beat us hands down on proven track record, installed base and product already designed.

We also knew we had to achieve parity on price, performance and service. The area we were sure we could beat them was creating a new design language, one that was made specifically for the Westminster City environment. From there, the design aesthetic, the material selection and the blending of modern engineering with traditional detailing began to emerge.

The team not only made sure it fully understood the Council’s environment/design language but also we went far beyond their guidelines. They created a best-practice materials palate from Portland stone, lead, stainless steel and oak. They used beautiful typography and focused on fine details, such as the Westminster heraldic shield.

A Swedish partner, Danflow, delivered the mechanical design and manufacturing. Not only did they provide personnel and engineering prowess, they gave our tender the vital credibility it needed thanks to their successful track record in similar projects.

3. Design in action

Winning the tender submission became the team’s sole focus. It was critical to show an absolute commitment to the design concept, the manufacturing partnership and the whole personalised submission.

Beyond the financials, statutory paperwork and design drawings, we produced computergenerated images (CGIs), a video, a 1:10 scale model and material sample boards – all to convince Westminster we had the vision, ability and team to deliver their solution.

4. Delivery

In retrospect it seems inevitable that we would win the bid, but at the time it felt far from certain. We had a superb design; a credible financial and service package; and the engineering in place. What we also had was amazing alignment, an amazing belief and an amazing team – something we could not have managed without design thinking.

It reminds me a little of when JFK asked a cleaner at NASA what he did: “I’m helping put a man on the moon” came the reply. We may not have quite done that, but we certainly gave the team involved and the Westminster public a helping hand in their day-today journeys about the city. The APT won a Design Council award and went on to create a platform which allowed reskinning for other APT tenders around the globe.

To find out how design tools + design thinking can help your business grow, contact us today! info@thebrewerygroup.com

Paul Stead - The Brewery Group