If no one within the prospect organization actively wants you to win, you won't. It's that simple.
"Win" does not mean "compete." Many buyers are willing to let you compete. They call it due diligence, with you spending your time and money filling out a field of putative competitors.
Unless one of the decision-stakeholders wants you to win, however, you won't. It's the myth of the level playing field.
So, if someone you know invites you to participate in a competitive bid process, don't get all excited. First, thank them for thinking of you and then ask the following questions:
- Who else has been invited to bid?
- Who are the decision stakeholders?
- What are the real decision criteria, and how will the process play out?
- Which of the competitors would each named stakeholder like to see win?
- Do you want me to win? Why?
Can't imagine asking these questions? Maybe you're afraid of the answers you might get. . .or afraid that your host might decline, or be offended and the like.
Yet, aren't these the very questions you need to ask if you're going to win?
If the person inviting you to spend a lot of your time and money on this bid won't answer them, they don't want you to win. They may be OK with it if you happen to win...somehow. But they don't want it bad enough to help you win.
Claims of neutrality are lame. While it's true that they must appear neutral, if they actually are neutral, you can't win.
At least one competitor--possibly many of them--has a decision-stakeholder who wants them to win. If you don't, you're cannon fodder.
One of the easiest indicators of weakness in your competitive situation is if the invitation to bid was a surprise. If you didn't know it was coming, and nobody clued you about the competitive situation, you should be really skeptical about the legitimacy of your chances. You're likely cannon fodder. This doesn't mean automatically walking away (although you should be working every day to get into a strong enough position where you can do just that), but it absolutely means you must ask the hard questions above.