Reinforcement, not just repetition

When working on a tender bid, it’s quite normal to feel uncomfortable about the apparent need to repeat yourself over, and over again.

Tender requests often ask what appear to be similar questions, but in multiple ways. You might pick this up on an initial read of the RFP, or it may not become apparent until you start developing your content, and find you’re needing to cover issues that you feel have already been asked and answered before.

When you are working intensively on a tender bid, it’s natural to go a bit stir-crazy when re-reading your own content for the fourteenth time.

This is amplified when you are juggling multiple bids, for similar customers - all asking for the same information. 

But is repetition really bad in this context? Or is there a way to use it to your advantage?

Imagine for a minute that you’re making a cake for a bake-off competition. Your answers to the buyer’s RFP questions are the plain cake that everyone is making. Your selling messages are your secret frosting recipe that will make your cake taste much better your competitor’s.

Tender evaluators are like the bake-off judges, who are really just expecting to taste the cake they set out the recipe for. To wow the judges and win the competition, your combination of cake and frosting needs to work together to make your entry delicious – and irresistible.

Away from the world of competitive cake-baking, and back to the world of tender bids, I know it can be tedious to have to repeat information in response to poorly constructed RFP ‘recipes’. 

To be respectful of the process, and avoid non-compliance, try re-stating the concept in a slightly different way, rather than simply parroting previous responses.

Communication of selling messages in tender bids, however, is on a different level altogether. This requires reinforcement, of which repetition is only one component; the other two are illustration and expansion. 


Studies into the effect of advertising and marketing show that repeating messages will breed a level of familiarity that eventually leads to liking and preference among customers. A 2015 study from Sydney University found that this preference effect is more likely to occur when the message is repeated within the same context or medium. That’s great news for you, because tender evaluators are a captive, singular audience. You will get their undivided attention, at least for a limited period of time.

So if your selling message is worth saying, it’s worth saying more than once.


By the time a customer reads your bid, you will be intimately familiar with it. On the other hand, they will be seeing it for the first time, alongside competing proposals. It’s very easy in this crowded environment for important messages to not just be missed, but misunderstood.

Last year I delivered a study and report into supplier experiences of competitive tendering and dealing with procurement. In it, many suppliers expressed a lack of confidence that the buyer had actually read their submission. In fact, 33.4% said that they had ‘often’ or ‘very often’ been asked clarifying questions about their bid, when it seemed that the buyer had not read it properly.

I reckon the root cause of this problem is not buyer laziness, nor their tendency towards skim reading – it is lack of comprehension. This is something that suppliers can, and must, work harder to avoid.

Selling messages need to be illustrated in a way that makes them vivid and memorable. This means both literal illustration – through visuals - and narrative illustration, using words to explain complex concepts that may seem obvious to you, but are anything but to your audience.  


For a concept to be persuasive, it needs to feel complete. So rather than just repeating a selling message, think about how you can expand it, deepen it, and take it further. Is there an aspect you can bring to life that you haven’t covered previously? A piece of evidence you could add, or expand on? Something you could say to reassure and avoid objections from the buyer?

When combined, repetition and illustration help the customer to see what you’re on about. Illustration and expansion help them to feel it. And expansion and repetition help them to believe it.

Reinforcement requires nuance and imagination, where repetition on its own is lazy and boring. And reinforcement of your selling messages could just mean the difference between serving up a bid that is just like everyone else’s, and serving up the prize winner.