Frequently asked questions

Planning a Compliant Tender Response

Every question that’s asked in a tender document will contain more than one layer, that is, several questions within the question. Look for the layers and you will produce more compliant answers and also get better results. In a session with my Master Class group this morning, we were talking about content planning for tender responses. This is a very important topic, but often one that people struggle to get their heads around.

When we're on a deadline and there's a lot of work to do, it is very tempting to jump straight into writing, but in fact, this is never going to give you the best result.

Planning is the essential step between creating your bid strategy and executing it through what you write in your proposal.  But even the word “planning” sounds as much fun as getting a root canal. It feels like it will slow us down and stop the momentum and the flow of ideas.

However, I look at planning somewhat differently. When I plan proposal content with teams, I find that it actually gives a really laser sharp focus to what we’re about to do.

It’s a bit like flying a plane. If bid strategy work is the preparation for take-off, and writing is cruising at altitude, then planning what happens just after take-off when the flight is still ahead of us. Many things are possible, but many things could still go wrong.  Planning gives us an opportunity to see them, and work out the bumps before they throw us off course.

Often in our haste to get a bid done by the deadline, we compile proposals rather than write them. We think: “okay, here's a question about quality assurance. I'm just going to copy paste my standard answer about quality assurance in here.” But questions are rarely asked exactly the same way each time. So take the time to identify the layers in the question that your answer needs to cover. And think of your standard content from past proposals as a reference library, not the finished answer.

Dear Procurement: all I want for Christmas is…

Last December I ran this letter in the Winning Pitch, and it had the highest open rates of all my newsletters in 2012. So if you missed my Christmas letter to Procurement it, here it is again, with a few amendments to bring it up to date for 2013. Unfortunately, the bad news is that not much has changed in the buyer/supplier relationship in the past twelve months. The good news is that there is still room for improvement!

Here's hoping that the New Year brings more balance for all of us in the tendering system. No matter what side of the fence you sit on, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year :-)

Dear buyers,

You need stuff done; we know how to do things.  We need each other, and we really want to work with you to do great things together.

Unfortunately, the tendering system is turning us into adversaries, not collaborators. Like us, you are probably drowning under a pile of forms and schedules, and you must be wondering if there is a better way to make buying decisions.  We think there is.  Here is how, with only a few small adjustments, we can change this system for the better.

  • Let us talk to you again. A tender isn't the only way to scope the market and for complex purchases, it really isn't the best option. So let’s have a chat. Things change quickly and you might be surprised about what we can do for you now that you haven't yet heard about. And, while we’re on the subject…
  • Bring back Expressions of Interest.  If you want to assess potential suppliers on paper, why not use an EOI, rather than an RFT? These are short and reasonably straightforward for us to complete. They make us feel like we’re in with chance, and not like we are jumping over a very high hurdle for a very small likelihood of return.
  • Say what you mean. Years have passed since the introduction of competitive tendering, but the tenders themselves haven't changed very much in all that time. They are often hard to interpret, and the evaluation criteria don’t always match the questions. With better instructions, any supplier with a bit of common sense will be able to bid confidently. That’s good for you, and it’s good for us.
  • Timetable a response period that’s reasonable. We run a pretty tight ship these days; our staff are stretched and it can be difficult to keep up with complex RFT requirements and shrinking deadlines. Crunching us for time because you’re late to market only means you get rushed, poor quality submissions. On the other hand…
  • Don’t issue a timetable and then grant a last-minute extension just before the deadline. This unfairly disadvantages (and discourages) the suppliers that are prepared, and have made it a priority to respond to your RFT.
  • Please, answer our questions when we ask them. We think very hard before we submit questions about an RFT, because we don’t want to waste your time. But often, we don’t get meaningful answers (or sometimes, any answers). Better information will mean better proposals for you to evaluate.  And finally…
  • Have a heart - don’t drop a tender on 21 December.  We know you like to come back to a full inbox, but we would like to see our families too.

There's no doubt the tendering system could work better, and together, we have the power to make it happen. 

You know, at the end of the day, we are all just people. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. So come meet some of us; we bet you will like what you see and hear.

With hope and best wishes for a Happy New Year, Your Prospective Suppliers

Proposal writing tip: should I use italics, underlining and bold text?

When you're making a pitch to a customer with a limited attention span, it's best not to do anything that is going to distract them from the point you are trying to make. Sprinkling italicsunderlining and bold text throughout your narrative may seem appealing as a way to garner attention, but can actually end up breaking the flow of narrative.

If you want a piece of text to stand out, try using headlines, bullet points, or breakout boxes instead.

Is your bid pricing methodology leaving money on the table?

Join pricing consultant Greg Eyres and I for a free 30-minute webinar on Thursday 13 June 1.00pm (AEST) and find out how to use Evidence-Based Bid Pricing as a powerful strategic weapon to build more successful bids. Customers will spend if they get value in return. However, according to bid pricing specialist Greg Eyres of Inforvalue, most organisations have a bid pricing model that doesn’t consider value at all. “Your bid price speaks volumes about your company but the task of pricing is usually approached with a great deal of nervousness,” Eyres says.

Are you nervous about bid pricing? If you aren’t, maybe you should be. There’s a very good chance that your pricing methodology is losing you bids and is also leaving money on the table that could have been yours, had you advocated for it. Some of the telltale signs that your bid pricing model needs an overhaul:

  • You’re making a "guesstimate" of all your costs, adding on a margin and hoping for the best.  
  • You tend to leave pricing to the day before the deadline.
  • You’re always revising and whittling away at your price as a result of late information.
  • Your sales and finance teams constantly lock horns, with one advocating for what the customer will pay and the other insisting on cost recovery.

“Customers will pay when they perceive they get more benefit than they pay for - in other words, where the value justifies the price,” says Eyres. "A tendering environment, by its very nature, gives you the opportunity to get to these value drivers. During the tendering period, you have the ability to communicate regularly with the customer and to get a detailed understanding of their business model.  Through this, you can determine how you can affect the customer's ability to create value for its own customers and/or reduce its own costs. This not only gives you evidence to develop your pricing strategy, it also enhances the relationship you have with the customer.”

Greg and I are delivering a free webinar on Thursday June 13 where we will discuss how to use Evidence-Based Bid Pricing as a powerful strategic weapon to build more successful bids.

If you missed the webinar, contact Greg Eyres to find out more about Evidence-Based Bid Pricing.

Proposal writing tip: beware the cut-and-paste answer

As useful as proposal content libraries are for knowledge management, cutting and pasting from them can be problematic. For example, if your library content has been built to answer a standard question that has been asked in a certain way - like "describe your quality process" - it will go only part-way to addressing a more specific question that asks you to "describe how your quality process will achieve zero defects and manage risks in achieving budget and schedule".

That's where your specialist knowledge is needed to turn the description (of the quality process) into persuasion (how this will deliver something that's meaningful to the project and the customer).

Does the proposal you submitted last week sound like the one you pitched six months ago?

Join me for a free 30-minute webinar on Thursday 2 May 1.00pm AEST to find out to how build a great proposal library by harnessing the knowledge - and building the skills - of your subject matter experts. Pretty much every organisation has a ‘library’ of past proposals that they draw from when writing new ones. In theory, content libraries should help you answer the questions that come up - in one form or another - in all RFTs. These are core issues that every prospect wants to know about, including your past experience in similar contracts; customer references; capacity and resources; approaches to quality; approaches to Health, Safety and Environment; innovation; and risk management.

Proposal content libraries are important for knowledge management and to make the production process faster. However, the way that they are built and used tends to hinder – rather than help – the proposal effort.

Firstly, just the fact that the library exists tends to make people lazy. I see far too much cutting and pasting and not nearly enough thinking about what the RFT is asking and what the proposal really needs to say.

Secondly - let's face it - writing proposals isn't most people's favourite job to begin with, coming as it does on top of a mountain of other work. Because of this, I've seen many organisations employ writers to produce content for proposal libraries. But this is a bit like asking the cabin crew to fly the plane.

Good proposal content comes from experts who know what they are talking about. Passing the content development task off to ‘writers’ means that material is often superficial, because experts are busy and it’s difficult to get their time for interviews and reviews. The process gets drawn out and expensive, and leads to a one-shot outcome that is quickly out of date. Content is written descriptively, rather than persuasively, meaning that it lacks any expression of customer value. All of this leads to lacklustre proposals that lack insight and depth.

Writing persuasively is about taking what you know and putting it into context that the customer will understand, and that convinces them to see things your way. This is a skill that anyone can learn, and the process for doing so is actually very simple. If you missed the webinar, contact me to find out more.