I have been discussing what opportunity is there for you from the various governments’ efforts to stimulate their economy through infrastructure and other projects by putting them out to tender.
Small businesses, and even medium businesses at times, often dismiss the opportunity to sell to governments. They may have any number of reasons for this. The benefits of winning tenders go beyond just finding your next contract.
Imagine a customer that has a big budget and buys almost every conceivable product or service year after year. They buy during good times, and they even buy during recessions as we now have. Sounds like a great client, doesn’t it? Well, government agencies do just that. And many contracts run across a number of years. That makes them an ideal customer for many small and growing businesses.
When you decide the grab the opportunity to tender for a project you have the opportunity to grow your revenue, gain repeat business and get some spare time to enjoy.
In a previous article, I addressed the issue of being prepared to meet the opportunity when it arises for you. You need to ensure the Assessors don’t see any risk in giving the contract to you – ticks not crosses! Your response needs to be both compelling and persuasive, and not risky.
In my last article, I identified three factors necessary to get right in your response to reduce the risk in the Assessors’ minds when they review your submission and detailed the first – the need to draft a well-structured response. It’s more than just a quotation; it’s a Sales Proposal that leads to a logical step; to contract you.
Now let’s move on to the remaining two factors to ensure the Assessors are giving your ticks, not crosses.
What will your quotation look like, visually that is? Presentation is important, but so is how it will read.
If the Assessors have to labour through your tender because it is hard and difficult to read, and the points you make challenging to understand, then those negative crosses are going to be mounting in the Assessors’ minds.
One of the most important things you can do to help your writing is to be able to step into your prospect’s shoes. Know your prospect’s attitudes, beliefs, concerns, hot buttons and problems, and reflect those in your submission. Lead them through the logic.
The opening headline must highlight this and lead the prospect into the first paragraph. To do that it must be about them and their problem. You need to demonstrate that you understand their problem. It is about them, not you.
The first paragraph must lead them to the second paragraph. Now you might suggest you have a solution.
Then go onto expand on the problem and the difficulties it causes the prospect.
That allows you then to expand on your solution. But make it easy for them to follow.
An excellent, readable presentation will make you look so much more professional, and the buyer feels more comfortable about dealing with you. If the way your industry does things is a simple “price, quality, delivery” quotation seize your chance to make yourself different, and differentiate you.
Here are some guidelines to improve readability:
- Headlines – it needs to stand out. Size, colour, bolding. It’s the contrast. A headline must make the reader want to find out more, and not reveal so much they might not feel they need to read your submission.
- Sub-heads – ditto but smaller. The same comment as above applies. Customers often scan a document before they read it. The sub-heads will guide them and let them know what is coming. They can be a different font from the headlines or paragraphs which assists the scan.
- Sentences - make your sentences short. The most natural sentence to take in is only eight words long. A sensible average is 14 words. Any sentence of more than 32 words is hard to follow.
- Paragraphs – keeping them short and punchy makes them easier to read. No more than 2-3 sentences. A long paragraph is daunting. Keep each to one subject.
- Use "connector" words and phrases at the beginnings of sentences to keep people reading. Such as Moreover, That is why, In addition, What's more, On top of that, Also and Connector words tell your reader there is more to come. And forget what your teacher told you: "And" is often used to start sentences in The Bible.
- Questions as connectors at the ends of sentences or paragraphs perform the same role. Why is this?
Because you have to read on to get the answers (and if you notice, the end of the above point and start of this point demonstrates this).
You can also demonstrate this by using a word from the last sentence in the opening sentence of the new paragraph.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- Complimentary – Free
- Anticipate – Expect
- Expectation – Hope
- Authored – Wrote
- Transportation – Car
- Purchase – Buy
- Ameliorate – Improve
- Lifestyle – Life
- Marketplace - Market
- Cut the jargon and acronyms – you may understand them but the Assessors may not. Make your words easy for him/her to understand.
- Begin sentences with benefits (when possible):
- Instead of...Moving your money now will help you avoid major losses.
- ..You can avoid major losses IF you move your money now!
- Dot points – make it easier to scan and grasp the points you are making, just as I have done here.
- Word graphics – depending on what you are quoting, painting a word picture can help. (Can you see yourself in that gleaming new, spotlessly clean stainless steel kitchen?) or (imagine if you had all the information you needed for that benches quote).
- Picture graphics – a diagram or photograph of what you are delivering will help clarify other questions they might have and help reduce the risk and increase the “like” “Before and after” photographs emphasise the benefits you are delivering.
- Don’t forget the Captions – tell them what the photo is. More risk reduction.
- Fonts – use no more than 3 different fonts. Otherwise, they distract.
Just remember - as Dr. Johnson remarked over 200 years ago - "That which is written to please the writer rarely pleases the reader." You're not writing for yourself but for the prospect. Make it easy for them!
Presentation and readability play a key role in improving your quotation or tender, turning it into a sales tool to be used for your advantage, improving both your chances and your profitability.
Mistakes are road-blocks to the Assessors study of your proposal. They cause the flow of the Assessor’s understanding to come to a grinding, sudden halt. And you have lost their favourable mindset, no matter how good the technical side of your submission.
Mistakes often come about because you have not allowed enough time to develop and review your tender. And haste leads to mistakes.
Let me tell you of a mistake I made many years ago. It was a tender we were writing for my wife’s business. We knew we had one major competitor to beat.
The mistake related to a referee. We were asked not just for the referee, but also their contact details, including telephone number.
Now Bill, not his real name, had been recently promoted to become the most senior bureaucrat in the Territory. We had his old telephone number, but not his new one. “I’ll get it” I said to myself. But in our haste, I didn’t.
Bill would have been so easily tracked down through the government telephone system, but that was not the point. We didn’t have it, and that was a CROSS.
We lost the tender. In the debrief (always get a debrief) the missing telephone number was identified as a key factor – “lack of attention to detail” was the comment made, with the suggestion that issue could carry through to the job.
Now I suspect we were very close, and the Assessment Panel was looking for issues to differentiate us from the competition, but it does show just how critical those CROSSES can be.
What other mistakes can lead to CROSSES. There are many:
- Spelling mistakes.
- Poor grammar
- Poor punctuation
- Wrong names
- Wrong dates
- Poor examples of experience
The more mistakes you make, the more mental crosses accumulate in the Assessors’ minds, and the easier it is for them to cross you out.
Do leave time to review what you have written, preferably at least overnight. Fresh eyes spot improvements. And if you can, have someone else check your draft, for logic and typos. They will also spot the mistakes you miss. Typos cause the reader to stop. The flow is lost.
Tendering is one of those things in which businesses have to keep improving, because the competition is also looking to continually get better, and times are getting tougher, despite the opportunities.
And small businesses shouldn’t leave it until they have a tender opportunity in front of them. Tender turnaround times are becoming increasingly truncated. You can have as little as 10 working days to complete a response, and usually no more than three to four weeks. Be prepared.
You cannot afford to start your response late! Most tender responses need three rounds of drafting and editing before they are of a high enough quality to be truly competitive.
You can win such contracts. And it might be much simpler than you thought.
Last year I ran a Pilot course online - “TenderWins – The Tender Winning Formula”.
Good luck only happens to those that get in front of it.