Concentrate on these remedies and you will solve 80% of your tendering problems

Tendering is a skill that you can learn.  It's like riding a bicycle or typing.  If you're willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every submission you make.

In my last article, I addressed the Number One mistake most people make in tendering, not allowing sufficient time to properly complete their response.

Most mistakes can be avoided by following a few simple rules.  I looked at two invaluable tools that will help you overcome this mistake.

In this article, I address four more common mistakes and suggest what you need to do to avoid falling into these traps.

Mistake Number 2 - Not showing that you understand the requirement. 

So often tender responses open with a trumpet blast – about themselves.  How good they are, unique in fact, world’s best practice, latest technology, leading practitioners and on and on.  But that is not what the Assessors want to see.

What the Assessors want to see is that you understand their requirement and the problem they are trying to solve.  And they want to know right from the time they start reading your tender that you are singing their song.

It is an unfortunate fact that the majority of responses, even from large companies, begin with their song, not the agency’s.  A retired senior Army office who often had to evaluate defence tenders said to me that his eyes would begin to glaze over with the umpteenth rendition of a ME-ME response.

So your response will stand out from the competition if you open with the agency’s requirements.  Sing the Assessor’s song and bring a smile to their faces.

Demonstrate to the Assessors upfront that you understand what they are trying to achieve and only then that you have a solution to their problem.  Show that you understand the outcome the tender or RFP is designed to achieve.  They are not buying your product or service as such.  They are buying what that product or service will do for them. 

You will create a favourable impression in the Assessor's mind if you are able to demonstrate a depth of understanding in your opening paragraph.  That means researching the background to the requirement and what lead up to it.

We won a nationwide tender from a Commonwealth agency in part because we were the only tenderer to research the background to the requirement and what the agency was seeking to achieve.  That research enabled us to ensure our Value Proposition matched their requirements.

This is also another reason why you require time to study the RFT – to make sure you do understand the result the agency is seeking to achieve. 

It is an unfortunate fact of life that people in agencies who draft tenders can be inexperienced, just as you can be inexperienced when it comes to responding.  Being inexperienced they don’t necessarily write the requirements as clearly as they should, which can make life difficult for you. 

If the requirement is not clear, then your response may not hit the right spot in the Assessor’s mind.  You may need to seek clarification of the requirement.

Once you demonstrate your understanding of what they are seeking to achieve and their problem, you can move on to show you have the solution, how you will deliver it, and why you are different/better.

So how do you carry out the research 

  • If possible, talk to the person in the Agency responsible for the tender.  Even better, go and see them to discuss their requirement.  This has the added advantage of putting your face in front of them.  It will come to mind when they are assessing your tender, much better than being a faceless entity. 
  • What has the Agency published on the subject? Their website is always a good source.  It will have details of their various programs.  Can you tie the RFT to a specific program, or to their business plan?  It always helps.

Mistake Number 3 - Failure to analyse the RFT

This is the next step from Mistake Number 2, which is concerned about the overall outcome being sought.  Mistake Number 3 arises from not analysing the specifics of the requirement.

RFTs usually have depths that are only uncovered after rereading and rereading.  The meaning of some phrases and details are not always apparent after the first reading.  If you don’t pick up the real meaning your response is likely to be wrong.

There are three areas to consider: the Specifications or Statement of Requirement, the Assessment Criteria and the Conditions of Tender.  The Conditions of Contract are also important but are usually difficult to amend.  Like it or lump it.  One jurisdiction has 23 different sets of Conditions of Contract for different types of procurement.

Specifications, Statement of Requirements, Statement of Work, whatever they are called are rarely just an overall requirement.  There are usually many detailed requirements which must be met. 

You need to review each specific element of the requirement, making sure you understand each one and are able to deliver as required.  The requirements are not always clear and call for study and consideration.

As an example, in one tender to which I responded included in the list of requirements a series of dot points which all began with “Coordinate ….”  After some study, it became apparent to me that “Coordinate“ had different requirements and different levels of action in the various points.  It would have been easy to assume they meant the same thing.

On another, the details of a requirement were contradicted on the next page and again a page later.

The same approach is required when it comes to meeting the Assessment Criteria.  It is imperative that you understand each criterion and are able to respond with the evidence required. 

Weightings - The Assessment Criteria are usually weighted but unfortunately the weightings are not always disclosed.  Where they are, it is obviously important to pay particular attention in your response to the most significant weightings.

The Conditions of Tender will state any mandatory requirements such as attending a site inspection, accreditations that you must have, insurance requirements, closing dates & times, and whether alternative tenders may be submitted. 

It would be a pity after all that effort to receive no consideration because you failed to meet a mandatory requirement.

Mistake Number 4 - Not clarifying any questions you might have about the specifications and information required

If you haven’t analysed the RFT properly you won’t uncover the questions that need to be asked, the clarifications required.

In more than thirty years of submitting tenders, I cannot recall a single occasion where analysis of the Requirement or Assessment Criteria did not lead to questions being submitted to the Agency concerned.  And it always amazed me that we were often the only business to ask questions and seek clarification.

It can give you a competitive advantage.

A secondary benefit of asking questions is that it demonstrates you are diligent and keen to win the contract.  It puts your name in front of the person responsible for the tender.  That person is almost always on the Assessment Panel.

As they say, “the only dumb question is the one you didn’t ask.”

A further problem arising from failing to analyse the requirement is that it is easy to fall into the trap of making assumptions from that lack of analysis.  So often I’ve heard the comment “But I thought it meant ….”

In my early days learning about responding to RFQs, when in the aerospace industry, I used to get quite impatient with a marvellous old (as he seemed then) bloke who was our Commercial Manager.  We would go through the RFQ together.  Let’s call him Bill.  Bill would methodically go through the RFQ line by line, the tip of his pen hovering over every word.  He would pause, stop, consider, go back and reconsider.  Exasperating to a young bloke.

Eventually, I realised why.  Bill was making sure he didn’t miss a word, that he had covered and considered every requirement. 

When I coach clients on improving their tendering, I can’t help them on the technical side, they know their trade far better than I ever could, but I can help on the Assessment Criteria.  Getting them to ask questions about the Assessment Criteria so they understand what is needed leads to a significant improvement in their response.

Mistake Number 5 - Lack of attention to detail

This mistake can arise through lack of time.  I’ve addressed that in the last article.  It can come about because you don’t rigorously analyse the RFT.  It can also come about because you view the complex requirements and their seemingly repetitive questions as a bureaucratic burden.

And what is the reaction to a bureaucratic burden?  It is to submit the minimum required to comply with the RFT.  That lack of detail is more than likely to condemn you when the Assessors score your tender.

Put yourself in the Assessors’ shoes and the Assessment Criteria they have specified in the tender. 

First, let’s look at one jurisdiction’s Assessment Criteria.  On the left are their standard headings, on the right are the examples considerations an agency may take into account in determining their specific requirements.

Standard Criteria

Assessment Considerations

Past Performance

Experience and references, Description of work of a similar nature, scope & size

Working relationship with agency

Whole of Life Cost

Acquisition cost, Operational costs, Maintenance costs, disposal/upgrade costs

Local Development & Value Adding

Employees and sub-contractors are residents of the state/territory,

Local suppliers, regional suppliers

Indigenous employment, number of apprentices

Employee training initiatives


Organisation Chart

Experience and skills of key personnel

Specialist skills & technical qualifications


Ability to complete the requirement as per RFT, Performance Management, Risk Management


Innovative delivery methods proposed that will provide increased efficiency and effectiveness in delivery/completion of the requirement. 

Why these criteria?  It is all about minimising the risk to the Agency.  They want to make sure they made the right decision, that they don’t end up with egg on their face because they picked a non-performer.  It has happened, and Assessment Panels like to avoid such decisions at all cost.

Think of it in these terms.  The assessors have a range of possible objections in their mind to accepting your tender.  Your job is to remove those objections to the extent that you are the only logical choice.

The challenge is not to see how little information you can give to comply.  It is about giving them all the information they need to remove any doubts about your suitability for the contract.

Where could those doubts or objections arise?

  • Lack of understanding – see Mistake Number 2
  • Experience – have you successfully met this type of requirement before, and have you referees who will vouch for you.  You need to provide more information than just naming the jobs.  Give the details of each to show how they were of a similar nature, scope and size.  How did you go about it?  What was the outcome?
  • Capability and Capacity – show you have the right people to manage the job.  State their qualifications, skills, experience and role in the project.  Tell the Assessors how you train your employees to ensure they have the skills required on an on-going basis.  Demonstrate the equipment have or whatever is used to fulfill the contract.
  • Performance, Risk and Environmental Management – demonstrate that you have the systems and procedures to plan and manage the job, and minimise the risk of anything going amiss. 
  • Demonstrate how you will deliver the right result, on time

Funnily enough, these possible objections in the Assessor’s mind are always very similar to the Assessment Criteria.

Once you realise that those annoying Criteria are not a bureaucratic burden but a SALES OPPORTUNITY you will find it much easier to give the Assessors the details they need to remove the risks and objection in their mind.

Attention to detail leads to specifics, and specifics are much more believable and persuasive than generalisations.  Be specific – “most of our suppliers are local” doesn’t have the same ring as “87% of our suppliers are local”.  Or “Blog Pty. Ltd. has many years’ experience in the delivery of widgets” doesn’t have the same rings as “Blog Pty. Ltd has been delivering state-of-the-art widgets for 27 years”.

Specifics move your statements from motherhood statements to evidence.

You are a technical expert in your line of business.  The assessors may have some technical skills but there is a pretty good chance they won’t have yours.  How do you convince them of your expertise? 

With attention to detail and specifics.

It is so easy to avoid these four mistakes:

  • Not showing that you understand the requirement
  • Failure to analyse the RFT
  • Not clarifying any questions you might have about the specifications and information required
  • Lack of attention to detail

Avoid them, and watch your tendering success rate take-off.

What do you think about this?

I’d be interested in your thoughts, and the challenges and fears you face when writing tender responses.  What have you found, what are you looking for to help you, and what have you learnt?  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I’m working on a new online course to help people transform their success rate in tendering, while reducing the time and stress involved, and would like to build your experience into the design of the modules.

If you would like to discuss your experience with me, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

And if you would like to understand more on my approach to tendering you might like to download my freebie – “How to Overcome the 10 Most Common Mistakes in Tendering”.