But you will certainly increase your success rate!

We have been looking at common tendering mistakes over the last two articles- (How to Overcome this Common Mistake in Tendering, Four More Common Tendering Mistakes to Avoid )

Here are my final five.

But first, an anecdote from a client - a tale from the tendering trenches. 

When Sean fronted the client for the first time after being awarded the contract, he was told “Yours was a highly professional presentation.  The others weren’t.” 

Now that was unlikely to have been the only factor in Sean’s success, but it helps a great deal having the Assessors on-side.  A highly professional presentation can be a tipping point.

These final five mistakes to avoid when tendering help to contribute to such a response.  Apply them also to your proposals and sales letters.

Mistake Number 6 - Failing to answer all questions

This is a fairly simple mistake, and is only made by inexperienced tenderers.  I’ve seen businesses decide a particular question is “not relevant” or is a “duplication”.  If it is there, you have to answer it, otherwise your score on that question is a big fat ZERO.

For example, I’ve seen the following two requirements in the same tender:

  • Provide a delivery timeline including critical path, clearly indicating that timeframes as stated in the Request for Tender can be achieved.
  • Provide as an attachment a construction program detailing how timeframes as stated in the scope of works can be achieved. Construction plan to include:
  • methodology of construction/design
  • delivery timeline, clearly indicating critical path

One would think “a delivery timeline including critical path, clearly indicating that timeframes as stated in the Request for Tender can be achieved” and “a construction program detailing how timeframes as stated in the scope of works can be achieved. …. delivery timeline, clearly indicating critical path” were much the same thing.

You might be tempted not to respond to the second on the grounds that you have already answered it.  Don’t do that.  If nothing else, cross reference your previous answer.

Now it may be an inexperienced writer of the tender, or the writer has something specific in mind that you haven’t thought of.  Of course, the best thing to do would be to make contact and clarify the requirement – See Mistake Number 4 in my last article.

If nothing else, always make some attempt to answer the question.  No answer, no score.

There is another aspect to this, and that is failing to answer all of the question.

For example, the question may be “Provide an overview of tenderer’s experience in projects of similar nature, scope and size.” 

There are three elements to that question:  nature, scope, size.  The Assessors are looking for something very specific here.  A project may be similar to one you’ve done at $500,000 before but if the new project is a $2 million project it is certainly of a different size and probably of a different scope.

Mistake Number 7 - Responding in a format different from that requested

This mistake applies both to pricing and to your response to the various requirements.  By format, I mean the order in which the requirements are laid out and questions asked.

Once again, put yourself in the Assessor’s shoes.  She has 10 tenders in front of her.  Nine of the ten follow the format requested.  The tenth has formatted the response the way they like to draft tenders.

It may be a good layout, and effective in different circumstances, but it is not the way this RFT asked for the information.  So the Assessor is flipping backwards and forwards through your response, trying to make an apples and apples comparison.  She can’t easily find the information she needs.

What is her frame of mind?  She has to be getting more and more frustrated, and less and less enamoured with your response.  When the time comes to allocate points, they are more likely to be down than up.

Some RFT’s provide tables for responses.  While I have seen people even try and alter the order of these, don’t! 

The safest approach is to methodically respond to the requirements as laid down in the RFT.  The key requirements, apart from the technical specifications, are likely to be tied to the Assessment Criteria.  You can’t go far wrong responding to the Assessment Criteria as a last resort.

The Pricing Schedules are much the same.  Often a Schedule of Rates is required, setting out the details the agency requires. 

I once had a coaching client explain to me that the items in the Schedule of Rates was not how they priced their projects.  So he amended the RFT’s Schedule of Rates to reflect his layout.  You can imagine the impact that would have had on the Assessment Panel.  Much frustration and grinding of teeth as they attempted to do an ‘apples and apples’ comparison.

And you can imagine how that frame of mind would have been applied when it came to scoring that submission.

In a word – Don’t; don’t reframe the Schedule of Rates or whatever format the RFT requests.  By all means, cost the project in whatever way you prefer, but then recast those costs to reflect the Schedule.  Sing from the Assessors’ song-sheet. 

Mistake Number 8 – Not reviewing the completed response

This usually starts with a time-related mistake - not allowing sufficient time to review the completed response, preferably by someone else, but it occurs often enough even when there is time.  Then it is a procedure-related mistake; your procedure does not call for a review. 

The underlying problem is that we all tend to miss our own mistakes.  When we write something, we tend to be too close to it.  Being too close to it, when we re-read, we tend to see what we expect to see.  Our eyes, and mind, slide over the gaps in our logic, and the facts that are missing.

This is not an editing issue. This about whether your response has met the requirements of the RFT.  Your reviewer needs to be able to adopt the mindset of an Assessor and ask questions like:

  • Have all the schedules been completed properly?
  • Have all the criteria been answered properly and with full detail?
  • Is there sufficient evidence?
  • Are all the required attachments in place?
  • Does the logic flow?
  • Are there any holes in the submission?

Mistake Number 9 - Poor presentation

This is not about a big glossy document.  It is about the ease with which the Assessors can read your response.  If it is difficult for the Assessors to read, they are going to have an increasingly negative mindset as they review your response.

Put yourself in the Assessor’s shoes.  Make it easy for them. 

There is a further factor.  Poorly presented tender responses and bids suggest you lack professionalism, raising doubts in the Assessor’s minds.  And the quality of writing makes a difference.

Poor writing may mean that you don’t get your key messages across

It is well worth spending some time on your tender, paying attention to the presentation, for example:

  • Have a front cover with project title, date, who the tender is for and that your firm is providing it. If you can, include relevant photographs on the cover. For a tender to paint the Army’s Abrams tanks, I had my client include photographs on the front cover of other Army armoured vehicles in their paint shop.  That gave a message straight away that they had done this sort of work before.  The Assessors would be more comfortable from the beginning.
  • Include a Contents page so they can scan and see what you are covering and where it is. That means pages must be numbered.
  • Include an Executive Summary. I like to call this ‘Understanding the Requirement’. It lets the Assessors know upfront you clearly understand what the outcome they are seeking (see Mistake Number 2) and tells them where they can find the information that meets the Assessment Criteria.
  • Keep paragraphs short, punchy and businesslike. Paragraphs should be no more than three or four sentences. They can be more easily scanned and read.
  • Short, concise sentences are the order of the day. Sentences should be an average of 14 words or less.
  • Use bullet points, headings and sub-headings to break up the text. Assessors like these. It makes it easier for them to scan down through your response.
  • Decide on a typeface, layout and type size - not too small - and stick to them. Fill in the blanks provided. Do not use upper case throughout.  I can never understand why people believe this makes their submission more readable or gives it greater impact.  It doesn’t.  The view is that upper case ‘SHOUTS’.
  • Make sure everything is standardised - are CVs all presented in the same way?
  • Be careful when cut-and-pasting copy to make sure the format stays the same. Also, ensure that if you cut and paste tenders that the headers & footers are correct.
  • Use appendices for supporting additional information. When doing so, don’t just refer to the Appendix, but also give the relevant section or paragraph.
  • Be natural – high-falutin language and a lot of buzz words are off-putting and require the reader to be continually decoding.
  • Avoid abbreviations which you may use in-house but are not known to the assessors.

Not everyone can write well.  That is nothing to be ashamed of; we all have different skills.  So don’t be afraid to bring in a good writer if that will make a difference. 

Mistake Number 10 - Not having your response edited and proof-read.

You have the Assessor reading along, in full flow, he’s interested and following the logic of your argument when, CRASH - BANG, he comes to a screeching halt!  And once his mind has hit that wall, you have lost your favourable mindset with him. 

He has to start again, and now he has questions in his mind, doubts about you, doubts about how thoroughly you check things, and whether those failings will be carried into the job if you win it, doubts about how well you will report.

What causes the abrupt application of the brakes?  It could be any number of things:

  • A grammatical error;
  • A missing word;
  • A typo;
  • An incomplete sentence;
  • A sentence which doesn’t make sense;
  • A puzzling acronym;

There can be any number of things.

The problem is the same one as in Mistake Number 8.  We all tend to miss our own mistakes.  When we write something, we tend to be too close to it.  Being too close to it, when we re-read, we tend to see what we expect to see.  Our eyes, and mind, slide over typos, the poor grammar, the missing words, poor sentences and familiar acronyms.

The solution is a three-step solution:

  • Read everything again.
  • Then read it out loud (shut the door if you are embarrassed).
  • Then get a colleague to read it - for meaning, typing mistakes and omissions.

I cannot guarantee that you will win your next tender 

After all, I don’t have the technical expertise you bring to the table, and I have no control of either your or your competitor’s pricing.

But I can tell you if you follow the recommendations I’ve set out here you will present as being much more professional than your competitors, even the big boys.  And you will considerably increase your success rate.

Over the last three articles I’ve addressed the 10 most common mistakes in submitting tenders.  The same mistakes often occur when submitting quotations, proposals or sales letters.

Avoid them, and give yourself a much greater chance of success. 

To your profits!

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 about my approach to tendering you might like to download my freebie – “How to Overcome the 10 Most Common Mistakes in Tendering”.