It’s simply not good enough to just be good at what you do. You must also write outstanding answers, especially if you need to win business through competitive tenders.
Critical to this, especially when value through quality is of a higher priority than price, is the ability to write outstanding answers to tender questions. Literally an answer that stands out, but for all the right reasons. Ideally, to such an extent that members of an evaluation panel have no excuse not to score you top marks.
My first piece of advice doesn’t focus specifically on how to write outstanding answers, it focuses on not making simple and easily avoidable mistakes. The absence of mistakes enables you to write outstanding answers.
For example, I’ve come across many an outstanding answer, well structured, beautifully written and easy to read, when evaluating tenders on behalf of my clients. Unfortunately, outstanding answers that fail to answer the question are irrelevant. The last thing your tender should be is irrelevant.
Have a look at these 19 things to avoid, how many do you avoid, always? To help I’ve also given an antidote to each one.
- Not making one person responsible: make one person responsible for project managing and writing the answers, although not necessarily the content, which will give you a consistent style, format and language.
- Starting at the last minute: start your tendering process immediately, even if it’s just reading the tender questions or the brief that explains what you need to include in your tender.
- Not structuring your answer: structure your answer to mirror the question, split it up into bite-sized chunks and use each chunk as a heading/section.
- Starting to write an answer immediately: don’t start writing until you have a structure for your answer and most of the content you plan to include in each section.
- Not answering the question: structure your answer to mirror the question, and from a good practice perspective continually refer back to the question, which is a must do within the tender sign-off process.
- Second-guessing evaluators: don’t second guess anything, take each question literally. If that’s not possible because you don’t understand all aspects of the question then ask a clarification question.
- Answering the question you think they should have asked: which happens far more than you’d ever believe, what you think or prefer doesn’t matter, write answers for the audience that will evaluate them.
- Recycling answers without reviewing them: this can work well or it can be a disaster, review the relevance of anything you are thinking of reusing and rewrite it to be directly relevant.
- Little thought given to evaluation: here we mean there could be many tenders, hence answers, to read and evaluate, therefore, answers that are easier to read and understand will be easier to evaluate, which means they are easier to score accurately.
- Writing and editing at the same time: always write a draft without editing, allow it to percolate and then edit it to perfection, but don’t try to write and edit at the same time.
- Forgetting it’s a competition: if you want to win then you have to compete. You can’t just turn up no matter how good you are; if your answers are not better than those of your competitors.
- Not enough of the right resources: if it’s important don’t skimp, use enough of the best relevant resources available to you.
- Difficult to read and comprehend: if an answer is easy to read and understand it is easier to evaluate, which means it is easier to score accurately.
- Missing the deadline to ask clarification questions: immediately read, re-read and re-re-read everything in the ITT, and if there is anything you do not understand ask a question to clarify it.
- Convoluted management speak: plain English, plain English, plain English and more plain English, if in doubt write as if for a 12-year old, there is no excuse.
- Waffle: use no more words than absolutely necessary, be definite, specific and directly relevant, then edit ruthlessly.
- Not enough time: start straightaway, make writing answers part of your day job and block out sufficient time in your diary specifically for this.
- Making stuff up: never make it up, you’ll be caught out at some point and all this will do is damage your reputation, do use expertise, experience and results from a multitude of different projects.
- Inconsistency: consistent style, format and font throughout each and every answer, don’t let your answers stand out for all the wrong reasons.
And finally ….
It is very easy to become unduly optimistic, over confident, in your ability to write great answers. Well, at the very least, to the extent that those evaluating will regard your answers as being better than your competitors. This is when you are more likely to make mistakes that you really shouldn’t, without realising it. Checklists help you to avoid these mistakes.
Yet, despite saying this I’d put money on several of these mistakes cropping up each time you write answers to tender questions. You’re likely to be too close to it all and have too much of your credibility invested in what you currently do.
One further word of advice, start slowly, work steadily and finish with a flourish, well, at least in plenty of time. It will always take longer, be more wearing and take considerably more effort than you expect.
A final caveat, evaluators should evaluate the answers you write against each evaluation criterion not against competitors answers. However, they just won’t be able to help themselves, they will always make comparisons, even if just to calibrate evaluation scoring. Therefore, you should always strive to write outstanding answers, start by not making simple and easily avoidable mistakes.