How to write a winning tender: A 10 step plan

Boot_Caroline.jpgBy Caroline Boot
Plan A

Let’s face it, developing business proposals or tenders is probably not your core business. But the difference between a great tender - and an average one - can have a significant impact on your business success.

Evaluators tell us that it’s a huge relief to find a tender response that shows understanding of the contract and the client’s needs. They constantly complain that the information they asked for is absent, difficult to find, or hard to understand. Powerful, compelling documents and presentations are rare – and valuable.

This 10-step plan is designed to help you with putting together your next proposal or tender. Here’s how to start.

1. Work out what your client is really looking for.

What the client says they are looking for, and what they really want, can be two different things. Talk to your contact whenever possible, look at their website and/or company profile, and contact others who know them and their business.

What values are important to them? How will your ‘unique selling proposition’ help them? Why is your offer the best alternative? What experience do they have of other similar products or services?

2. Analyse the competition.

Your client’s buying decisions are often shaped by their previous experience with you and/or your competitors. Find out who you’re bidding against, and any information you can about their previous performance. Consider:

  • What size of company can best supply the product or service your client is after?
  • What relationships already exist?
  • What is the competition’s track record like (and how can you make yours look better?)

3. Pin down your ‘win themes’.

Knowing how your strengths compare against others, as well as against your client’s priorities, is the first step in determining your ‘win themes’. Identify two or three special factors that will persuade your client that yours is the best proposal to meet their needs.

These should form the basis of your executive summary. They need to be simply and clearly worded, and reinforced throughout the tender development process.

4. Decide on presentation.

A sure way to get your client’s attention is by providing a great looking document (of course, you then need great content as well).

Make sure your logo is on the front cover. Put together a table of contents that’s simple, brief and clear – if possible, keep it on one page. Insert photos with relevant captions that show your capability and reinforce your ‘win themes’.

A good graphic designer can add great value to your tender, as well as leave you with tools that can be used again.

5. Seek outside inputs early and chase them.

If you need to get prices or information from other parties, plan this and ask for their input as soon as possible. Give a firm deadline for their responses that gives you enough time to assess their contribution. The last thing you want is to be pressed when having to make crucial decisions that could determine the profitability of your contract in the long term.

6. Set out your proposal structure.

This is a crucial area which can make or break the evaluator’s decision. If you know what factors they will be evaluating against, then set out your document structure so it matches those criteria exactly.

Those evaluating your proposal and comparing it with others do not want an added frustration of having to search for the information they asked for.

7. Weight the sections and allocate space.

Some Requests for Proposal tell you the evaluation weightings that will be applied – others leave it open. Where possible, apply a proportionate amount of energy (and space) to those sections which are heavily weighted.

8. Use your best available information to develop your proposition.

Now you are ready to start writing your proposal. Start with the detail, and work ‘outwards’, finishing with the conclusion. Be very conscious of writing information that’s specific to this bid, this client and your company. Anything else can be ‘mush’.

Remember to keep your language simple – technical details and complex concepts are less likely to sell your proposal than developing the reader’s trust that you will deliver on your promises.

The ‘win themes’ that you identified earlier should be used throughout your document, building confidence in your abilities to deliver the outcomes your client has prioritised.

9. Edit, proof, edit and proof.

Use clear, easy to follow language, even for the most technically complex proposals. Here are some tips:

  • Use bullet points and lists wherever possible. Ensure the formatting in your document is consistent.
  • Keep one main idea in each sentence. Avoid waffle and repetition.
  • Use short paragraphs (2-3 sentences) and lots of sub-headings to ease readability.
  • Get your proposal proofed by the ‘grammar police’.

10. Critical review.

There are several different dimensions to effective tender reviews, and each involves a different mental process. For example:

  • Is there a strong ‘win theme’, which is reinforced throughout?
  • Does it answer the questions?
  • Is the depth of information appropriate to the weightings?
  • Is it logical, easy to follow and direct?
  • Is it internally consistent?
  • Is it technically correct?

You should either review your document several times sequentially – each time for a different one of these factors – or ask different people to review for different dimensions. Where possible, get an independent peer review or shadow evaluation: it’s worth it.

There’s no doubt that people judge your business by what is written about it – as much as by how well you do what you do. If you take the time to ensure that your tender is tailored to your client’s needs and present your proposition in the best possible light, you’ll find your effort is well worthwhile. 


Contractor Vol.33  No.3  April 2009
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