Devil’s in the Details

So many people I speak to work so hard on bid writing. For the duration of the tender process, they are totally engrossed in every last detail and drafting those question responses. They are fully involved with bid management, know each answer backwards and are continually working out how to answer the big question when someone is reading their bid, Why Us?

But what many people forget is the need to have someone else to read their hard work. The old adage of ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ is as true in bids as it is in every aspect of life. Bringing in a fresh pair of eyes is one of the wisest investments anyone can make on a bid. The worst thing is that often the ‘fresh’ pair of eyes can be the bid writer, a few months later when they are bid writing and recycling content for their next proposal. At this stage, the bid has long been submitted, and the result or progression to the next stage may well be known. It is all too often that mistakes are then spotted, whether they be proofing errors or more fundamental issues.

Bringing this discipline through to the bid process can have real benefits including:

• Does your response answer the question – have you covered every element of the question to get the top marks? Perhaps more crucially, does it answer the question in the bid documents, not the question which you want to answer or have answered previously?

• Looking backwards vs looking forward – it is vital for the new reader to also have sight of the client documentation from a bid management perspective. As well as spotting issues with the response document i.e. not complying with the tender requirements, they will also spot the rationale for this stage of the bid. Selection Questionnaire/Pre-Qualification Questionnaire stages are often looking backwards and wanting to know WHERE you have completed similar works previously. The Invitation to Tender/Request for Proposal stage is forward-facing in terms of what you will do for the client and how you will deliver it, so it’s essential your response is tailored accordingly.

• Spelling and grammatical errors – although Microsoft Word or Grammarly and other similar tools can spot some mistakes, only reading the response fresh can pull out some basic errors. Although these should not lose you marks for your bid writing, they will pose the marker questions about your attention to detail.

• Win themes – the Why Us question. If the new reader cannot answer the question of why your firm should win, you can be sure that the procurement professional who is marking the response will not pick up on this either.

• Answer out of balance – only when reviewing a response will you see an answer which is out of balance. Many bid questions will ask for 1,000 words to answer four bullet points. So often point one is covered in great detail in 550 words. Point 2 less so with 250 words. Point 3 in 100 words and the last bullet point is covered in a couple of sentences. If this is the case, the response is highly unlikely to score top marks with the buyer.

• The worst errors/the comical errors – we have read tenders where some of the mistakes are funny. Saying you will assist Tennent’s, the Scottish Lager, rather than Social Housing Tenants. Referring to the wrong client name or perhaps worse, the name of one of their rivals. Leaving in comments in the margin asking a colleague for information or even worse, questioning your solution or the buyer.

So who should this new reader be? Well absolutely anyone as long as they haven’t been involved with the bid management process directly. In our experience, this has included secretaries, spouses, friends or just someone from a different department.

So next time you are working on a proposal, find that person who will read your bid and give you that objective assessment. The devil is always in the detail and this could well be the difference between winning or losing your next tender.