How to write tender answers – 4 tips to help increase persuasion
Part art, part science, nailing the writing of tender answers for a win can be difficult, especially if you don’t do it often.
Many tender drafts (and submitted bids) JMA reviews tend to be overwritten, garbled, and full of quaint, flowery language as sometimes writers err on the side of formality feeling that sounds more ‘proper’ or ‘important’ and thus more credible. Often it’s hard to know exactly what the author is on about, let alone how it solves the client’s problems.
Remember – tenders, bids and proposals are first and foremost selling documents – they are scored or evaluated rather than simply ‘read’. They must persuade.
So what can you do to improve your tender answers?
Read on for JMA’s tender answer writing tips!
This blog has four tips on writing tender answers to help improve your tender writing:
Writing tender answers – tip #1 – Answer the tender question (in as few words as possible)
We often see long winded tender responses that end up ‘talking around’ what matters instead of getting on with it and actually responding to the questions.
Our first tip is to b-r-e-a-k down the question, re-read it a few times (including out loud if you need to) to get to the heart of what is being asked.
If you take this approach (just like at school with essays) it will help focus your writing and you can scan the RFT/P question for key words.
Highlight or underline keywords so they remain top of mind and include them in your tender answer.
From there you can formulate a response that almost paraphrases back – with supporting detail and evidence – how your organisation meets (or exceeds) the stated requirements.
What about badly worded, poorly thought-out or confusing tender questions?
We’ve all seen tender questions that are in fact several separate questions and are a grab bags of ideas such as:
‘Explain your company’s quality methodology, ability to meet timelines and your environmental approach.’
While this mock question is a jumble of three separate ideas (and would perhaps be best as three distinct questions) this RFT criterion has combined them. This tender question example also suggests that for this organisation ‘environmental’ issues are high in importance given that topic has been bundled in with the more standard service elements of quality and timeliness.
Your response might have a lead in that paraphrases back the three points or ideas contained in the question and then have 3 distinct subheadings to clearly address each of quality, timeframes and environment with a concluding sentence that ‘links’ your approach to each element of service.
An example tender answer might open with:
Quality, timeliness and environmental best practice
‘As our client, ABC Co can be assured that quality, timeliness and care for the environment are high priorities for XYZ as a supplier of award winning widgets. Set out below is an overview of our approach to each of:
- quality (including our proven ISO #### methodology)
- plan for meeting your proposed timeframes
- our leading environmental initiatives.
Quality methodology in practise for ABC Co
^ Your quality response then goes here – tailored to the client, followed by timeframes (again for this client) and then your environmental credentials (tailored for the client if relevant).
Once your tender answer is drafted have your reviewers bear this ‘test’ in mind:
Does your response to the question open with a sentence addressing the question in a relevant, direct way?
If necessary, amend your response to put your key points of information up front like in the tender answer example above. Because ‘first impressions’ matter so much, this advice extends to sentences, paragraphs, and the whole argument.
And, if you’re recycling or re-spinning ‘old’ content from past tenders make sure you ‘tweak’ and ‘tailor’ the response so it address the question THIS time. Just because ‘quality’ is referenced in a slab of text in an old bid it doesn’t mean it will give you maximum points this time around or hit the mark.
Also see JMA’s blogs: Too long; didn’t read; Responding effectively to (unspoken) questions in tenders, bids and proposals; and Same same, but different best practice for recycling boilerplate tender, bid & proposal content for further hints on writing tender answers.
Writing tender answers – tip #2 – Focus on your audience(s) and what they need to know this time.
Above all else, when writing tender answers consider your audience(s) who have the power to award the contract to you.
In some competitive selection processes evaluators will have dozens upon dozens of tenders to assess. Don’t ‘punish’ evaluators by making your tender answers and overall bid difficult to follow. Save the ‘mystery’ for your detective novel!
Usually in tenders you will need to cater for multiple ‘audiences’ – as it’s usually more than ‘one’ decision maker you’ll be writing for.
For instance, in a bid to a local government client you may at various levels be writing for these diverse council evaluators:
- Procurement – checking minimum compliance and meeting of basic requirements
- Technical team or SMEs (subject matter experts from engineering/HR/other function) – initiating/sponsoring/driving the project and calling for bids
- General Manager / Finance – controlling budget and ultimate spend
- Mayor and councillors – perhaps ultimate decision makers/veto power
- Council officer participants / recipients of your services – perhaps influential in provider selection
- Community / ratepayers – indirectly powerful, the Council’s spend must stand up to their scrutiny.
Bottom line: If you want your offer or solution to win ‘in writing’ it needs to easily understood by a variety of tender evaluators. Unfortunately much of the tender writing we see inadvertently puts up a barrier between the bidders and the evaluation committee. Not all evaluators will have a ‘technical’ background. And perhaps most importantly they want to know what they GET if they choose you.
The safest approach (unless you are very sure of who your audience is) is to write as though the reader has no prior knowledge of your company and solution – that way you cover off audiences who may be ‘non-technical’. Then if using a ‘standard’ bit of policy or lifting a response from an old tender tailor it as to what you would do for this client. (See JMA’s blog on using the tender as a way to create a service plan).
Thus, wherever possible ‘make it obvious’. Or put another way, help them to help you.
While tenders are formal business documents; they are also ‘selling’ documents. Meaning (apart from technical sections) writing tender responses is not the same as writing a patent application, detailed storm water design, software implementation or legislative review commentary.
The goal of your tender writing should be to help you win by maximising your responses against the selection criteria, not to obscure meaning.
That also means apart from being compliant your tender writing must be persuasive.
Writing tender answers – tip #3 – Persuasive writing and language tends to be plain, direct and simple (making it instantly accessible and digestible) and helps you WIN.
Or as I like to say, be like Hemingway!
Ernest Hemingway is famous for his simple and economical yet highly effective writing style.
He is often credited with the short story (or piece of ‘flash fiction’) in response to a wager that he couldn’t write a story in six words. The resulting sad story uses only six words but has a beginning, middle and end yet is incredibly evocative and effective:
For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.
It paints a (tragic) picture and you instantly ‘get’ the sad story.
Plain Hemingway-like English is not:
- about dumbing down complex topics
- oversimplification of language or concepts
- adopting a patronising tone
- about banning new words or eliminating all long words or longer sentences
- necessarily easy (especially on a first draft)!
Don’t expect to ‘nail’ it on your first draft. A first draft may be where you are still making decisions about approaching the solution or highlight the need to validate and ‘fact check’ content. It may take you a couple of rounds of drafts, reviews and amendments to really distil what you are trying to say and to reduce the amount of wordiness.
JMA finds on average the most compelling and persuasive tender writing goes through three rounds of reviews.
Also see JMA’s blog on simplifying the complex in your tender writing for more tips.
Writing tender answers – tip #4 – the right structure for your words can increase your persuasiveness – it’s as easy as C – B – E !?
As in the Hemingway example above, it’s a good idea to organise or hang your words from a structure or set them out using a logical pattern to make it easy for evaluators. As they work through your tender answers they’ll become ‘familiar’ with the organisation style and be able to quickly hone in on your key points.
What makes a persuasive structure when writing tender answers?
There are many tender writing answer formulae to pick from, for example C-B-E is a fairly well known short cut:
Claim (that is a statement or point likely to appeal to evaluator of this proposal)
… XYZ’s widgets are the most reliable ever for chocolate manufacturers …
Benefit (for the client)
… With up time of 99.9% your factory can produce chocolate bars 24/7/365…which means more sales and more profits …
Evidence (of your Claim)
… 10/10 XYZ clients use our A1 widget and have done since 2002 …
‘ABC’s A1 widget is the best in the chocolate industry!’
– Extremely satisfied XYZ customer.
Other persuasive tender writing structure tips:
- ‘Rule of Three’ – repetition, in odd numbers (such as threes, trios or triplets) can make your content more engaging, resonant and memorable
- Used selectively the ‘preacher’ approach can be helpful – tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; and then tell ’em what you told ’em in conclusion
- Check out JMA’s other tender writing blogs and What really needs to go into a proposal resource
- Borrow and adapt some classic copy writing formulas
- Make it client-centric and far less about YOU – this means unless a question specifically asks for it do not start with your firm’s history, your offerings, or your mission statement – it’s not a an appealing read. If that sort of material must be included keep it to a concise paragraph; and indicate why that is a ‘good thing’ for the evaluators. Join the dots and explain why that’s beneficial. For instance a long history indicates stability, and perhaps many other similar projects we have completed successfully making your choice of our company a low risk option.
See JMA’s blog How to make your proposal client focussed.
The four tips on writing tender answers in this blog are just that – ‘tips’ rather than hard and fast rules – though as they say, you need to know the rules in order to break them.
Keep in mind that in any bid your first goal should be achieving compliance with the stated criteria – from there you can refine your drafts to inject style and persuasion when writing tender answers. Very often a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice!
If your tender writing could use a tune up when it comes to writing tender answers, or you’re not winning all that you should perhaps it’s time for a bid benchmarking review; or if you have a live bid on (or coming soon) enquire about JMA’s tender writing services – we can help.
Tender readability remains a problem for some in the 21st century. I still see submission documents that cling to a handful of really old hat tender presentation and formatting techniques. I suspect this is because some of these ‘rules’ are viewed as being more appropriate to a ‘formal’ style of document such as a tender. […]