In sporting circles, you often hear the phrase ‘It’s not the winning but the taking part that is important’. As someone who is very competitive I disagree completely. Even if I am playing Monopoly with the children I like to win!
When writing a tender for lucrative public sector contracts, winning is all that matters! There is absolutely no pride, glory or financial reward for coming second; you really will be an also ran.
When I deliver training to rail and other private sector companies, one of the most important things I try to emphasise is that writing a tender is a competition. It is not good enough to want to deliver the work, nor is it good enough to be able to deliver the work. It is not even good enough to be able to deliver the work better than the other companies tendering. You must be able to clearly demonstrate and persuade the evaluator that you can deliver the work… wait for it… better than the other bidders.
Meet the clients tendering needs
The key, of course, is to find out what constitutes ‘better’. What does good look like? Again, mistakes are often made at this point with writers making assumptions and having a disjointed view of client needs. What good looks like depends on who is looking, and in this case it is the evaluator. It is their opinion that counts and theirs alone. Your tender writing narrative should be looking good to them, meeting their needs, addressing their issues and solving their problems. Not yours. The complex part of tender writing is finding out what the buyer really wants, and clearly demonstrating that you can deliver those needs and wants better than anyone else.
In terms of demonstrating you can deliver those needs, sometimes the questions in the tender are very complex and correct interpretation is key to writing a persuasive answer. Even if you do identify your own key differentiators that matter to the evaluator, you must persuade and not describe. Too often bid and tender writers describe their systems and processes really well but omit to use persuasive language and really differentiate their offer through the narrative they submit. If a lesser company uses persuasive positive language (‘we will’, rather than ‘we believe’, and ‘we know’, rather than ‘we think’) and you use descriptive narrative, then they will win without really trying. There is a saying in boxing that styles make fights; in tendering, style and content win. Put the two together and winning is much easier.
What the buyer wants
Working out what the buyer really wants is more difficult. Yes, you have the specification and this should be your start and finish point. The trick is dealing with the middle part! You must become adept at reading between the lines of the specification and the actual questions themselves. Often, there is a disconnect between the two as the writer ‘forgets’ (or chooses to ignore) the specification. Ignoring the specification and misreading the question is a fatal combination but it happens all too often. When constructing your PQQ or tender responses you must take account of both, and link your differentiators to what the client really wants. If your differentiator does not link to the client’s needs, don’t include it; it is irrelevant. Even when linking all of these individual elements, you must persuade the evaluator that you are better than all the other bidders. Remember, above everything else, that tendering is a competition, but a competition where second place is the same as coming last.