Work Winning : ensuring compliance & the 'wow' factor in your bid.

In a previous blog , I was asked “to explore matching features to requirements[1]. Expanding on this, how do you write not only compliant bids, but compliant bids with a wow factor ?

Here’s a methodology which does just that.

The Groundwork :

Before I start, I will assume that you have done your ground work :

  • you are close to the client so you understand their needs, fears & aspirations organisationally, for the project and for the people who will mark the bid;
  • they want to work with you i.e. you are not just making up the numbers; and
  • you have done some pre-work on client-centred benefits and features that can deliver them, ideally developing some USPs and differentiators (see previous blogs 2, 3 & 4).

In other words, you have a genuine chance of winning the work on terms beneficial to your business.

Then the tender documents land. And you have to figure out how to incorporate all this good stuff into a ‘straight-jacketed’ bid with precise instructions, prescriptive questions and defined marking criteria in which each response is scored as a standalone.

So what do you do ? Well normally, it seems to me that people forget about the above !

A Method for ensuring compliance and more …

1. Do a General Storyboard for each Question. This is standard practice. My standard version is to the right and you can get a Word Version by clicking here. Use it as a starter based both on your preferences and the exact nature of the bid. However, stages 2 to 5 and then 8. go beyond what you normally see and effectively replace the box titled ‘Main Body Outline’.

2. Dissect each question by placing each component of the question in a column on the left side of a table. Often the question, especially in public sector which has to comply with the E U Procurements Regs, starts with a high level question on the topic and then gives the components of what you have to cover to answer the question fully.

  • So the first point in ensuring compliance is that you are actually answering the high-level exam question. As an example, on one bid I recently reviewed, the Contractor was asked how they would develop and agree their programme in the Early Contractor Involvement phase of a contract. The answer they gave was about they would run it during the detailed design and construction phase. Related, but not the same. As a result, they scored a 2 out 5.
  • The second point in ensuring compliance is that you answer all the components of the question. If you answer 8 out of 10 of them, you are just losing marks.

3. Strip the Tender documents of Requirements by which I mean :

  • create a column alongside the previous column for 'Requirements';
  • strip the Invitation to Tender, the Conditions of Contract, Technical Specification and anything else of Requirements which are relevant to the question. 
  • copy relevant wording, but especially requirements, and paste into the table in the box where you think it sits best in answering your question(s). Reference where you got this information from.

As an aside, at whole tender level, create a Compliance Matrix which lists all the Requirements you can find in the contract and where they can be found in your response. You will then not just have a fully compliant tender, but a tender which the markers can clearly see is compliant.

4. Place each level of scoring criteria along a top row of this table and then split each of these columns into 2 columns of Feature & Benefit. Why ? Well firstly you want a top score, so you need to be thinking about not just answering the question adequately to get a compliant or OK score - say a 2 or 3 out of 5 (which I often combine as a column) - but an excellent score (a 5).

Having different columns into which you will put your Features forces you to think about this.

Having different columns into which you put Features and their corresponding Benefits forces you to think about which Features offer the Client the most Benefit. So in a word or character restricted response, the ones you will keep are the ones which are going to give the Client the most Benefit and differentiat you from the competition. You will end up with a table which looks something like this, although I normally do it in Excel.

5. Add Features and Benefits to the table which range from those that they would expect to see – to tick the compliance / OK box – to the ‘wow’ factor Features and the Benefits in the excellent box. Do this in brainstorming mode i.e. get the ideas out : you can evaluate, develop and refine later.

6. Re-visit your big-picture solution & win themes etc. and adjust based on the ITT, the contract, specific questions, scoring criteria and their weighting. Ideally, you have developed this in outline before the bid hits, but you and other contributors now know the specifics against which you will be scored, so it might mean getting the whole bid team back together again.  Hopefully, your outline solution and the exact words you use to express the solution and client-centred benefits only need a little tweaking or a change in emphasis or the details.

7. Decide where you will answer in detail and where in outline. Often questions – or more precisely responses – will overlap. At worst, you don’t want two different authors covering the same thing twice, but adopting completely different approaches. Based on the specific question and the marks allocated, you need to decide where the detailed response best sits and where a higher level description, perhaps with a reference, will sit. The authors of each response then need to talk to each other e.g. one is part of the review team for the others work and vice versa.

8. Re-visit 5 in the light of 6 and 7. Decide what has to be in the response to be compliant and what you want to be in the response to get the higher marks. Develop the ideas so that they can be expressed with substance. At the same time, start developing tables, pictures, mini-case studies etc.

9. Write your ideal response cognisant of the word count and incorporating feature-benefit statements etc. Adopt the structure of the question, quote (if space permits) the exact Requirements in the ITT and reference. You are then not only compliant, but easy to mark and seen to be compliant.By 'cognisant', I mean don't write 12,000 words when the maximum permitted is 2,500.

10. Review & edit your response in the light of other responses, others input and the exact word count. This is about your response aligning with other responses, so that it is a coherent bid. It is about making sure that others read your response as you want the client to receive it. And it’s about making sure that the last 100 words aren’t ignored as you have exceeded the word count and therefore can’t get full marks.

11. Assemble the document so that it is coherent in writing style, presentation, terminology used, cross references etc. and as a check that all responses are coherent in content. This is the preserve of the bid manager, graphic artists and professional writers.

12. Check that nothing has been lost in each question. Stage 11 is done by generalists, but the response will probably be marked by at least one specialist who will lead on its scoring. You want to make sure that content has not been overly dumbed down, wrong words used etc. so there needs to be a final check.

Summary :

This is hard work which takes time. But it is a rigorous methodology that

  • Ensures you do not lose marks through not covering something, be it part of a question or a Requirement elsewhere in the bid documents; and
  • Will help make sure that you relevant features, client-centred Benefits, USPs and win themes appear in the right place throughout you bid.

[1] Work Winning : Using 'Feature-Benefit' statements to be more persuasive. Jason Sprague on LinkedIn.

[2] Work Winning : Win Themes – What are they ? And how do you develop & exploit them ? 

[3] Work Winning : 'Feature-Benefit' statements to be more persuasive.

[4] Work Winning : 'F-A-B, Captain' or 'F-USP-D' ?

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