In brief

When it comes to responding to a Request for Tender (RFT), it’s not simply about answering the questions but rather answering the brief in such a way that says “we understand what you need”. It’s more about them than you.

Tendering is a formal, structured invitation made by an organisation, requesting submission of a bid to supply products or services. RFT’s are a way in which companies are able to promote competition, while allowing for full transparency and giving numerous suppliers the opportunity to pitch for new business.

Below are our top ten tips to guide you through the complex world of RFTs.

1. Read the Request for Tender

As simple as it sounds, you need to thoroughly read the documentation provided, and determine whether you should bid or not. It’s worth passing the RFT around decision makers in your organisation to gauge whether it’s the right fit and ascertain if you have the relevant capability (e.g. good work, good for the brand, good fit with your skillset, or not, etc.). It’s better to get negative responses from internal stakeholders early, than to go through the entire tender process and evaluation and receive negative feedback after hours of hard work.

It is also good to note whether the RFT is in line with your company’s strategic direction. Ask whether this opportunity will be advantageous or will it go against company values.

2.  Answer the questions

It’s not necessarily the WHAT (you can do or offer), it’s the WHY (your passion) that you need to get across in your submission. It’s important to articulate the “why” upfront in the Executive Summary.

People will typically not read anything beyond the Executive Summary unless there is a compelling reason why they should read your submission. This key section should outline the reasons why they should consider you – your points of difference. This is where you need to emphasise why you can help them, why they need you, why you are different – show it through your passion!

Remember, each subject matter requires an expert to answer the questions specifically, with key examples (evidence) to demonstrate relevant experience.

3.  Be certain you meet and understand all the required criteria

This is crucial! Responding to a tender takes a considerable amount of time and effort. Beyond the actual writing, key stakeholders – often senior people within your organisation – will need to step away from their day-to-day activities to gather and supply relevant information.  All of this will be wasted if you never had a chance of winning in the first place. Consider whether it is worth bidding or not. There will generally be a period of time where you will be able to ask questions of the customer; use this time to clarify any requirements or details that you may be unsure of.

Once you decide to go ahead with the process, you need to understand each and every criterion which will be used to evaluate your response – these points are normally stipulated in the RFT. If need be, break each criterion down as a heading so that you answer each component of the evaluation criteria thereby ensuring you meet the RFT requirements.

A key part of the analysis is understanding the terms of the contract you will be expected to enter into. Contracts allocate risk and you need to be comfortable with the terms upon which you will be expected to supply. The tender response can be your only opportunity to put alternate terms to the customer so it is critical to use this wisely. Madgwicks can help you understand the commercial risks in the proposed contracts to be entered into and protect your valuable information provided in the response.

4.  Follow the required structure

Most often you will be instructed on the format of the response: word count, file format, and structure. Do not deviate from these requirements. In other words, don’t get creative or impose your ‘house style’ in the RFT as it will not comply and it will hinder rather than help you. If appropriate, include a cover page, table of contents, headings and subheadings to make the document clear and easy to read.

5.  Write in plain English

Keep it simple! Your tender response will not be the only one evaluated. Leave out unnecessary jargon from your document and keep it clear, concise and easy to understand. Use bullet points and headings to break up the text and make sure the format of the document is consistent throughout.

6.  Be specific about confidential information

Segment your tender response to inform the organisation about what is to stay specifically confidential. Be aware that information may be released in future so it is good to make it clear about what you want to keep private and what is for general purpose.

7.  Review your tender before submission

Get a fresh pair of eyes (or two) to proof read your tender response. This will ensure the document flows well; the styles remain consistent, and of course identify any spelling, grammatical or writing errors. You will also have to ensure that all technical components, scoping and pricing are accurate.

Once all the basics are covered, you need to read your response from the reviewers’ perspective. You need to ask: “So what?” With all of the statements made, you need to look at them objectively and question their meaning, the benefits, the proof (examples) and the value it will provide to the company. Basically does everything you state carry weight? This will help you avoid making ‘motherhood’ statements which hold little value when tested.

Finally, it is important that the response is understandable for someone who may not necessarily be familiar with the technicalities and your organisation.

8.  Meet all the deadlines

Your tender response will not be considered if it is submitted after the deadline. Factor in the submission requirements, electronic or hard copy, possible technical issues and postal delays. Understand all the stipulated requirements and make sure your tender is submitted on time. Top tip: create a proposal schedule and stick to it.

9.  Tender debrief

Tendering is not an exact science. While failure and disappointment are close companions they are not permanent and you can change your strategy, approach and offering through continuous improvement. Therefore, regardless of the tender outcome, it is important to get a tender debrief to continuously learn from each tender. In your feedback you are entitled to information about your overall ranking, how many you were competing against, where you failed in the criteria, how your costs were ranked against others, and recommendations for future improvements.

10. Post-tender ‘housekeeping’

  • Tender Register – this is a useful tool to help you keep track of your tender and capability information for future tenders.
  • Repeat questions: Some questions appear across multiple RFT’s, so keep your best answers on file to help answer new questions in future tender responses.
  • Track your time: Keep track of all time spent by stakeholders on the RFT. Post submission, this information and analysis will provide valuable feedback on effort versus outcome.

Conclusion

Whilst tenders are a great way to win new business – if you have a good process in place, and can respond in a way that can improve your chance of success – it is important to remember that building relationships, networking and organically growing the pipeline is still one of the best approaches for business growth. When the tendering route is required, it can be useful to cultivate and nurture existing relationships to help position you well for the tender.

If you find yourself in the position of responding to an RFT and need to ensure that you have covered everything correctly from a legal perspective, or if clarification on terms and conditions is required before you embark on the process of responding, don’t hesitate to contact us.

The author would like to acknowledge and credit Andrew Brydon from BMS Advisory Group for his discussion on “Responding to the Right Tender” on which this article is based.

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