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The 7 most common bid proposal writing mistakes

What to look out for when writing tender responses
By Hayley Preedy on 28 December 2020

We understand that bid writing is not an easy job. It requires thought, preparation, experience and perfect execution – together they secure the ultimate result that we always want – the win!

But the job does not need to be that difficult!

eXceeding’s consultants are experienced in responding to bids and running procurement, as well as evaluating bids. This means that we have the experience from both sides of the bidding process; from writing responses through to how they’re evaluated and scored.

When we review submissions completed by companies, we often come across the same errors time and again.

We have reviewed thousands of PQQs and tenders over the years and it is amazing how many people make the same mistakes. Because of this we have decided to put together a list of the most common errors we have found:

  1. Non-compliance
    It may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many times we find this. Many companies find a contract they know they can deliver and go about writing the submission without checking if they are compliant.At the very least companies have to have been trading for at least three years, and in most cases, there is a minimum turnover requirement that must be met.  Other compliance areas may include policies and procedures, accreditations or previous contract experience.Ensure you are able to deliver all of the elements of the specification before you start compiling your bid response. If you cannot meet the mandatory requirements, you really need to evaluate your bid; no bid decision.  There is no point in taking the time and effort in responding to a bid if you do not comply with the specification. Pick and choose your battles.
  2. Ignoring the details.
    The key with bid writing is detail. Paying attention to the detail in the specification is essential when starting the bidding process. Make sure that you have read and understood the specification, double check that the tender is right for you and make sure that you have a clear strategy on how to respond to the bid. There are many factors which you need to be aware of before you start answering the questions. These include:a) Is there a portal? Don’t ever leave it till the last minute to find out if there’s a portal! Make sure that you’ve previously researched and made yourself familiar with the portal to avoid last minute panic.b) When is the deadline date? Do you really want to be the company who submits late? Make sure that you know your timings down to the last minute to avoid embarrassment. If you fail to deliver your bid when you were specified to do so, it can immediately result in rejection.

    c) Do you know what needs to be answered? Don’t waste time answering questions that don’t apply to you. Waffling about a topic that has no relevance to you is a waste of resource.

    d) Is there a page/word count limit? If you go over the word or page count limit then the additional text will be disregarded by the evaluation or your submission rejected. If you’ve read the documentation then it will be clear which answers need to be answered and word/page limits. Ensure you are within these limits to comply with the instructions.

    e) Have you read and understood the brief? As it is said by many, failing to prepare is preparing to fail! If you don’t fully understand what is being expected of you, then how will you be able to confidently respond to your bid to the best of your ability? Preparation is key in order to avoid any uncertainty about what needs to be done, by whom and by what date. Plan, plan, plan!

  3. Not answering the question. As well as paying attention to detail, answering with the same level of detail is essential. But there is a fine line between including too much and too little detail in your response.Evaluators want to see a clean and crisp response which is to the point and meets the specification criteria. Finding the fine line between giving a detailed response and going over the top can be very difficult to qualify.The best place to start is to focus on the question that is being asked of you and stick to that. Answering the question may seem like the easiest task when bidding. But so many businesses fail to answer the question at hand and instead, just talk about themselves.

    The evaluator doesn’t want to know what you can do; they just want their question answered properly. Make sure you know what the question is specifically looking for. Whether that’s having a prime focus on your credentials, experience, case studies or references, know what is needed in the response to avoid wasting time and effort.

  4. Being too emotional
    It can be difficult for some organisations to be completely impartial when responding to the specification criteria. Evaluators don’t want to see emotional responses as they are looking for an unbiased response which doesn’t get influenced over personal opinions.  Use evidence/data to back up your statements.Be careful not to be too focused on you and organisation.We often find when we review tenders that we are seeing one word over and over, and we are constantly amazed how many companies we work with do this.

    Yes, that’s right – ‘WE’.  It is not just a pet peeve of ours but a common mistake that can cost your company dearly. In many cases it is a sign that your submission is focussed on the wrong area.  It’s important to remember this whole process is not about you, it’s about the client getting the most suitable supplier possible so focus instead on the client and the specific contract.

  5. Failing to Add Value
    With huge competition for contracts, it is not enough to simply ‘meet the requirements’, you need to add value.You need to prove that you are the right company for the job and will add great value to the specified service. Whether this is creating jobs, working in the community or including additional services, evaluators are always looking for the added value.Often bid teams will have standard responses which they ‘copy and paste’ into each bid response. This is a big no-no.  Copying and pasting both from previous submissions and across different answers is a common mistake that results in an average submission and a lost tender.

    If you must re-use old content, it is important that it’s re-written and updated to meet the requirements of the question being asked.

  6. Forgetting to review your response
    This is potentially the biggest mistake you can make.  When one person completes a submission they become familiar with it and can no longer see the errors.Reviews are easily forgotten about, but reviewing the final submission is crucial. Spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes are made by everyone no matter how experienced you are. The last thing you want is for a typo error to be the reason that you fail to qualify. Something that is so easily avoidable, like a simple spelling mistake, could be the difference between being awarded the contract and being rejected.Reviewing your work is the perfect opportunity to check, and double check your work to make sure it is free from any errors. You can add in key information that you may have missed out. Be sure that your responses reflect the key messages that you want to get across in your submission.
  7. Not requesting feedback
    Finally, regardless of whether it is a winning or losing bid, always request feedback.  This is the key to future success. Feedback will inform you of both your strengths and weaknesses and allows you to create a strong bid library for future submissions.If you’d like more advice on bid writing best practice, you can download our eBook here or you can book a free appointment by clicking on the panel at the bottom of this article.


Picture of Hayley Preedy

Hayley Preedy

Hayley is a creative B2B marketing professional with over 20 years of experience across the marketing mix in a variety of sectors. She has proven experience in strategic marketing planning, lead generation, content creation and project team leadership.

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