How long until your next major deadline?

It’s four weeks until my next big one – mountain-biking 47km from Wanaka to Arrowtown. There’s only so much adrenalin will do for me over that distance, so I’m making sure I’m well-prepared.

The same approach is sensible when you’re tendering or bidding for a new contract.

While my career won’t suffer if I don’t come first mountain-biking (unless I happen to fall and break both wrists, which might dent my productivity as a writer), the same can’t be said for tendering. No second prize – losing a tender can be painful financially and have a far-reaching impact on livelihoods.

With some serious hills on the way, the Motatapu event is going to test me. I’m one of those competitive personality types, but being reasonably new to an event of this scale, in my mid-40s, and with a mostly desk-based job, I’m naturally a bit nervous about my fitness levels.

A lack of preparation and low levels of ‘tender fitness’ are two of the biggest risks for bid teams, especially on ‘must win’ bids. This is an area where good enough is often not good enough.

To avoid the wheels falling off your next tender, try these training tips. Some of these, particularly 4 and 5, can be part of your everyday tendering fitness routine so you’re not trying to do everything at once just before the deadline.

1) Develop a win strategy – Understand what’s required, what your client is really looking for, and how you will deliver a better solution than your competitors. In all your strategy work, consider everything from your end client’s perspective. What will your solution mean for them? How will it benefit them and provide long-term value? What’s going to differentiate you from your competitors? (I’d like to say I’ve bought an E-bike to deal with Motatapu’s hills, but they’re not allowed, apparently. My strategy? Good, old-fashioned training with lots of hill sessions thrown in.)

2) Set a plan – Work backwards from your deadline, set goals and milestones for review, and make sure your bid team commits to them. (For me, that’s meant regular training sessions, even in bad weather.)

3) Seek advice or help – If the tender documents are complex or if you’re low on resource, ask an expert for assistance. Insight on tendering strategy and best practice is much more valuable if it’s received earlier rather than later in your tendering programme. Avoid the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ if at all possible! (So I know what to expect, I’m training with and will ride the event alongside a friend who’s done Motatapu before.)

4) Get training – If you don’t respond to tenders frequently, consider signing up to a training course on tender response writing to lift your game. Even if you respond to tenders all the time, gaining a fresh perspective and insight from other sectors through a training course can be extremely valuable. (I joined the local Multi-sport club and have been hitting the hills with them on a regular basis since last September).

5) Review your existing attributes library – Do your ‘Relevant Experience’ and ‘Track Record’ reference project write-ups need updating? Will they score highly in the evaluation criteria, particularly ‘Relevance’ and ‘Currency’? If they’re more than five years’ old it’s definitely time to consider a refresh of your content. (Replacing my 10-year-old hardtail, I’ve upgraded to a new full-suspension mountain bike.)

Have you made assumptions that your client knows your track record already? What if the evaluation team has changed since you last worked with this client? Have you made it easy for them to award you top marks? Do you have suitable case studies already prepared to support your proposal? Adding relevant quotes and evidence aligned with your win themes to these sections will help to cement your position as preferred tenderer.

Often neglected until the last minute before a tender is due, CVs are a vital part of tendering success. Are your current CVs relevant and compelling enough to convince the evaluators to put your team on the podium ahead of your competitors? Adding details of specific achievements for key personnel will improve your score in this area. A good CV shows relevant skills and experience. A great CV connects those to the bid or contract at hand.

What about those other sections commonly requested in tenders, such as ‘Resources’ including systems for Quality, H&S, Environmental, and Financial Management? Are they up-to-date? Do they describe the benefits and value for the client? Don’t forget to describe what’s in it for them. (I have to admit my friend who suggested I ride Motatapu proposed it over a glass of wine – with the prospect of more wine post-event.)

6) Get feedback on past proposals – If you’ve just lost a tender, grab the opportunity for a debrief with the client. Ask about areas where you can improve your score and attend to these early in your next tender programme. It’s a numbers game and every point awarded can help. (Believe it or not, I’ve been practising wheelies with my 7-year-old in the back yard after falling off recently – I attempted to ride up a kerb and it didn’t end well. I want to do better next time.)

7) On your marks ... write a compelling proposal – First and foremost, focus on your client. Ask yourself why they’ve asked the questions they’ve asked. Consider what they will most likely want to see in the ideal response.

Here’s a challenge – on a recent tender, use the ‘Find’ function in Word to count how many times the client’s name appeared in your content compared to your own company name. Carry out the same exercise for ‘we’ versus ‘you’ or ‘your’. How many paragraphs or sentences begin with your company name? How do all those results compare with your intent to focus on the client?

Secondly, structure your tender response so it’s easy for the evaluators to find everything they need to award you top marks. Do provide evidence and articulate your clearly-defined win themes throughout your proposal, but don’t add endless appendices without good reason. If there’s a page limit imposed, stick to it (or risk having those extra pages disregarded or disqualified from evaluation). Make sure your submission complies with any requirements for separate Price and Non-Price envelopes.

Thirdly, consider your writing style. Using a concise but conversational writing style can vastly improve the readability of your proposal – a significant benefit if the tender evaluation team has varying levels of technical knowledge. It’s still okay to be technical and specific, but make sure you spell out the benefits for the client without overloading content with jargon.

Pay attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling – they’re important! Have someone independent review the content at important checkpoints throughout your tender programme; they’ll often spot errors or inconsistencies that you can’t see (but that the evaluators might).

Above all, be prepared to win. Good luck with your upcoming tenders!