We’ve published several blogs about tender writing and writing winning content from the perspective of the bid management process and also the scoring methodology that drives great content, but this blog provides some tips for good bid writing at the editing level.
Bid writing basics
Let’s start with 5 bid writing basics.
- Use simple language. Most tenderers fall in to the trap of wanting to use more complicated language, and particularly technical jargon, because they think it makes them sound more professional or more experienced. Actually, all it does is confuse and intimidate the reader, which is the last thing we want. And while there will definitely be technical experts on the evaluation panel who will understand the jargon, there will also be evaluators from other disciplines who will struggle to understand the jargon. The best approach is to use the lowest common denominator and ensure everyone reading the tender can understand it.
- Next up, be client focussed. Lots of tenders talk about themselves all the time. Their tenders are ‘me me me’ or ‘us us us’. They even start their executive summary with a sentence about them, such as ‘Company ABC is an expert in the field of such and such…’ But the client wants to hear about how your solution will service them. The tender should be ‘you you you’ to the client.
- On a similar level, use the language and tone of the client. Thoroughly read their corporate information and their tender documentation and pick up on key words and phrases they use, and their overall tone or energy when discussing the project. Reflect this back to them in the tender. Use the same or similar words and phrases, and match the tone and energy that they use. If you are not aligned to them in language, it will come across that you don’t understand them or the project.
- It is also important to be specific in your tender writing. Platitudes and motherhood statements are boring and worthless. Instead, be specific about exactly what you are going to do, and how, and what the outcomes will be. Use facts, numbers, dates, quotes… anything that can be verified and proven to show your capability and build confidence in the client.
- Another fundamental of good bid writing is to write in a logical sequence. The golden rule is to follow the client’s sequence, and then within that write in a logical sequence. That typically means an order of events, or most significant item through to least significant. If your content jumps around, it sends a message that your approach will be scrambled and confused too.
Now, let’s talk about persuasive writing. This is a little bit more advanced.
We have two key principles that we follow: write in benefits, and use active voice.
Features and benefits
If you’ve spent much time doing tenders, you’ve probably heard about features and benefits before, and maybe even that we need to do something called ‘converting features to benefits’.
Let me explain why this is so important. Basically:
- Features are the facts and details of a product or service. (If we are talking about rolling stock for instance, our features would include number of seats, width of doors, type of bogie, planned maintenance cycle…)
- Benefits, on the other hand, are the client-focussed results and outcomes of the product or service. (to continue our example, in rolling stock the benefits would be increase in capacity, number of passengers who can travel comfortably, ability for lots of passengers to board quickly, whole-of-life savings, improved reliability, increased availability…) You can have multiple benefits for each feature.
The danger in bid writing is that we can easily go to great detail about the features of our product or service and neglect to explain the benefits. This is a big problem because it puts the burden of understanding on the reader. And unfortunately, if the reader is left to connect the dots between the features you’ve listed and how it will benefit them, they may draw the wrong conclusion or miss the point.
Don’t forget: your reader will be reading reams and reams of information, from 3 or 4 different bidders. They will be tired and possibly bored. The last thing we want to do is to make it harder for them to understand the advantages and benefits of our offer. When we write with benefits, we make it easy for them. And that makes them like us more.
The good news is that it is really easy to convert features to benefits. Just ask ‘So what?’ For instance, “We have 60 seats in each car.” So what? “We can comfortably seat 5% more passengers and meet the State’s forecasts for patronage.”
If the ‘So what?’ trick doesn’t work for you, another way to find your benefits is to outline your rationale. If you think through your rationale, it will almost certainly unveil the benefits of your approach.
Whether a sentence uses active or passive voice comes down to who is doing the thing in the sentence. In the active voice, the subject performs the action, eg “The team maintains the fleet,” while in the passive voice the subject suffers the effect of the action, eg “The fleet is maintained by the team.” In this example, it changes the focus from the team to the fleet.
Here are some more examples:
|It is expected…||We expect…|
|Data has been used…||The Designer has used the data…|
|Provision has been made…||The team has made provision for…|
|An evaluation will be made…||The panel will evaluate…|
|The design has been upgraded to…||Constellation Rail has upgraded the design to…|
The passive voice usually sounds flat and uninteresting because it is more formal, and is often vague and confusing which is why it is used by people who want to avoid specifics or accountability, eg ‘mistakes were made’. And passive voice can create awkward and long sentences.
On the other hand, sentences in active voice are more direct, interesting and powerful. They take ownership of action and communicate more clearly. And, they are more concise because fewer words are required to express action.
Passive voice isn’t wrong, it is just a less-effective way of presenting an argument and compelling a person to action. In tender writing, we want to be bold and confident about our offer, so we try to write in an active and strong way.
Finally, I want to finish with 3 writing challenges.
Tight page limits
Urgh. Every bid writer’s nightmare.
As Mark Twain once said “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Tight page limits are much harder to work with so you should allow more time for content analysis, reviews and revisions because it takes time to make sure you cover everything you need to say with fewer words.
With tight page limits, the evaluators are trying to compare apples to apples and make all bidders homogenous. You do NOT want this. You still need to find a way to present your solution or approach in a way that is compelling and persuasive.
We recommend using graphics, attachments, tables and dot points. You can even use your page layout to get your message across, such as your headers and footers, or graphic elements like ticks on page, or a stamp saying ‘fully compliant’ etc.
But be warned: avoid the temptation to use too many dot points or tables. To be compelling and persuasive, you to need evoke emotion and this can only be done with words, not dots or tables.
Double urgh! Does it get any worse than having to submit a tender using spreadsheet worksheets??
Again, the evaluators are trying to make all bidders homogenous. You need to find a way to convey your solution and how well you understand the client and offer better value for money.
Unfortunately, this is hard to do within the cells of a spreadsheet. We recommend including as many extra elements in your submission as you can such as a powerful executive summary, a vision document and a cover letter.
Cut the “fluffy sales pitch”
Finally, the challenge of how much “marketing spiel” or “fluffy sales pitch” to include…
Usually this comment comes from your own team, saying “the client only wants to see the answers to the questions; no sales pitch.”
This is probably the toughest challenge and the answer is in educating your own team about what is true marketing.
I define “marketing spiel” or “fluffy sales pitch” as motherhood statements, platitudes, cut and paste website or brochure text, or irrelevant information that the client is not interested in, usually about you and your company.
What we need to include is strong, robust content, directly targeted to the client to demonstrate that we understand the project and their needs, and have a unique solution that solves their problem and adds value.
And writing in a way that is client focussed, highlights our strengths, and includes a cohesive strategic thematic is necessary to make our content powerful, persuasive and compelling.
Remember, the client wants our bids to be homogenous so that they can compare apples to apples. But we want our bid to stand apart in a way that is interesting, thorough, and memorable. When we do this well, the client enjoys reading our proposal, is impressed with the detail of our submission, has confidence in our approach and wants to work with us in preference to anyone else. That is true marketing and effective sales; not spiel or fluff.