There’s a golden rule in tendering: follow the client’s structure.

To me, this is such a fundamental and obvious rule that it never ceases to amaze me when I see it broken.

When a client releases a tender to market, they have two key documents: the request document and the correlating evaluation matrix. For each question asked in the request document, there is a corresponding matrix that the client uses to assess the response.

When the response that we prepare follows the client’s structure, it is easy for the client to do their assessment, which usually means it scores better. On the flipside, when the response is structured in some other way, the client has to rearrange their thinking to a new structure and search to find the answers.

Think about it like this: the client has been putting together their request for tender for – presumably – several months or perhaps even years. They have undoubtedly invested quite some time in working out what they want and how they want to assess the potential bidders. They’ve prepared their documents and thought about how they will assess the responses. For each question, they know what they want to see and how they will score that content. They have a clear picture in their mind of the solution they want. A response that follows a different structure means they need to rearrange the way they see the solution coming together, and maybe the different structure doesn’t fit in to the full picture which the bidder isn’t privileged to see. For the evaluators, I am sure this is very frustrating, and I wouldn’t like to be scored by a frustrated reviewer. And if they need to search for the content, it makes their job more time consuming and stressful, and again, I wouldn’t like to be scored by a reviewer that feels I am making their job more difficult.

Aside from completely undermining your chances at scoring well during an evaluation, what bugs me the most about teams that rearrange the content is that it sends a message of disrespect to the client. It says ‘I know better than you what you should be asking’. And it says ‘I don’t care what you want to know’. And it also says ‘I can’t be bothered.’

Don’t be arrogant

Don’t be the team that says ‘the client has no idea what they want…’ or ‘it doesn’t make sense that they ask for this…’ or ‘what they should be asking is…’. It reeks of arrogance to assume that you know better than the client. If you consider that every tender is the start of a new relationship, or an extension of an existing one, starting a relationship with no respect for the client’s thinking is a sure-fire way of ticking the ‘difficult to work with’ box.

Don’t be selfish

If the client’s structure doesn’t suit you, and you think your own structure is a better way to tell your story, your problem is that you’re self-centred. Your tender is all about ‘you, you, you’, when it should be all about the ‘client, client, client’ and the benefits you are delivering to them. Your job is to service the client and meet their expectations, which includes meeting their expectations in how you respond to the tender.

Don’t be lazy

But the number one reason that teams neglect the client’s structure is simple laziness. ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier.’ Cut and paste. Find and replace. This type of tenderer is taking the easy route, trying to do as little work as possible. The result is a half-hearted response that shows you can’t be bothered, which means you will probably take shortcuts once engaged as well.

None of these are good messages to send if you want to impress a client.

If you want to win, and indeed if you want to foster a strong and respectful relationship with the client, abide by the golden rule: follow the client’s structure. Here’s how:

Name and number your returnables exactly according to the client’s request, eg “Returnable Schedule 2: Corporate Systems and Project Experience”

Name and number the responses within each returnable exactly according to the client’s request, eg “2.5 Applicant’s Safety Record, (A) Workplace Health and Safety”

Structure the content of your responses to align to the structure of the questions. If the question says “The applicant must provide, for each Participant, evidence to demonstrate x, y, and z” then the most logical way to structure the response would be with headings for each Participant, and subheadings for x, y and z so that the evidence is clearly provided.

Follow any rules that the client specifies about page limit, font size and spacing.