#1 – Do your homework

Before responding to any RFP/RFI, do your homework regarding the prospect and their needs.  What do they do?  Seems obvious I know, but do you really know what the company does, who their customers are, what about their competitors and the industry challenges?  What are the company’s business goals and any challenges they’re facing?

Don’t rely solely on the information provided in the bid document when it comes out, do your research; the company’s website, media articles, industry news, annual reports, and of course, first-hand information from those key stakeholder relationships you’ve nurtured.

If you know the tender is coming up (and if they’re an existing customer or a target you should), prepare beforehand.  Build relationships with the key stakeholders and get to understand their business needs and goals.  Delve into what challenges they are facing and start to plan what your company can do to resolve those challenges for them.  What can your company do to help them meet their goals quicker, more easily or more economically?  Who will be on the evaluation team?  What are their needs and aspirations?

Be prepared and work on your value proposition before the bid document comes out.

#2 – It’s all about them, not you

Your response document should be all about the prospect and how you can help them.  They don’t want 10 pages about your business and the awards you’ve won; they want to know about how your business will help their business.  Not what you do, but what you can do for them.

The company has gone out to tender to meet a need, pinpoint what that need is and highlight how you will address it throughout the document.  Wherever possible start with an executive summary that clearly articulates how choosing your business or product will help them and how they can’t live without you, then back it up with facts and case studies throughout the document.  Your business value proposition should talk specifically to what is of value to them.   This ties back to point 1, you need to understand the company and how you can help them.

#3 – Answer the questions

Be sure that your responses to the questions do in fact provide what they’re looking for.  Have you fully understood the question and why they’re asking it?  Re-read the question and then your response from their point of view, not your own.  Does it make sense?  Is the message clear?  Does it give them what they need?  Is it concise and to the point?  Have you used jargon that not everyone reading the response document may understand?  Could anyone in their company pick it up and understand what you mean?

Where possible use their words and terminology, not your own.  For example, if your company uses the term “booking engine” and the bid document talks about “booking tool”, use their term.

#4 – Proof read, proof read, proof read

Read through your response document a number of times to ensure there are no spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, missing responses or errors. Set your language (for example English (Australian)) for the entire document before spell checking. Ideally, have more than one person read through the response before you submit it.

Have you answered every question correctly and covered all aspects?  Have you hit on all of their key requirements?   Are the page numbers and references correct?  Is the font consistent? Where more than one person has provided answers, do they read consistently in one voice or do the answers switch from singular to plural?  Are product names consistent throughout.

If they’ve asked for the response in a specific format, follow those directions fully.

Have you spelt the prospect company’s name correctly?  I kid you not, I’ve issued RFPs in the past where a respondent spelt both my name and my company’s name incorrectly in their covering letter – not a good start.

Where possible assign (or outsource) one person to “own” the document, collating and rewriting the various responses to ensure a cohesive end document.

Whilst bad grammar alone is unlikely to lose you the bid, it certainly makes it a more pleasant experience for the reader if attention to detail has been applied.  It also highlights the professionalism of your company and the care taken to respond.

#5 – Don’t leave it to the last minute

In my experience, responding to a tender always takes longer than you think it will, so start as soon as you receive it and don’t leave it to the last minute to submit your response.  There is nothing more stressful than trying to send a large file via email 30 minutes before the deadline only to have your server crash.

A lot of hard work goes into responding to a tender, so give yourself a good buffer between the deadline and sending your submission should something unforeseen occur.

Then sit back and relax with a cup of tea, while you can – the real work begins when you win the client.

What are your tips for responding to tenders?