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Best practice in bidding

What a great time to be working in proposal development….helping companies in all sectors identify and prosper from best practice to help them win 

Having worked on proposals across all industries and sectors for over 20 years, I would say this is probably the most exciting, creative and innovative time to be a proposals specialist and to be helping companies identify and share THEIR best practice that helps them win wherever they are bidding.

We all know that the nature of proposal development has changed dramatically to encompass e-bidding, e-auctions, the no-ITT (guess our requirements!) procurement, competitive dialogue and ever-more-prescriptive word-limited portal responses aiming to squeeze out any vestige of creativity and make it easier for evaluators to score everyone on a like-for-like basis. As a result, the challenge now to help companies differentiate from the pack is not only fantastic for us as bidding specialists but also sorts out the ‘best practice’ operators amongst us!

The real life of bids: why you should never be ‘delighted’ to present your proposal…

Why you should never open your Exec Summary with “We are delighted to present our proposal” or (even worse) “We thank you for the opportunity to present…” 


A reject rate of 40 per cent!

A reject rate of 40 per cent!  London’s Evening Standard newspaper reports that major London businesses throw four out of 10 job applications in the bin because they are so full of spelling and grammatical errors. 


Come on people, this is an easy one to fix – and if you’re a first-time job applicant, how do you make YOUR application stand out from the crowd? 


LAYOUT: simple and uncluttered – make it EASY for people to see what you did and when.  You don’t have to write a lot – maximum two pages for a first job, maybe just one for e a school leaver BUT don’t cram it all in just to make it fit one page. 


SPELLING & GRAMMAR: Really important, so avoid basic mistakes.  Don’t rely on spell-checkers because they allow words that may not be technically wrong but aren’t right in your context.  You need a real person to check your CV.  A friend, a neighbour, particularly anyone who is a business owner or recruiter is ideal. 


If you’re going for a job in a certain industry or for a particular company, tailor your CV to that company or enclose a cover letter addressing how you meet their requirements. Yes, that may be more time-consuming than sending out your ‘standard’ CV but it can give you a competitive edge.


When you apply to a company, it helps to be “talking their language”.  Read their web site, look at their marketing materials, see how they describe their company and their corporate values and you can follow the style of language they use.  Some businesses are very formal while others are more relaxed. They want to know you can fit in with their style.   


Having a job history to write about is fine, but don’t just list job titles – focus on what you’ve learned from those jobs that will be valuable to the next company.  Any employer knows what the basic job titles include so don’t just state “Responsibilities”.  Talk about what you’ve learned in that job. The tips below, aimed primarily at school leavers’ CVs will also be helpful for you in being able to demonstrate key competencies and traits that employers value.  


School or university leavers going for their first job tend to think that they don’t have much to say because they haven’t had a job yet – so they just put the dates they went to school or uni, the subjects taken and results achieved.  Trouble is, everyone else puts that too.  To make your CV stand out from the hundreds all saying the same thing, think about the following:

Want to write better proposals? Read more newspapers!

Making it easier for proposal evaluators to say yes to yours means making yours easy to read and easy to follow.

It means grabbing their attention and keeping it.  It means understanding how people like to read and take in information.  And it means writing in a way that engages and holds your reader’s interest.  With proposals, just as with newspapers or magazines, your readers are just like you – and the more you read of publications that are designed specifically to sell themselves to you, the more you can improve your own proposal writing by recognising and adopting similar attraction and retention techniques.

So to see expert examples of this on a daily basis, just read more newspapers!  No matter if it’s a broadsheet or a tabloid, read, learn and admire how editors and compositors present information to hook you in and keep you engaged.  And never underestimate reader (customer) loyalty: any newsagent will tell you how rarely people change their choice of daily paper……..

So – let’s examine how those papers do it.  Look at the front page.  Nothing is left to chance.  All aspects of positioning and layout are designed with you, the reader, in mind.  What catches your eye?  Headlines!  Sub-headings!  A photo here!  A quote over there!  An attractive page, strong headlines to draw you in and now you want to know more.  Now check your proposal cover – how does it compare?

Back to the newspaper….Knowing what their readers want, every article should give you the who/what/where/when/why in those first essential paragraphs, so that if those first parts are all you have the time OR INCLINATION to read (you are the decision-maker here), you’ve got the drift (it’s called the Management Summary!).  Then you might read on for more detail – or not.  If you do, look at how the detail expands towards the end.  Their sub-editors cut from the bottom up so all good journalists learn to put the key facts and revelations near the top, but give enough background detail that can fill a page if needed.

Knowing how well you as a reader respond to the key summary info being near the top, giving you the gist of the story, do you provide that courtesy to your proposal evaluators and put summary paragraphs at the top of other sections such as the Solution Overview, capturing the key elements?  If not, why not?

Back to the newspaper…. Open the paper out.  Instinctively we look at the right-hand page first.  It’s why journalists want their stories there and why columnists want their columns there.  It’s why advertising costs more there!  Stories on the left-hand page need to work harder to stand out.  Do your proposals maximise the “right-hand page” focus?

“Put down that knife and step away from the laptop”, When “bid rage” strikes

“Good afternoon”, says the Bid Portal. “Submitting your proposal is just a few clicks away!  With our easy-to-follow step-by-step guide, your 125 sections and sub-sections will be with us momentarily!”
Oh no, not only is this portal LYING to you, it’s also using bad grammar.  And you’ve only just started.
“Please follow these simple verification checks.  Enter your supplier code and password.  Thank you.  Now enter your submission code and password. Thank you. Now enter your bid code and password. Thank you.  There is no record of you on the supplier list. Goodbye.”

“Can’t care, don’t care” – How to avoid the “Just send it” moment in your bids

This post is by Sharon Pink

No matter how important this bid is to your business….

No matter how high the value….

No matter how well you know you can deliver to that client…..

….. there comes a point in the development cycle when you just stop caring.

You’ve spent so much time on the research, the planning, the writing and the proofing, so many days staring at the same paragraphs, that you actually can’t see the words objectively any more.  The deadline is looming and, despite your rational mind knowing there are probably lots of things that need correcting and improving, you find yourself saying “Look, just send it”.