Writing and Review
At the end of the day, your written responses to the questions will either win you or lose you the bid. When you put a really strong bid response next to a really weak one, the difference is stark and the buyer’s heart rate starts to reduce, their comfort levels increase. They are looking for a safe option to award their contract to. The only way they can judge that is on what you put in front of them. What you put in front of them matters. I have heard so many people say RFPs do not win bids, they are just part of the process. Maybe that is correct in some places. In other places, I can certainly guarantee you that RFPs can lose you a bid. If they can lose you a bid, they have got to be a major part of winning a bid and in winning a bid, what you write in these questions is key to everything.
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Managing the writing process
Managing the planning, writing, review and editing process smoothly is key to developing refined written responses and hit deadlines. Robust management of the writing process is necessary, especially on complex bids where you could have up to 10 lead authors and as many contributors in play. Having sat across from authors, clients and colleagues, I’ve seen significant confusion amongst them over what they were meant to be writing and by when. Use the control sheet to clearly name the lead author who will own the response, and the different contributors who will feed into it.
Deciding who writes what is a really important thing to get right. Question whether the authors are the right person for the job. It sounds silly but can they write well? Do they know enough about the subject? Will they have enough time? Just make sure to leave enough time to rescue the responses if you need to. The control sheet is your trusted friend in this.
Plan, answer planning or storyboarding
People tend to rush into writing without thinking about what they are going to write or why. This is how to lose bids. Developing your bid strategy first, then moving on to answer planning reduces rework and improves the quality of responses. We always make time to discuss the question, plan out our responses and capture this plan in a brief ‘Answer Plan’ or ‘Storyboard’. This provides the author with an agreed structure and content plan to ensure we score high and appeal to the evaluator. The planning process gathers expert input for the author, helps crystallize the win strategy and highlights gaps in the offer.
We host answer planning workshops to help writers. These are facilitated workshops held early on with the author, facilitator, bid boss and other expert contributors. We also draw up answer plans / storyboards. This is a one pager of instructions and information to help the author. The storyboards use the ‘2-column’ format, with headings on the left and content prompts on the right to structure the response. They also contain suggested word counts next to each heading to help the author balance how much to write for each section.
Using the answer plans, either write responses from scratch, extract expert knowledge and write it up or manage and support others to write responses. You can also hire a bid writer. A professional skilled in writing bid documentation could save you a lot of time.
Do you understand the question?
Remember the advice of teachers before an exam? Read the question properly! Break down the question to help you interpret what is being asked for.
|The Question||The Directive||The Topic|
|Define your approach to mobilizing the contract||Define your approach||Mobilizing the contract|
Look for the directive or the action words. Here it is “define your approach”. You do not talk about just mobilization. Your approach to mobilization is to talk about “how” you do things rather than what you do. Now that you have addressed the directive it’s time to look at the topic. Mobilization - describe the activity. You then look at your win theme matrix – accelerated delivery is one of your win themes so you need to state you do it in 90 days or 10 minutes or in 60 seconds flat or whatever it is.
|The Question||The Directive||The Topic|
|Provide a summary of track record in mobilization||Summary of track record||Mobilization|
For this question you write a completely different answer, they want to know what you have actually done, so you provide an excessive amount of case studies so that you give them the level of certainty you can deliver.
How to write a good response
Answer the f@%&ing question (IN FULL!) – you would be amazed how many people fail at this first hurdle … whether the author has spent too much time on one aspect of the question or whether the author just doesn’t understand the question in full. I have sat down side-by-side with so many writers and can tell you some read the first three words and start writing. They completely miss the bit after the comma on the last line, and they have just lost 15 points. You might get away with this in private sector bidding, the buyer might come back to you with hints to help you out. In the public sector, the buyer won’t give you a second chance. They will move on to your competitor, who has done two sides of A4 with a flow chart and a named person responsible and shown application in their track record. Suddenly the buyer has certainty and it allows them to give you a really low score. It is not that they do not like you, it is that you are already coming across as sloppy and untrustworthy, and the other bidder is coming across as thorough and solid.
Don’t fall into the trap of just repeating the buyer’s requirements – this is something we often see when a company does not have a strong offer. It is not enough to just say that your team will work collaboratively, and you will meet regularly with the buyer etc., etc. You need to show HOW you will do what they want. It is like me selling you a diet pill by stating that it will make you lose weight and when you ask how, I just keep repeating it will make you lose weight by taking it …
Know the story, or find someone who does
If you, as a writer, do not know the story – for example you do not know what your mobilization plan would be – sit with your subject matter expert and ask them to talk you through it. You might need to consult multiple subject matter experts in this way for one response – especially if it’s a very technical or nuanced topic – for example how does mobilization interface with security systems – here you’ll need the security person to input. You can get a really complex question about an area that you know very little about resolved in half a day if you have discipline and access to a subject matter expert.
The ‘so what?’ check
This is a really powerful question. What is the significance of your answer? What benefit does this provide the buyer? Authors will sometimes waffle or not get to the point. This is inefficient and will make the evaluator switch off. Always ask yourself “What is the significance of what I am writing?”
Evidence takes the promises and aspirations and makes them real. Evidence gives confidence to the evaluators and makes you a credible potential partner.
Writing in images
Go through your response and ask “Where could I graphically make my points more strongly and would it be better to have an organization chart here, have a flow diagram, or infographic?” Make sure that all graphics are referenced or have a particular purpose or message, because images used incorrectly can throw an evaluator off. Carefully review all graphics in context to ensure they are sending the right messages.
Graphics do’s and don’ts:
- Never throw in random graphics to fill space or if they are meaningless
- Using images cleverly won’t affect the word count – such as by sneaking in captions with a disclaimer ‘This page is not word counted’
- Ensure they are accompanied by captions that add value.
As branding is going on at the same time, there are key links to be made. Some elements of your written message may tie in to the visual brand and the overall strapline (such as a branded impact box in every section or an icon used throughout the bid to emphasize a certain message). Keep in mind how the two will need to be tied/developed together.
Example image captions
Poor caption: Outside Space
Good caption: A vibrant outdoor space designed to complement the essence of the historical architecture
Excellent caption: Mixing the old and new - a public realm that pays homage to your history, allows people to interact and has plenty of open space ready for community activation. Here you can engage local people and create a real sense of place from day one.
Review responses to assess if they are well-structured, clear, have the right tone, reflect the win strategy, answer the question and have an appealing offer to the buyer. Use the control sheet to schedule in the reviews. Reviews can be done in joint review sessions with the bid boss, or remotely as track-changes or note mark-ups of word documents. If you have formal joint in-person reviews, referred to as ‘50% Draft Review’ or ‘80% Draft Review’, get the right people at review sessions. It’s no use having 10 reviewers but no decision-makers at answer review sessions. It is important that in advance you give people time and ask them to read the responses so they come prepared with comments and don’t waste your time in the meeting by reading. Get the bid boss or authorized representative at the planning, review and sign-off sessions so you can have the necessary discussion about the final content.
The goal of all reviews is to:
- Make things better than when you started
- Find and plug gaps
- Incorporate wider views for richer answers
- Check we have used our strategy and tools to get to the right stage
- Ready ourselves for the next stage
- Put recovery actions in place
- Take the time to plan your answer before writing. Use our answer planning template or storyboard to help with this.
- Make sure you answer the f@%&ing question, read and then re-read the question to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- If you don’t know the story behind what you’re writing in your response, then find someone who does.
- Focus your response on how you will deliver the buyer’s requirements to avoid falling into the trap of just repeating their requirements.
- Provide evidence to back-up your claims.
- Go through your responses and identify where a graphic could make the point more strongly.
- Schedule in reviews of the responses.