If you’ve written even a few tenders, you’ll have encountered a Request for Tender (RFT) or Invitation to Tender (ITT) that made you want to pull your hair out. Repeated or confusing questions, obvious grammar mistakes or inconsistent numbering. You may even be tempted to fix it up a little bit. Fix a spelling mistake here, delete a repetitive question there, and voila, you’ve made a much more logical and readable document. So what’s the problem?
Why Shouldn’t I Change the Tender Documents?
Often, changing the tender documents can render your submission invalid. Even if your bid isn’t automatically disqualified or made non-compliant, changing the questions is bad practice. The Principal won’t get the information they wanted and may get annoyed if they realise that you’ve altered their questions or template.
What Counts as Changing the Tender Documents?
Setting up your own template is standard bid writing practice, but bid writers should never change the order or content of the RFT questions. The most common pitfalls are:
- Changing the numbering
- Changing headings/section titles
- Changing the wording of questions
- Fixing grammar mistakes in the RFT.
Read every detail of the RFT before creating a template. Some RFTs require using the template provided and prohibit altering the formatting.
What To Do Instead
Although you might not like the order or wording of the questions, it’s better to just put up with it then risk submitting a non-compliant tender. Even if the same question is repeated three times it’s the safest bet to answer it three times than to delete one or leave it blank. If you notice contradictory questions or missing information, your best bet is to submit a formal clarification. By requesting a clarification, you’ll make sure you and other tenderer’s get a response through official channels via a formal Addendum. Instead of trying to creatively interpret an unclear RFT or ITT yourself, make the Principal’s procurement team clarify what they are looking for.
How to Set Up a Tender Template
Just because you can’t change the questions doesn’t mean you can’t add your own style to the submission and make the document a little easier to read. Except in the cases of an RFT prohibiting use of your own template, we recommend developing a template that matches your brand and style guide.
The importance of submitting a visually appealing, eye-catching and easy-to-read bid can’t be overstated. In our previous post, “Why do incumbent suppliers lose competitive tenders?”, we discussed the three audience types to keep in mind.
The main audiences for your tender are assessors, the account team and advisers. Assessors read the bid in detail. After scoring, the account team will get involved in the details. Unlike the first two audiences, advisers will likely only read the executive summary and possibly scan through the rest. These influential stakeholders have a big say in who gets awarded the contract, so it is vital to make a lasting impression.
Using good design and graphics is the best way to catch an adviser’s eye and illustrate your professionalism. The first step is to set up the basic layout and styles of your template. This includes:
- Choosing a high-quality cover image
- Setting up headers and footers that include your logo, the Principal’s logo (if permissible) and page numbering
- Inserting a table of contents
- Formatting headings with the desired size, font and colour
A good trick is matching your numbering to the numbering in the RFT. This makes is easy for assessors to quickly find answers and demonstrates that you haven’t changed the questions. Once you have the base template ready, copy the questions over from the schedule of responses to your template word-for-word. Don’t change anything and include as much of the text from the RFT as you can for context. It’s easier to delete excess text later than to hunt it down or make a mistake because you didn’t understand what an out-of-context question was asking. After you’ve copied all the questions over, you’re left with a blank template ready to insert your answers.
For more tips and tricks on setting up templates, planning win themes, writing executive summaries and more, check out our Bid Essentials Program, a comprehensive six-month mentoring program that teaches bid teams everything there is to know about tenders.
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