Proposal Development

Proposal Development – Making your proposal compliant, compelling and competitive

Why is it important?

Bidding is a very different form of sales method that relies on a competitive, arm’s length process where compliance and transparency of the process is just as important as your service offering and best and final offer.   

When you bid, every one of your responses will be benchmarked against your competitors, and weighted against a set evaluation criteria.   To win, you need to position your company as more than just a supplier, but an active and willing partner in your customers’ success.  What’s so different to this than a sales relationship you might ask?  The main difference is that bidding is a long distance relationship where the written submission – or proposal – and the thought process that goes into it, is your primary selling tool. 

There are some fundamental inclusions in your proposal that can help you achieve this. These inclusions might require you to develop a new kind of strategic writing skill that you haven’t applied before, or you might decide to direct resources to a consultant to help you. These are:

  • A strategic executive summary (even if your response has rigid requirements, the summary document can help with your storyboard)
  • Customer insight– drawing on market research to demonstrate your understanding of the customer’s business environment  
  • Your past experience on similar contracts to demonstrate the expertise you can bring to the customer
  • Inclusion of evidence such as case studies, testimonials and references as social proof of your solution, your experience, customer service and approach to problem solving and risk management.

If you are prepared to invest the time and effort into mastering these four practices, then you’ve got the right mindset to respond to tenders.  

When responding to a tender always remember that it is a competitive sales process that has added complexity of technical, legal and commercial input.  It really is a company team effort, and it’s the bid managers role to project manage or lead it. 

While ýour bid response will need to address contract-specific requirements that require your technical experts’ input,  you also need to convey your unique selling points by showing an understanding of the buyer’s issues, their concerns, and how your product and service will mitigate these, and other issues successfully.  

Having your bid team and sales team working in isolation is a missed opportunity and it’s surprising to know that so many companies don’t have a “one team” approach. 

Because responding to tenders IS time consuming AND resource intensive, there is an equally important agenda to streamline the process to the point where it becomes one of your company’s own competitive advantages.  And it’s an investment worth making because the tender process is now the most preferred method to procure goods and services around the world, and it’s continuing to be adopted across both the public and private sectors. 

Proposal development objectives

  1. Follow every instruction
  2. Address all selection criteria using compelling evidence to back your claims
  3. Emphasise the unique selling proposition of your proposed service model and solution aligned to customer requirements
  4. Meet the deadline.

Essential tools


Your strategy on a page

Managing the bid response process requires a juggling act of multi-tasking across several documents, many of which are quite technical. It is therefore best to work to a checklist when bidding to ensure you can effectively manage the people, knowledge and project management aspects of the job.

After you have set up the Response Template and have all of your information ready in a Writer’s Package, moving on to storyboard development helps team members, and especially busy subject matter experts, focus on providing information that the evaluators will need (as opposed to writing what they want).

A storyboard can be partially completed before the kick off meeting and should provide an outline of every answer before any writing commences. This helps technical experts to focus on their knowledge and creativity in key messaging for their section without getting stuck on ‘words’. A review of the storyboard can also help to quickly pinpoint any key messages that are not supported by evidence.

Purpose of storyboarding:

  • Build a cohesive, logical flow of information throughout your proposal
  • Avoid inconsistencies across components of your bid
  • Identify any gaps in your offering – and proactively close them
  • Ensure your solution and win strategy addresses issues and minimises perceptions of risk that may be held by the buyer
  • Save re-writing to align with the key requirements, messages or win themes in the later stages of your bid
  • Foster healthy collaboration, accountability and buy-in from contributors.

What do I include in a proposal storyboard?

When it comes to developing the proposal there are a number of different sources of information that you need to collate, analyse and use when answering each question. Storyboarding helps to break down each question in a structured approach to communicate ideas, strategies and win themes so that the right technical content is captured and benefits of the solution are conveyed to the buyer. Storyboarding can also help you plan the physical layout of the submission to identify placement of tables, graphics and pull out testimonials or phrases, and you can note special instructions about what needs to be included, along with details about the format, length, attachments etc. 

The proposal outline and storyboard, when used together, saves significant time for bid teams, while improving compliance and making reviews easier.

While the proposal outline provides factual information about the evaluation weighting, word count, section and question sequence, the storyboard guides the bid team on strategy and the structure of the response. Key headings you might include in your storyboard template include any or all of the following:

  • Section headings
  • Strategy & win themes
  • Customer issues & hot buttons
  • Discriminators
  • Solution and benefits linked to customer need
  • Evidence to include
  • Supporting visuals
  • Content library source

See the storyboard in practice

Common sections and questions 

No matter what industry sector you work in, tender documents cover a lot of the same questions, although the scope of requirements will always differ.  Typical themes include: 

  1. Approach to the project and how the aims and outcomes of the project will be delivered
  2. Ability to ensure quality control at all stages of the project (or contract duration) and how this will be achieved 
  3. Understanding of relevant risks and opportunities 
  4. Knowledge of procedures and activities, and methods of communication and consensus building
  5. Relevant expertise, competence and experience in undertaking similar work
  6. A traceable, track record of completing similar work to budget and schedule. 

Let’s break these down further to understand what the evaluators are really looking for….

Approach to the project and how the aims and outcomes of the project (or panel / framework appointment) will be delivered 

This may otherwise be called project methodology.  The public sector especially is increasingly interested in how process links to quality and outcomes or results.  It is effective to do illustrate methodology as a flowchart or gantt chart as well as broken down in key phases or “deliverables” (if it is a project) together with a work breakdown.   

TIP: Don’t be overly wordy – if a table conveys the same information succinctly, then it is more likely to be read, and won’t bulk up your word count. 

Often the buyer will rely on this methodology to compare depth and breadth of methodology against costs (and usually timeframe) involved in the project.   

This is often the best way for them to compare “apples against apples” and see transparently whether the proposal offers a value for money solution, if the bidder really understands the issues at hand; or is planning to ‘over service’ or ‘under deliver’.  

Ability to ensure quality control at all stages of the project (or contract duration) and how this will be achieved 

Avoid simply citing your quality accreditation in this section.  Paying lip service to quality control might tick the box, but will not provide the buyer with confidence that your policy lines up with practice. 

Quality control is more than just internal policies and procedures.  It is demonstrating that you as an organisation takes the quality of your work very seriously.  Any examples to back this up will add weight to your claim, for example, awards, citations in the press, commitment to continuing professional education, and implementing best practice frameworks, including continuous improvement initiatives, all contribute to quality control and streamlining processes to minimise costs and duplication for the client, and consistency in service delivery.   

But most importantly, it ensures the bar is raised for personnel to deliver a high quality solution and service to the buyer each and every time.  

Understanding of relevant risks and opportunities 

Above and beyond the bid window, more and more organisations (not just government) are concerned about contract risk management. In this climate of mergers and acquisitions, corporate collapses and internal and external instability, organisations should demonstrate in their submission that they have solid procedures and processes in place to manage potential financial, legal and corporate risk. Even if you aren’t directly asked questions about risk management, it’s always advisable to proactively address it. This is the hallmark of a great contractor who has their clients’ best interests in mind.

TIP: In the early planning stages of your bid you go through the Capture Planning and Bid/No bid decision processes, and you presumably have a solid Content Library set up.  These stages and tools, if formally documented and centralised, should contain all the workings and insights that have already been considered, which you can use to source and draft the risk-related responses.

Do more than simply respond to organisational risk management requirements. Demonstrate that you understand the buyer’s risks in undertaking the work. This also demonstrates your knowledge and expertise in the field.

Without a doubt, the effectiveness of an organisation’s approach to managing and mitigating risk will influence whether or not they are selected to provide the required services.

Some sub-questions around risk management:

  1. Please outline your transition management plan should you be successful in being awarded this contract.
  2. What processes do you have in place to manage long-term staff absences or staff changes?
  3. Do you have supplier performance management (including KPI-based measurements) and supplier development programs formally in place?

Demonstrate that you have a grasp on current and emerging trends in the buyer’s industry, and that the nominated team has the expertise to help them (proactively and reactively)  succeed. Doing an “issue by issue” analysis, where you use sub-headings to identify each risk or opportunity relevant to the buyer, followed by your answer on how your organisation has addressed a similar issue successfully can be an effective way of demonstrating that you can foresee potential issues, but have a plan and the expertise to manage them.

TIP: visit the news section of Google or do a general internet search to gather annual reports and strategic plans.  Being able to cite relevant and current information (and synthesise it against the buyer’s unique circumstances) illustrates your understanding of (or ability to appreciate) the challenges facing the client now, as well as what you can foresee. 

Knowledge of the sector, and methods of communication and consensus building 

In addressing this section consider any or all of the following: 

  • Demonstrate knowledge gained of process through working with similar clients or on projects of relevance 
  • Demonstrate communication methods (not just email or video conferencing), but also the process of client and stakeholder engagement, and examples of how your organisation does this.  For example, webinars, one-on-one briefings, site visits, workshops etc  
  • Demonstrate how your organisation is collaborative and consultative with its clients, as well as its involvement in sector-based initiatives.

Relevant expertise, competence and experience in undertaking similar work 

  • Use tables and graphs or other diagrams to convey this effectively  
  • Use testimonials and case studies to support more detailed examples.  When writing case studies it’s effective to break the text up with sub-headings.  Consider including: background, key challenge/issue, strategic solution, key results / outcomes, client testimonial (or often it’s nice to actually include a staff testimonial to demonstrate how much they liked working on the project), and if formatting permits, an image if possible. 
  • Demonstrate how your expertise will benefit and meet the client’s needs. 

A traceable, track record of completing similar work to budget and schedule 

  • Offer referees, testimonials, contract summary reports (other similar customers / contract numbers / packages of work; years working with the customer; the total budget; outcomes), graphs, tables. 

Other questions and supporting information 

You may be asked to supply additional information, such as details on your key personnel.  Providing this information will often assist the evaluation panel to determine if they have the A Team; or an army of juniors.  The tender may specify exactly what is required (eg. CVs and testimonials), but if not, it is a good idea to include: 

  • Name, contact details (professional photo)
  • Cite what the benefits or expertise that the person brings will bring to the contract (up to four points) aligned to the RFx requirements
  • Full breakdown of each team member’s role (matched against requirements of the RFx, and highlight any specialisation  
  • Position in the organisation
  • Expected project or account involvement 
  • Hourly or day rate 
  • Number of days working on the project, or, % availability to the project (if lengthy then you could break this down into quarters) 
  • The full individual cost of each person working on the project.   
  • Relevant expertise and experience 
  • Previous work history 
  • Qualifications, memberships, awards 
  • Publications they have authored, speaking engagements etc 

Ensure the team structure is appropriate for the size and scope of the engagement, and aligns to the buyer’s structure and organisational culture. 

Only CVs (usually no more than 2 pages each) of those personnel actually nominated to work on the project should be included. 

Developing content

You’ve set the strategy and framework, now you can begin to put the proposal together.  

Step 1: Information gathering  

Begin working to chase up information, identify gaps, and ensure that key selection criteria has been addressed and is fully compliant against the RFx. 

 (a) Content library information 

There will be a proportion of your response that will contain information that you have been asked before, though though the way in which the questions will be asked will vary from tender to tender.  

Don’t reinvent the wheel or waste your writing time on digging through old bids to find the same content over and over.  Have your content library set up and ready to go so that you can pull in generic or commonly used content with a simple point and click.  Content library information can help you get started on company information, experience, track record and processes-related responses.

See it in practice

(b) Specific information 

Gathering information specifically tailored to the tender is often the most time consuming part of the process.  Gathering the right information is also a challenge.   

For example, how often have you been asked to define the roles and responsibilities of each team member, summarise their most significant projects and how their experience relates to the project at hand?   

Too often staff are busy and irritated that they are asked these questions time and time again.   

Rather than having to ask them each time to tailor the information, it can be helpful to keep a master file of experience (or a ‘master CV’) which breaks down experience by project, by sector and by role.  This makes the sourcing and compilation of track record and experience a lot more efficient and consistent. Of course, updating your team’s master CV will require constant work and revision, but it is often better to do this in “downtime” or at the completion of a project (make it mandatory as part of their KPIs!) rather than during a stressful tender period.  

(c) Supporting information through evidence (proof points)

Good reporting goes a long way to delivering a persuasive argument.  Providing evidence to substantiate your claims is an effective way to differentiate your organisation’s services from  competitors. 

Providing evidence is a crucial step that changes your positioning from asserting your capability to demonstrating it.  By using evidence you can take otherwise unsubstantiated (or “motherhood”) statements and turn them into hard facts.  Importantly, evidence can shift your proposal from being marketing “fluff” or perceived “rhetoric” into believable, credible information. 

For example, “Acme is one of Australia’s leading organisations.  We act for a wide range of corporate,  commercial and government clients.  Our clients turn to us for quality  advice that reflects business insight and creates commercial results”.   

These types of claims no longer convince an evaluation panel that your offering is any different to the next organisation.  But by incorporating hard facts, the promise becomes substantiated.   

Examples of evidence  to back your claims include: 

Statistics – they are easy to collate and are measurable.  Include number of staff, number of offices, number of years in business.  You can also include the number of projects handled each year/month, value of projects, number of clients, litigation wins (%), X visitors or traffic, or other success metrics such as market share in a certain industry sector, client survey results, awards etc.   

TIP: Using year 1 of a contract  as your baseline, begin tracking as many outcomes as possible over the period of the appointment, keep this information / data available for all staff to view as part of their client relationship plans.  It is highly effective to use for  client KPI reports or account reviews, as well as reinforcing the key messages which can be incorporated into your bids.

Clients – Your client base is a good referral base, and third party endorsement lends credibility (if others use you then you must be respected and reputable).  If you are unable to ‘name drop’ (check client contract that this is permissible) then describe your client base as being “more than half of the top 20 companies in the Defence sector in the US”; or “ASX Top 100”, or “We act for 80% of the top 200 private companies”, or “the largest local government practice in the UK”. 

Testimonials – Featuring testimonials from recognised and respected third parties presents a powerful reference point.  When using client testimonials, ensure they are relevant to the target market and/or the type of work being bid for.  Testimonials don’t necessarily have to come from clients, colleagues or industry leaders – they can also come from the organisation’s staff to demonstrate the strength of the professional relationship that may have been fostered over time. After all, if a buyer can read how an engineer or project manager enjoyed working on the project then this will give them an insight into staff morale, personal commitment and quality of service they may be likely to receive. 

Industry recognition – Third party endorsement also comes from qualifications, committee or professional memberships,  Board appointments, authored papers, awards, market research  or industry reports. Anything including League Tables that can demonstrate your professional reputation or that you’ve achieved awards or recognition of excellence will assist you in differentiating your offering. 

Media mentions – Positive media citations help to strengthen professional reputation. Media reports and citations can be included in personal profiles or in the section that seeks information about expertise. 

Case studies – Case studies can vary in length from one paragraph through to full page “showcases”.  These are usually written in narrative style.  Case studies enable you to tell the full story and to demonstrate how you can add value to a client’s project and relationship.  You can include just a few facts such as project overview, project value and outcome, or include a ‘story’ including background, challenge/issues, legal solution/outcome, and key results and achievements.  You can also include a client testimonial at the conclusion of the case study to support the narrative. 

TIP: Do not provide superfluous information to a company that explicitly states that it wants a short, succinct response and/or which provides set page limits.  Even if you are tempted to add brochures or credentials in the appendix, DON’T. They may see this as if you can’t follow instructions, how could you follow a brief? 

Step 2: Review process   

Introducing colour reviews is a mature process for companies that want structure and governance in the review stages of a proposal. It is often used for higher risk, high value or complex bids where there is more to lose – you could be an incumbent with an anchor client and at risk of losing to a competitor; or it could be a new contract and you are at risk of winning the bid and leaving yourself open to price, legal and contractual risk if you don’t have the right people checking the finer detail.

How colour reviews work

With each review, reviewers focus on different aspects of the proposal – from win themes and discriminators, to alignment with customer requirements and compliance. By introducing a colour review into your process, your organisation has a more methodical approach to assessing each stage of the proposal as it moves through development.

The number of reviews usually depends on the size and timing of the proposal and commences at the proposal kick-off and runs until the proposal submission.

The goals of the colour review can be set depending on which industry schema you use, but for ease of communication be clear on which one you choose and communicate this across your team for consistency. The bid manager usually sets and assigns the reviews.

Below is an example of a review colour scheme. For ease of remembering, each stage of the review can be broken down into assessing whether the proposal is a) complete; b) compelling c) competitive and d) compliant.

Blue Team Review

The blue team reviews the bid manager’s Proposal Plan (or outline) after they have completed the content framework and identified the key messages and graphical components to be featured (win themes, discriminators etc). This is essentially the proposal storyboard or skeleton stage, where key personnel have been nominated, and the proposed solution has been scoped against the requirements, and writers and subject matter experts have been assigned their sections). The blue team conducts a gap analysis to help round out the outline and identify any missing messages or contributors to ensure the proposal can be completed to a winning standard.

Pink Team Review

The pink team reviews the first proposal draft when it is close to first completion (eg. 70% completed). This review stage determines whether the submission is compelling – does each section address the requirements and does the content communicate the value proposition.

This stage of the submission also needs to look at comprehension, such as common words, phrases and consistency of message without getting too bogged down in proof-reading words (however, this is a good stage to determine whether the discrete sections speak in one voice). All sections should be completed at this stage and include any cross referencing against sections, schedules and tables for example, to assist the next stage with its compliance check.

Red Team Review

After all the changes have been made the submission is ready for a red team review – a critical review of the near-final submission. This is usually conducted anywhere from the 80% to the 95% completion stage to allow for necessary corrections and revisions.

As the submission gets closer to the due date some subsequent reviews may be scheduled. This stage is where the review team conducts an assessment of the submission from a customer’s point of view. Compliance and clarity of message to communicate value for money and other elements of the evaluation criteria should be prioritised during this review.

Often pricing is the last to be prepared and so it sometimes difficult for the review team to conduct a thorough ‘price to win’ assessment without full knowledge the pricing in the context of the technical solution (hence additional rounds may need to be conducted to assess pricing and contract risks).

Gold Team Review

The gold review is a pre-submission review that focuses on quality and completeness of information in all sections, including graphics and compliance details. It is formatted ready for formal submission. This is usually undertaken by executive management or someone authorised to sign off and be the nominated person for the RFx. Ideally they have been involved in the opportunity from as early as the Kick Off Meeting, and they understand the win themes, discriminators and the proposed technical solution agreed upon from the outset. The focus of this review is to ensure that the proposal is positioned and priced to win.

White Team Review

The white review, often called ‘white glove’, is a visual page turn of the submission to catch any errors that could potentially affect compliance or conformance. The team focuses on any last minute corrections while ensuring nothing was missed from previous reviews.

Using review markers

If you don’t have a process for reviews they can soon become messy exercises of email flood, lost emails, double-ups of changes and comments, and version control nightmare of draft 1, 2 3 and final, final final…..

When sending your submission through the various reviews – especially if you don’t require inline commenting and mark ups, it can be helpful to include a traffic light system to quickly and easily communicate the review outcomes without wasting time on unnecessary emails or clarification questions and answers.

For example:

  • Red: There are major gaps in the proposal resulting in evaluators potentially deeming it non-compliant or not meeting technical requirements.
  • Amber might indicate that the submission is compliant but not yet complete. A response may be confusing or weak (non-convincing or not compelling). Some individual sections may be non-compliant and need to be revisited to ensure it doesn’t risk disqualification or a low evaluation weighting.
  • Blue: The section or proposal is compliant but needs more work to be competitive to win.
  • Green (lock down, pens down!): The rating means the proposal is fully compliant, is complete, compelling, and is competitive (priced to win). It represents best value for money, has a technically superior solution with unique selling points and discriminators to weaken the competition.

Step 3: Submission time

Some tenders, especially for the public sector, are very specific in how they are to be formatted (spacing, font, and margins for example), and so even though you’ve specified this early on in your planning, at this stage you need to double check that everything is compliant with the requirements of the RFx.

Check that you have all the Addendum documented (note if there’s been any changes to submission date and time), and leave yourself plenty of time to upload your submission and any attachments via email or the portal. Pay attention to daylight saving time or international time zone differences as well.

There can be file size limits imposed so don’t leave it to the last minute to discover that you need to compress your files. Having a file name convention will also ensure that nothing gets missed.

Tracking progress

One of the most important aspects of the proposal process is communication and visibility into the schedule, otherwise sending and receiving updates, setting status meetings with the team and ensuring continuity of workflow and keeping on top of outstanding content or critical path co-dependencies becomes unnecessarily stressful.  The job of the Bid Manager is to ‘herd the cats’ by communicating and tracking progress against the schedule, so that they are better able to anticipate, adapt and address issues before they become a problem.

By enabling the entire team to track assigned sections and tasks in real time they will become a lot more aware of their role and co-dependencies in the critical path, and it will save lot of stress (and email trail) to keep on top of progress towards the deadline.

Don’t have time to conduct a formal decision gate or colour review process? Follow these TIPS for compliance checking and important review milestones.
  • Regularly review and update your checklist (or storyboard and critical path) throughout the tender period.
  • Use the checklist against your final draft response to ensure it is complete and fully compliant with everything that was asked for.
  • Make sure you keep track of any tender amendments or addendums issued during the tender period and ensure these are included – if there are many amendments it’s often a good idea to include a list of these at the front of your submission, as an appendix (and often this is requested in the tender instructions).
  • Check the commercial and contractual aspects of the tender to determine if there are any performance guarantees, warranties, special insurance requirements or other commercial provisions that will require careful consideration.
  • Check if there is a recommended payment schedule in the tender (30, 60 or 90 day settlements for example), carefully evaluate this against your organisation’s projected cash flow and be prepared to suggest an alternative payment schedule.
  • Think about the schedules for costings and how these are to be presented. It’s a good idea to establish a costing model which will enable prompt updating of the model as information comes to hand.
  • Ensure someone with the authority to bind your organisation authorises the bid to proceed to submission. If you need senior management to approve the costings and bid documents prior to submitting, allow appropriate time for this to happen and for any signing requirements (eg. statutory declarations require Director signature).
At the completion of your first draft:
  • Read over the document to check quality of information and that you are fully compliant. When you do this, ensure you cross check your document structure and flow against the requirements of the RFx – they should be in the same order.
  • Sometimes your RFx numbering and corresponding page or section headings may not line up. This is usually acceptable if the RFx has no definite structure assigned to it, or has several parts and does not appear to have a logical flow (sometimes you will find that the RFx is a mixture of dialogue, instructions and numbered questions). But, if the RFx sets out specific numbering that you are to follow, cross-check your numbering against the RFx – it should mirror.
On your second read of the document
  • Check sentence structure, context, and that each response answers the question appropriately and succinctly.
  • Avoid long-winded sections if using bullet points or infographics would convey the same message (make it easy for the evaluators to score your response).
On your third read of the document
  • Do a consistency check – are references to Acts italicised, years bracketed eg. Integrated Planning Act (2020); pay attention to the smaller detail – title case versus sentence case for headings and subheadings, font sizing, acronyms etc.
  • Are bullet points consistent with punctuation (semi colons, with full stop on the final point).
  • Are the projects/matters/transactions consistent in presentation, sentence structure, tense etc.
  • Have you been consistent in writing – first person versus third person (has, we have, ours, etc).

See it in practice

Matching personality to the pitch 

The overall approach, tone and style of your proposal should be considered carefully, with a good knowledge of the audience you are writing for.  Should you write formally and in the narrative?  Or should you take the softer approach and use emotive words, imagery, and communication themes?   

Give the evaluators a sense of what you will be like to work with and let your personality shine though.  Senior management,  sales teams or anyone in your organisation who has day-to-day contact with their client(s) or prospects can provide terrific guidance on the tone and style of how a proposal should be written.  The way in which the tender document is written should really give you a sense of the buying organisation’s culture and its style of working, but at the same time it should also align with what you know is appropriate (for example, don’t rely on evaluators to sift through your wordy answers; help to make their job easier by providing facts as flow charts, diagrams and tables, with numbering systems and information that is to the point).  

The common pitfalls that people make in putting together their bid documentation include: 

  • No clear project management plan 
  • A focus on features, not benefits 
  • Generic content which shows a lack of definition around buyer needs and their critical business issues 
  • Non-compliant content that doesn’t satisfy the mandatory content requirements specified in the Request documentation
  • Overly wordy or repetitious documents 
  • Lack of compelling, concise Executive Summaries (or indeed, the absence of a value proposition or ‘pitch’) 
  • CVs – inconsistent, not tailored, and not benefit or outcome focused (descriptive versus results) 
  • Claims and assertions without credible substantiation – too many ‘motherhood’ statements 
  • Lack of personalisation towards the buyer
  • Lack of visual breaks or graphic design elements (but this is changing with new tender requirements that only allow text).

Bid submissions used to be very elaborate and design-heavy, but elaborate design is now being considered an unnecessary expense and wasted effort with procurement departments insisting that this now be excluded for reasons that it does not create a level playing field for supplier evaluation. 

As described in our Plan Proposal lesson, your proposal outline should be prepared as part of the planning process, and each section can then be passed to a section writer. Providing a detailed set of instructions minimises the time that the writer has to spend on navigating multiple RFx documents. This also improves the communication flow between the writing team as they know exactly what is expected of them. This not only fast tracks the submission process, but reduces rewrites and improves the overall win rate when the team is working towards a compliant, compelling and competitive response.

While writers will concurrently work on their discrete sections as other sections are being compiled,  all team members should also be familiar with the document in its entirety,  keep to the storyboard, and work the sections into “one voice”.

Tips on differentiating your offer
  1. Focus on the customer! Address their needs and how you can help to solve their problems. When you write about yourself, it’s to prove you have the skills, experience and organisation to fulfil the customer’s requirements.
  2. Help the customer by coming up with ideas – from alternative ways of doing things to how to tackle possible worries about future resourcing and staffing implications, or the impact of industry restructure on business. This assists in building trust and positions you more effectively as being a strategic adviser.
  3. If the buyer has provided a qualification document / checklist, make sure that you cover everything in the document.
  4. Value for money and not price alone usually determines the winning bid. Bring something to the proposal that can’t be done by the customer themselves. Emphasise business benefits (make them differentiators because “benefits” can be subjective), service improvements, process-driven risk mitigation/reduction, quality, reliability, previous satisfied customers, lifetime costs (return on investment) etc. Highlight success, results and outcomes – emphasise what you have achieved, not just what you can do (don’t be overly task-oriented).
  5. Analyse all the cost and pricing factors of the contract. Don’t ignore fixed costs such as salaries for staff who could be working on something else.
  6. Consider whether to include some protection of your information from future disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act or equivalent. You may wish to indicate which information you consider to be a “trade secret” or is likely to prejudice your commercial interests if disclosed.
  7. Contract management – show you have the resources to do the work in a cost-effective way to meet the customer’s needs, meet deadlines and budget, as well as respond flexibly to changing situations.
  8. Demonstrate that you’ve thought about – and can manage – potential financial, commercial and legal risks that could cause contract failure.
  9. Give details of your team and emphasise strengths. CVs should highlight successes with similar projects as well as qualifications, experience and the team member’s role on the account or contract.

Final tips to keep your bid on track

  • Regularly review and update your Proposal Plan throughout the tender period
  • As soon as you have reviewed the specifications, contact the relevant internal personnel who can provide any organisational-specific information like quality assurance and insurance documentation
  • Use the checklist against your final draft response to ensure it is complete and fully compliant with everything that was asked for
  • Make sure you keep track of any tender amendments (Addendum) issued during the tender period and ensure these are included – if there are many amendments it is often a good idea to include a list of these at the front of your submission, or as an appendix to the response (and many tenders ask for this as a submission requirement)
  • Check the commercial and contractual aspects of the tender to determine if there are any performance guarantees (KPIs or Service Level Agreement metrics), special insurance requirements or other commercial provisions that will require careful consideration
  • Check that there have been no changes in the nominated team during the tender period
  • Ensure that the nominated team members’ CVs are up-to-date and that content reflects the types of expertise being asked for in the tender specification
  • Check if there is a recommended payment schedule in the tender, carefully evaluate this against your projected cash flow and be prepared to suggest alternative payment schedules
  • Think about the schedules for costings and how these are to be presented
  • Ensure someone with the authority to bind the company authorises the Bid/No Bid decision; and signs off on the bid; if you need your Executive Director, Managing Partner or CEO to approve the budgeted price and final bid response prior to submitting, allow appropriate time for this to happen, and for any subsequent amendments to be made to the submission.

Bidhive provides a powerful workflow tool to gather information, share content between team members and manage the approval process against schedules all in one place. The benefit of having a central view of the proposal process is that it reduces the reliance on email and the risk of missing contributions or wrong versions of a document.

Other topics

The Bid Lifecycle




The Bid Lifecycle

Bidding is a craft, but a repeatable process that needs to be shared – especially as the future of work continues to automate, and supply chain ecosystems become more digitized and connected. If you’re a bid manager, or are involved in evaluating opportunities and participate in the proposal or submission deliverables as a subject-matter expert, project lead, estimator, strategist or business owner – learning about the bid lifecycle and bidding best practice is relevant to you. 

Bid Opportunity Management

Having full visibility across your opportunity pipeline helps your organisation to selectively bid, and provide transparency into past Bid/No bid decisions; and ultimately whether the opportunity was won or lost, and why.  

The Capture Process

The Capture Process - Preparing to bid Why is it important? Comprehensive planning and preparation is a feature of all successful bids and should be undertaken long before the formal request document or invitation (RFx) is issued. Proactively capturing capture...

Bid / No Bid Decision

Bid/No Bid Decision - Qualifying an opportunity Why is it important? Bid qualification is the front door to opportunities and having a bid/no bid decision process results in routing deals to the right experts to ensure your organisation optimises time and resources to...

Planning your Bid Response

Developing a bid response is very time consuming and usually high pressure work that involves large amounts of documentation and numerous content contributors. Timeframes are being increasingly compressed while documentation has become increasingly complex.

Kick Off Meeting

The Kick Off Meeting sets the bid on the path to success and is the critical meeting or workshop that brings your subject matter, technical and bid writing experts together to get them on board with the bid management and proposal process.

Lessons Learned and Debrief

Lessons Learned & Debrief - Committing to continuous improvement Why is it important? As soon as you start tracking and measuring your bid and contract delivery performance, you can better identify areas where you can improve. When the bidding phase ends, your...

Win/Loss Analysis

While there are many variables that can influence the outcome of a bid decision, measuring the return on your bidding investment can help you build a better picture of your bidding process including your qualification criteria. Make sure you record the outcome of bidding efforts.

Post-bid Presentations, Clarification & Negotiation

Any presentation, clarification or contract negotiation activities should be a lot like your written submission: well-prepared, clear, relevant and focused on your customer’s needs.  The post-tender presentation and clarification period is your time to leave a good impression with the buyer, and clearly reinforce your ‘value for money’ proposition. Most evaluation committees are acutely aware that a bid team has prepared the response, so they now want to meet the service delivery team, obtain additional information (or see a product demonstration), and be sure that they feel comfortable working with you.

Share This