19th Oct 2011 AUTHOR: Matt Milgrom

Tender Development: Ten Ways to Lose Your Next Tender: Part 2

In Part 1, we saw how late submissions, non-compliance, poor writing, a lack of empathy and missing the point are all fast-tracks to tender failures. Here are five more.


  • Always Provide Evidence to Back Claims
  • Communicate 'As Simply as Possible - But No Simpler'
  • Use Images to Persuade and Improve Message Recall
  • Use a Legible, Professional Layout - and a Designer if Necessary
  • Win or Lose, always ask 'What Have We Learned?'

Often, highlighting typical pitfalls will go a long way towards avoiding them

6. Fail to 'Prove It'

Anyone can boast to be biggest, fastest or best, including your competitors. There's a reason why advertisers use figures and testimonials when selling a product or service: claims without evidence are just claims. Buyers must be convinced, not just impressed.

The Antidote:

  • Compile an up-to-date master list of verifiable facts, figures and achievements to dip into.
  • Use high quality testimonials at relevant points within your response to boast on your behalf.
  • Always demonstrate HOW you'll deliver on a proposal promise, quantitatively if possible.

7. Don't Say Enough / Say Too Much

Getting the balance right is a challenge, and either extreme is unpleasant.

On the one hand, presenting bare bones without developing a story won't engage minds AND hearts. Your reviewer may have to fill in gaps or come to conclusions on their own. And they won't be convinced that you understand their business problem and can solve it, unless you talk about it.

On the other hand, rattling on for volumes is tender suicide. You'll dilute your message and alienate your readers. In fact, review panels will often place a substantial, wordy response in the 'too hard' pile to look at last - or maybe not at all.

The Antidote:

  • Embrace Einstein's maxim. Make your response 'As simple as possible - but no simpler'.
  • Master the Pyramid Principle for your writing.
  • Proof-read and edit ruthlessly - but only trim fat, not muscle.
  • Consider using a professional proposal writer to craft the final content.

8. Don't Use Pictures

The world of advertising uses images for good reason: they motivate. A submission containing carefully chosen graphs, photos and diagrams does more than just stand out. It communicates key messages that are retained and recalled easily. Leave them out and your text-only document will say the same things but in a less emotive, easily forgotten voice. If it's read in the first place.

The Antidote:

  • Use screenshots and photographs to add flavour to facts.
  • Use diagrams and graphs to convey complex concepts or data.
  • Use informative captions as an opportunity to sell benefits.
  • Get a skilled visual designer to develop clear info-graphics on your behalf.

9. Make the Document Ugly and Hard to Read

Winning proposals borrow much from industry trade journals: they are logical, easy-to-understand and professional. Which is exactly the impression you want to give to the reviewer. On top of that, of course, careful design let's your content shine. Crammed pages gasping for white space, badly chosen typefaces and amateurish layouts also provide an impression and have an effect on content. The kind that results in 'No Thanks' from the reviewer.

The Antidote:

  • Use a professional layout with plenty of white space where possible.
  • Choose your typeface and paragraph styling carefully.
  • Use auto fields to ensure your document is navigable.
  • Break up big blocks of text with intelligent, attractive use of boxed text, bullets, headings and pull quotes.

10. Don't Learn from Your Mistakes

The fast track to wasting a lot of time and money? Doing the same thing time after time and expecting a different outcome. On the other hand, smart tenderers win even when they lose.

The Antidote:

  • Always ask questions. A sincere "How can we offer you something better next time?" nearly always results in useful feedback.
  • Carefully analyse the comments received and share them with your response team.
  • Relish the opportunity to get to know yourselves, your prospect or the industry better.
  • Have your latest second-placed submission reviewed and analysed against industry benchmarks.
  • Use the lessons learned to improve your offer, presentation, pricing.
Tracking down the real reason for losing a tender or proposal can be difficult. Rather than tracing it to a single point of failure, often it's simply a case of failing to ensure every link in the chain is as good as it can be. It begins with understanding the prospect and their business problem. It continues with the communication of your offer. And it ends with the presentation of your solution. Working on excellence at every step of the journey is the strategy winners adopt.

mattMatt Milgrom is a senior consultant for Tender Success and enjoys helping Australian businesses improve their approach and reduce their failures. Contact Matt to ensure your next response is a success.