1st Jul 2010 AUTHOR: Robert Machin

The Tender Document: Read it three times and THEN answer the questions!

Nothing is more frustrating or annoying for an evaluator than searching for a response in a tsunami of words. It takes discipline, but reading and analysing the questions carefully and responding to them succinctly will win the clients favour every time


  • Take time to read and comprehend the Tender documentation before you commence your response
  • Read it once, twice, three times and then answer the questions!
  • Seek clarification for any ambiguities in the Tender documentation
  • Be succinct, be precise and answer the question. You'll make a friend of the evaluator.

"Read it once, twice and three times - and then answer the question!"

An old school lesson

It's amazing how those old school lessons come back to you from time to time with relevance you would never have imagined when they were first learned.

It was my English teacher who taught me a lesson I'll never forget. My teacher had been frustrated by the number of excellent answers he, and ultimately the examiners, received that didn't match the questions that had been asked. He was teaching one of life's truly valuable lessons.

He told us:

"Read the question, in fact, read the entire examination paper before picking up your pen to start writing. Read it once, twice, three times and then answer the question!"

I don't know about you, but I got panicked just by reading exam questions so, over the years, I developed a technique that got me past that first few moments, allowed me to settle, and get stuck into the job at hand.

So, there we all were sitting for trial examinations for our matriculation (HSC today). You know, swatting all night and turning up for the usual three-hour ordeal. Well, like everyone else in the examination room, a quick scan of the questions, deciding which ones I could best answer and I was off writing as fast as my hand would allow. I was probably 80% into the first of four essays and feeling a little more comfortable when I remembered what my teacher had told us time and time again - "read the questions ...read the whole examination paper first!"

So I did. As I got to the end of the paper I read the words that still stun me to this day:

"Complete one question of your choosing and leave the room".

By this time I was about 30 minutes into the examination and started to look around the room to see if anyone else had read what I'd read. A fellow student smiled, collected his pens and stationery, took his paper to the teacher and left the room. I spent the next five minutes refining my essay and then followed suit.

Well, one by one, most of the students left the examination room progressively over the next hour or two. The lesson stuck.

And so it is with preparing the response to a Tender - Answer the question!

Make it easy for the evaluator to identify your offer or response in the answer. The easier it is to identify to your response to the question, the higher the marks the evaluator will give you - just like back in school.

The Lesson?

Read the RFT, read the questions, read the evaluation criteria, in fact, read the entire Tender documentation before penning your response. Read it once, twice and three times. In fact, read it as many times as neccesary to understand the buyer's requirements, and then answer the questions!

Avoid the temptation to copy and paste from old documents and responses. Remember, less is more!

Most of the editing and re-work of Tender responses I've done over the past 20 years has been to ensure that the questions have been answered; often they are not. Be succinct, be precise, and Answer the Question!

Analysing the Tender document

To ensure you have grasped all of the questions, and more importantly the intent behind the questions, assign the reading of the Tender document to a number of stakeholders (especially subject matter experts). Do this early. Do it thoroughly.

Bring the group together; compare and share perceptions and comprehension of the document, compile a list of questions you wish to have clarified; you'll be glad you did.

Like Tender responses, many Tender documents and specifications are imperfect; taking time to understand what the client really wants will pay dividends.

The quality of Tender documentation is often imperfect. A thorough reading and analysis of the Tender document will ensure you have understood the client's requirements. Seeking clarification for any ambiguities will make sure you are best positioned to meet the client's needs and exceed their expectations. This will also give you the opportunity to build rapport with your potential client.

Only when you have done this analysis will you be in a position to comprehensively respond to the questions. This will save you time, avoid the frustration of numerous re-writes and will most certainly help the evaluator when trawling for key information in your response.

robRob Machin is a principal consultant for Tender Success who has been successfully assisting clients to respond to tenders for over two decades. Contact Rob to ensure your next response is a success.