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Writing Effective Bids_ Proposals and Quotes


									Sales and Marketing | Factsheet 5

Writing Effective Bids,
Proposals and Quotes
Helpful Hints and Tips on writing effective bids, proposals and quotes

In the current uncertain economic climate it is even more        A quote is primarily a financial statement of the cost of
important for businesses to exploit opportunities for            providing a product or service. Supporting information may
winning new business. This factsheet provides helpful hints      be required which will usually be a description of what will
and tips on how to ensure that your bids, proposals and          be provided for the price. It is kept to a minimum and does
quotes match the opportunity presented, and are the sales        not give any insight into the thinking behind the delivery of
documents they need to be to secure success. Customers           the product or service.
will require suppliers to bid for their business. To be
successful, tender documents will need to clearly                The Production Line Approach
demonstrate an understanding of the customers needs.             Some organisations seem to have a production-line
                                                                 approach to bids, proposals and quotes. This is often
The purchasing activity in which the bid, proposal or quote      because the pre-qualification stage in bids is the same, and
plays a central role is 'owned' by the customer. It is the       they think they can recycle the same material which they
customer's priorities, not those of the supplier that have to    have found to work.
take centre stage. A bid, proposal or quote that shares an
identity of understanding and commitment with the                The document has to show that the people who wrote it have:
customer is more likely to succeed than one that sees only
the supplier's point of view.                                    •   Thought hard about the customer's requirements.
                                                                 •   Developed it specifically for that opportunity.
This is one reason why it is important to try to gain an in-
depth knowledge about a customer's business environment,         •   Taken care in its preparation.
strategies and objectives before starting to write the bid.      •   Not patched it together using “copy and paste”

                                                                 Deciding if and whether to bid
   1. Match the Bid, Proposal or Quote to the
                                                                 Writing a tender can involve a significant amount of time,
                                                                 money and other resources, which could be spent more
   2. Analysing the Tender Specification
   3. Managing the Bid
   4. Developing and Writing the Bid
                                                                     TIP - The decision to bid or submit a proposal or quote
   5. Presenting the Bid, Proposal or Quote
                                                                     should be based on a realistic assessment of the
   6. Where to Go for Further Help
                                                                     opportunity, potential benefits and costs.

                                                                 The issues to consider when deciding to submit a bid are:
01      Match the Bid, Proposal or Quote
        to the Opportunity                                       •   The implications for workload and staff, and available
                                                                     skills and experience.
Knowing how to match the bid, proposal or quote to the
opportunity is a key business and sales skill. They are          •   Competitiveness.
business and sales documents that forward the customer’s         •   Preparation costs.
requirements and are presented in the most beneficial way
                                                                 •   Fit to business strategy.
for the quoting organisation.
                                                                 •   Project costs and revenues.
A bid is usually a more formal document and will follow a        •   The customer.
structure laid down by the customer. It will also often have
                                                                 •   Contract value.
pre-qualification criteria that are designed to ‘weed out’ the
less suitable companies.                                         The outcome should reflect a
                                                                 balance of commercial judgment
A proposal is the next step down and is usually a detailed       and technical considerations. It is
response to a customer’s requirement. The structure is           important to reach a decision as
usually not laid down by the customer and it is up to the        quickly as possible.
supplier to present their proposals as they see fit.
The Competitive Situation                                        Understand the Customer’s Buying Criteria and Decision
Customers sometimes put out an invitation to tender to test      Making Process
the market or to keep existing suppliers on their toes.          The specification should be the outcome of a process of
                                                                 project design, through which the customer has:
    TIP - Ask yourself, is there reason to think that the
    customer may not award a contract but intends to do the      •   Defined their requirements correctly.
    work in house, and take advantage of any good ideas          •   Identified the objectives of the contract clearly
    in the bids?
                                                                 •   Gauged the practical demands of the work accurately.

The questions you need to ask when you read a tender
document for the first time are:                                 Suppliers often fail to appreciate that when customers invite
                                                                 them to prepare a competitive bid, they are not just asking
•   Do you know the competition?                                 for a list of services and staff and a price quotation - they
                                                                 are also testing approaches and ideas.
•   Has the customer indicated how the bids will be
                                                                 A key part of the approach is to see who, if any, of the
•   Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of your
                                                                 bidders has a good understanding of the customer's
                                                                 situation and requirements, and can offer fresh ideas and
•   Is the work a continuation of an existing contract?          creativity. The customer's specification should be regarded
•   How good was the last bid you produced for the               as the minimum that bidders are expected to know.
    customer or for the type of work?                            The challenge lies in applying insight, ideas and experience
                                                                 in a way that sets out unique benefits.
If the information that comes with the tender invitation
appears brief or the document’s specification imposes                TIP - It helps if you know who is involved in making the
unusually restrictive conditions or the timetable seems              buying decision. If it is not a bid situation, you may have
rushed, this may indicate that the customer has a particular         an opportunity to present a proposal or quotation.
supplier in mind.
                                                                 In some cases where a proposal or quote is required you
The specification may have been drafted by an existing           can ask for a pre-submission discussion. This gives you the
supplier and the customer may be going through the               opportunity to meet with the customer making the decision.
formalities of a competition for procedural reasons.
                                                                 In the case of public procurement, there is usually a formal
The First Questions to Consider                                  procedure for dealing with requests for further information
Having had an initial few thoughts about the potential of the    on factual points. Typically, requests have to be made in
bid, proposal or quote, it is then the role of the manager (or   writing, and within a specified timescale.
the person responsible for developing the document) to
consider in more detail all the key points highlighted above.    To ensure fairness, customers will send the reply to a
                                                                 request for clarification to all bidders at the same time, not
                                                                 just the one that raised the query. Where the technical
02     Analysing the Tender Specification                        aspects of a contract are particularly complex, a formal
                                                                 meeting may be arranged for all bidders.

Having decided to prepare a bid, or to write a proposal or
quote, it is then necessary to establish the customer’s
requirements. Analysis will be a matter of interpretation, of
trying to understand what the project means for the
business and the results the customer expects.

    TIP – Avoid making quick assumptions on the basis of
    an initial scanning of the document and reading
    into it things that are not there.
Customer Expectations                                            Checking Quality
A carefully detailed specification may indicate a well thought   Checking the quality of information in the bid should be an
out approach and a consistent professional direction.            ongoing process from the start.
Alternatively, it may reveal a rigid attitude to the contract.
This could be restrictive to suppliers or indicate that the      Experience shows that if this is left late, the time available
customer has a certain bidder in mind.                           can be taken up by other pressures. In the worst cases,
                                                                 bids leave the office unchecked and the first person to spot
At the other extreme, the specification may give the barest      an obvious error is the customer.
outline of the services required. A key indication that the
specification is adequate is that the questions to be            There are five aspects to quality management:
answered, and the outputs required, are clearly defined.
                                                                 •   Ensuring that requirements the customer has expressed
                                                                     about the content, structure and submission of the
    TIP - Customers should be able to say where they want            bid are met.
    the contract to lead, even if they are not certain how to    •   The customer's view of the contract and its priorities
    get there.                                                       has been properly understood and reflected.
                                                                 •   The text puts forward a balanced approach.
                                                                 •   The price for the work has been accurately calculated.
03     Managing the Bid                                          •   Word-processing errors, factual mistakes, wrong
                                                                     calculations, spelling mistakes, omissions and
                                                                     inconsistencies in layout are corrected.
    TIP - Once you have decided to compete for a contract,
    you need to make plans to produce a document that
    does justice to your abilities. How you go about this        Using a Red Team
    can be critical to your success.                             Some businesses use what is termed a 'red team' to review
                                                                 the bid, proposal or quote when it is close to a final draft.
                                                                 The job of this team is to read through the document from
The key is to follow a structured and organised approach         the perspective of the customer's evaluation panel,
that leaves nothing to chance. This should help to:              checking to see how competently it meets the requirements
•   Make the best use of resources.                              of the contract and how fully it matches the customer's
•   Improve quality and consistency.                             evaluation criteria.

•   Reduce preparation costs.

Defining Management and Writing Responsibilities
Bids fail or get out of control when it is unclear who is
managing the process. Defining responsibilities clearly and
quickly is an essential first step.
It is essential to appoint a manager to oversee the bidding
process. This will provide a structured approach to help
deliver a coherent response. The manager's role should be to:
•   Drive the work forward and ensure it is delivered on time
    to the required standard.
•   Coordinate the structure, content and presentation
    of the bid.
•   Apply the document management controls needed to
    produce an efficient business offer.
                                                                 They adopt a “devil's advocate” role, challenging the
•   Check the text for consistency and errors - otherwise        thinking in the bid, searching for weaknesses and
    there is a risk that the content of one section              inconsistencies, and suggesting how the errors and
    of the bid may be altered without realising the effects on   omissions they find in the text can be put right.
    other parts of the document.
•   Act as an arbitrator between different technical
    viewpoints and resolve competing time pressures.
The red team should input to the document, at an early
                                                                 04     Developing and Writing the Bid
stage, rather then commenting too late and at a stage when
it might be difficult to accommodate their changes. They
should not just “red-pen” the text - if they think something         TIP - Customers generally prefer to receive bids that
is weak they have a responsibility to propose a better               are concise, businesslike and succinct. It's the quality of
solution.                                                            the bid, proposal or quote that counts, not the quantity
                                                                     of paper.

Bid, Proposal and Quote Development Checklist                    Structuring the Content
sing a checklist can help to ensure that nothing is missed.      The specification will normally set out how the bid is to be
Depending on the type of written submission being made,          structured and the information that bidders are required to
some of the areas set out below may not be relevant.             provide. In the case of a proposal or a quote the criteria may
Nevertheless, they are all designed to stimulate good            not be stated by the customer. It is for the supplier to decide
practice in bid, proposal and quote preparation.                 on the structure required for the document.

                  Decision to bid and confirmation to
                                                                     TIP - If the customer specifies the structure of the bid,
planning           customer                                          or the information required, follow it exactly. Do not
                  Decisions on bid, proposal or quote               ignore any instructions. Your document is likely to be
                   management                                        rejected if it fails to fully supply all the information the
                  Analysis of the specification                     customer has asked for.
                  Research into competitive situation and
                   market factors
                  Clarification procedure
                                                                 The minimum requirements of every bid are:

                  Resource analysis                             •   Title Page.
                  Planning meeting
                  Agree proposal team structure
                                                                 •   Contents.

                  Decide on format and content                  •   A statement of the purpose and origin of the bid.
                  Assign writing and editing responsibilities   •   A summary of the key deliverables related to cost.
                  Quality management procedures                 •   The proposed approach to providing the deliverables.
                  Document management and control
                                                                 •   A work plan and timetable linked to outputs and
                  Initial decisions on contract staffing
                                                                 •   Background as a supplier, credentials for the

Coordination      Draft structure of contract                       assignment and experience of related work.
                  Draft output and deliverables schedule        •   The personnel to be assigned to the work and
                  Completion of structure and content               responsibilities.
                  Define budget                                 •   Details of any management arrangements.
                  Cost and pricing assumptions for contract     •   Estimate or confirmation of the costs and expenses.
                  Design and layout principles for the bid,
                   proposal or quote                             •   Appendices for relevant supplementary information.
                  Coordination of CVs, contract experience
                   and other material                            Thinking Differently and Making the Submission Sell
                                                                 Organise the material in a framework that makes a
Writing and       Technical, financial and management           distinctive point about the approach to the contract and
editing            texts and appendices                          helps to make the document a selling document, as well as
                  Document graphics                             a factual submission.
                  Review and editing
                                                                 The key element of a selling document is to clearly state
Production        Production monitoring                         how the submission meets the customers needs and the
and Delivery      Hard copy cover proofing                      benefits it will deliver, in other words what the proposal
                  Hard copy/electronic submission               means to the customer.

                                                                     TIP - Always remember that customers do not buy the
                                                                     products you sell or services you offer. They buy what
                                                                     the products or services will do for them. You need to
                                                                     reflect that problem solving mind set in your written
The key to any written submission is the relationship of          Guidelines on Writing the Content
costs to deliverables. It is therefore important to show that     In setting out the text:
the money spent with your organisation is not a cost but an
investment.                                                       •   Be clear about the purpose of each section and clearly
                                                                      state this at the start of the section.
     TIP - Express your costs in such a way that they             •   Use sub-headings to identify and manage areas of
     compare directly to what is received for the money.              information.
                                                                  •   Keep paragraphs short and no longer than
                                                                      about ten lines.
Summarising the Bid at the Beginning of the Submission
                                                                  •   Do not crowd too many ideas into one paragraph.
The summary gives decision makers an immediate message
                                                                  •   Link paragraphs to each other to bring out the logic of
about the benefits of the bid.
                                                                      the text, and use bullet points to highlight key points or
                                                                      lists of elements.
It is probably one of the parts of the document that is
written last. It should be one of the first items to appear in
the bid, ahead of the main technical sections, and it must be     Grammar, spelling and sentence structure must all be
a convincing statement in itself, with its own logical flow       correct in a document intended to express professionalism
and structure.                                                    and quality. Make sure that what is shown in a table and
                                                                  what is said in the text are fully consistent, and that each
One of the other useful tools to add clarity to the document      table and graph has a text reference. Always number tables,
is the Response Matrix that:                                      graphs or diagrams.

•    Itemises the requirements defined in the document.               TIP - There is never just one way of saying something.
                                                                      Think how you could make the point more
•    Details other matters raised by the customer.
                                                                      straightforwardly. Look away from the words: focus on
•    Indicates where these points are addressed in the bid.
                                                                      the sense of what you want to say. The more you clarify
                                                                      and simplify, the more value you add to the bid.
Creating the Text
Past bids can provide a base from which to start building         Editing the Bid
ideas. It is tempting to use as a model a submission that         Bids often combine material from a variety of sources, so it
brought success on a previous occasion and even to recycle        is important to avoid the impression of a mass of bits and
bids that were unsuccessful but include renewable technical       pieces stitched together clumsily with abrupt changes of
material. It is important not to copy the same headings and       style. There are five C’s that are essentials in editing a
paragraphs in every document without questioning whether          document;
they are the best way to address the particular needs of
each contract. A useful tool to create the text is a              •   Correctness.
development worksheet that can help map out the content           •   Consistency.
of each section and identify key points.
                                                                  •   Conciseness.

     TIP - Keep in mind how the material you or your              •   Continuity.
     colleagues are writing in one part of the document may       •   Coordination.
     affect the content of other sections. Cross-referencing
     within the document will help tie together the logic of      Editing a document is often a matter of translation -
     the text and project an image of consistency. Check for      conveying complex technical issues in language that non-
     overlaps, inconsistencies and make sure you are not          technical people can understand. But editors must be
     repeating points from one section to another.                careful not to deprive the text of technical precision, distort
                                                                  its meaning or insert their own ideas.

A Bid Development Worksheet

    Points from bid        Place in bid       Points and Ideas   Responsibility for    Tables and Figures             Time
     specification                               to meet bid         Delivery             to be include            Schedule
                                                specification                                                   For information
Explaining Approach and Methodology                              In evaluating the bid, the customer is looking for a realistic
When writing the approach and methodology, it is key to          plan of work, not one that is over ambitious. It is important
show an understanding of the objectives and priorities of        not to promise either a schedule that cannot be delivered or
the contract and the ability to respond with a businesslike      a timetable of outputs that cannot be sustained. In addition,
plan of work.                                                    it is important not to over specify the work programme or to
                                                                 imply that the content is definitive.
Shaping the argument
No contract emerges from the void. It will always be set in a        TIP - Back up your claims with solid facts and
broader context such as a business strategy, a research              credentials that you can prove.
programme, a development framework, an economic or
environmental policy or a response to a difficulty or
emergency.                                                       Defining Outputs and Deliverables
                                                                 It is useful to make the distinction between the outputs and
This context gives rise to the customer's perception of          deliverables of a contract.
needs and objectives. Meeting these objectives is the
purpose of the contract, and this will in turn raise issues      •   Outputs are the results the customer wants to achieve -
and set guidelines for the technical approach.                       the outcome of the time, skills, energy and other
                                                                     resources put into the task.
    TIP - If recent contracts have given you an
    understanding of the customer’s environment and              •   Deliverables are the items or services the bidder
    business objectives, use this as a factor that can ensure        undertakes or is required to produce at a specified time
    the budget for the work is applied as productively as            and place.
    possible, without incurring learning costs.
                                                                 For example, advice on business strategy is a typical output of
Lack of familiarity with the detail of the customer's business   management consultancy. The corresponding deliverables
operations will require the approach to be set out               are tangible items, such as reports and other documents that
convincingly enough to reassure the customer that an             communicate how to put the strategy into effect.
understanding of the context of the work can be quickly
                                                                     TIP - If the customer includes a schedule of
                                                                     deliverables, stick to it or explain the reasons for
Writing about Methodology
                                                                     changing it. If the customer has set no explicit schedule,
This information tells customers if sufficient consideration
                                                                     it is important to indicate as precisely as possible what
has been given to:
                                                                     deliverables you are proposing to produce and when they
                                                                     will be submitted.
•   The most direct, practical and cost-effective route to
    meeting their requirements.
•   Whether the plan of work or service delivery is
    consistent with deadlines and robust in terms of             Communicating Added Value
    timescale and cost, and the professional effort that         An essential sales purpose in submitting a bid, proposal or
    needs to be put into the assignment.                         quote is to make it as competitive as possible in terms of
                                                                 technical quality and value for money. To win on quality, the
                                                                 document has to possess an extra dimension that sets the
It is important to ensure that:
                                                                 bidders apart and shows a distinctive edge that represents
                                                                 unique benefits to the customer.
•   The methodology is technically sound and realistic.
•   The work plan includes all the tasks needed to achieve       Communicating added value means emphasising those
    the intended results and it is structured into clearly       benefits and projecting the difference they can make to the
    defined and manageable components.                           success of the contract.
•   The completion of each part of the work is marked by
    specified outputs and deliverables.                          Depending on the subject of the contract, the document can
                                                                 gain added value in various ways;
•   The sequence of tasks is logical and consistent.
•   The level and intensity of inputs match the expectations     •   Reduced risk.
    of the customer as well as the technical demands of the
                                                                 •   The skills and expertise of people.
                                                                 •   Processes.
                                                                 •   Professionalism, and promising and providing more.
                                                                 •   Price.
One thing it must do is put forward new ideas showing
creativity, drive and innovation and offering definite benefits
to the customer.

    TIP - Stay in front by offering and delivering more.

Writing about Price

    TIP - Think in terms of the price the customer is
    prepared to pay for, rather than the price at which you
    are prepared to sell your services - in other words, the
    value of your work to the customer, not its cost.

It is important to make the price as competitive as possible.
                                                                  Bids that are overloud or overdressed in terms of word
It must be perceived as offering better value for money than
                                                                  processing and graphic presentation may give the
other bids. Consider the following:                               impression they are trying to compensate for a lack of
                                                                  confidence and content. Where professional services are
•   Check that price information is consistent.                   concerned, a restrained design is better than
•   Ensure there is no vagueness or room for                      overstatement.
    misunderstanding about the bid.
•   Avoid irritating conditions and exceptions,                   Auditing the Bid
                                                                  Research shows that there are some specific questions that
•   Develop the financial and technical sides
                                                                  companies ask when reviewing a bid, proposal or quote.
    of the document together.
                                                                  Listed below are some that enable the quality of submission
                                                                  to be checked.

                                                                  Background and experience of suppliers
                                                                  • Do they have a sound record of achievement in
                                                                     comparable work?
                                                                  •   Have they evidenced claims about their experience with
                                                                      references and contract details?
                                                                  •   Do they have quality accreditation?

                                                                  • Does the document offer the scale of resources
                                                                     appropriate to the work?
                                                                  •   Is the document precise about the availability of key
                                                                      personnel and is it clear exactly who would do the work?
                                                                  •   What is their employment status with the supplier?

                                                                  Approach, methodology and work programme
05     Presenting the Bid, Proposal or Quote                      • Does the supplier appear to understand our objectives
                                                                     and the key issues to be addressed?
The style of presentation must be geared to the customer's        •   Has the work been thought through in the
                                                                      necessary detail?
expectations for quality. The document may be addressed to a
                                                                  •   Is there a work plan and a clear statement of the
middle manager in the customer organisation but may well
                                                                      proposed methodology and technical procedures?
find its way to the desk of the Chief Executive or the
                                                                  •   Does the work programme indicate a sensible and
boardroom table before a decision is made.
                                                                      realistic input of time and effort, and is this likely to
                                                                      deliver results on target?
    TIP - Think about the impression your document is             •   Are the deliverables identified clearly?
    likely to make at top management level.
                                                                  •   If there are aspects of the work about which the
                                                                      specification is prescriptive, for example, to meet
Presentation can play a part in building an image of                  statutory requirements or reduce exposure to risk, has
creativity. A document that looks different may project a             the supplier recognised the significance of these points?
message about being not only innovative but also better. It is    •   Is there an awareness that the work might not go
important to present the document in a format that makes it           according to plan, and an indication of how the supplier
easy for the customer to understand and to use in the                 would deal with such situations?
process of selecting a supplier.                                  •   Does the document offer added value benefits?
   TIP - Ensure that the document demonstrates value for        London 2012 Procurement Opportunities
   money and contains clear statements of the total
   estimated price of the work and how it was arrived at.       CompeteFor is the chosen site of London 2012 for the
                                                                publication of Games-related contract opportunities.

   TIP - Make it easy for the customer to read the
                                                                It acts as a brokerage service between buyers throughout
   document. Ensure it is clear, and doesn’t evade any
                                                                the London 2012 supply chain, and potential suppliers.
   point. Don’t re-state the customer, be innovative.
                                                                CompeteFor also provides access to business support
                                                                services; building skills and capacity to ensure that
These criteria are important in communicating                   businesses across the UK can access opportunities linked to
professionalism and they influence the way evaluators           the hosting of the London 2012 Games.
respond to the bid. If a bidder deals in a detailed and
convincing way with a topic that is of particular concern to    To register to gain access to your regional CompeteFor
the customer, it will become the standard by which the rest     website and upcoming London 2012 procurement
are judged. Think of it as keeping the pressure on              opportunities visit

   TIP - You do not know what good ideas your competitors
                                                                This portal is a dynamic government-backed service
   may put into their bids, so try to get the better of them
                                                                designed specifically to give companies easy access to
   with good ideas of your own.
                                                                lower-value contract opportunities (typically worth under
                                                                £100,000) offered by the public sector.

06    Where to Go for Further Help
                                                                Enterprise Europe
Business Link Yorkshire
We have put together a useful quality statement template        Enterprise Europe offer an alerting service to companies to
and a brief guide to help you to write a quality statement.     contract opportunities in the public sector (UK and Europe)
These are often required when bidding for public sector         which are relevant to their specific area of business.
contracts. We run ‘Meet the Buyer’ and ‘Doing business
with Local Councils’ events, and others that include finance,   Visit:
sales and marketing, people and IT.
                                                                @UK PLC
Visit or call
08456 048 048 for further information.                          @UK PLC enables all sizes of business to trade online
                                                                quickly and easily with all types of customers. Suppliers
                                                                can not only take orders '24 / 7' from councils, businesses,
                                                                schools etc, they can also send electronic invoices for
                                                                accurate on-time payment.


                                                                This information is intended to give an overview and
                                                                introduction to the subject. Any legal information is provided
                                                                for guidance only and should not be regarded as an
                                                                authoritive statement of the law.
                                                                Business Link Yorkshire cannot be
                                                                held responsible for any actions
                                                                taken as a result of the content of
                                                                this factsheet.

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