Here is the Dilemma

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The Perils of Reusing High Scoring Bid Content

You have to get a bid in against a looming deadline. Four high-scoring questions are covering Social Value. This is an area in which your company excels. Your boss gives you some responses to a previous bid which the evaluators scored very highly. “Easy-peasy.” she says, “Just use these and put together the responses.”.

This is a real situation which I ran into on a client’s recent bid. The bid was strategically important. Timescales and resources were tight. I was the solution to the client’s problem!

I had a look at the “Good” responses. They were all well written and had a good balance of solution and assurance.

The “How” question responses were laid out with clear descriptions of the steps in the proposed process and the associated timelines. The individuals responsible, the metrics, reporting processes and an outline of how things would be put right if they went wrong were all included. There were several references in each part of the response labelling where the business had done this before. Testimonials supported the successes they claimed. A one-page, “feel good” case study completed the response. No wonder the evaluators liked them!

However, reality then kicked in. Each of these “Good” responses was 12 pages long. The page limit in my bid was four pages per question. When I broke down the question elements in each of my bid’s requirements, I discovered that I had 28 to 30 specific points in each question I must address! That is about seven elements per page. One short paragraph per point. In each requirement, several of these points were of the form “How will you …”. My list of “How” elements now looked uncomfortably long.

The next problem was that the specific questions asked in the previous bid’s Invitation to Tender document were not the same as in my bid. They were similar in that they covered the same main topic areas. However, many of the question elements were new or different. What “in Heck’s name” should I do now? A lie down in a darkened room beckoned.

So, here comes the roll of the dice. I think I had three options in this situation and if I had ample time, I would choose the Good solution:

  1. Lay out each of the individual and specific points which needed a response in table form, in the order of the client’s question.
  2. Using the client’s question structure as main headings, create a sensible heading structure for the response from the tabled points. This needs to be worked to fit the allowable pages when the heading structure is fully populated. Better still, allocate space or word counts to each heading. This will make it even easier when you are writing.
  3. Carefully go through the “Good” responses and extract the text that best fits against each point in the table. Add this to the table against the particular point. An exact fit against the question is not needed, only that the specific point in the new question is reasonably well covered.
  4. Start writing against the specific topic in the heading using the “Good” response text as guidance (or lift it directly if it fits). Rigorously exclude any word, phrase or sentence which does not directly address the specific description in the heading. Then, revise the text until the word count or space limit is achieved.
  5. Either write the response text missing from the “Good” response yourself or (better still) find an appropriate expert to write it. Again, rigorously exclude any word, phrase or sentence which does not directly answer the specific description in the heading. Keep revising the text until the word count or space limit is achieved.
  6. When the response is complete, leave it for 24 hours and then read it through again. If it is still too long, consider deleting some specific responses (and risk ignoring a client’s question element). Choose bits of the response which will have the least impact upon the overall solution you are proposing. Keep revising the text until the word count or space limit is achieved.

Of course, this all takes time. If time is tight, you may just want to carefully read the “Good” response, create a heading structure from your client’s question and then begin writing. Should your recent review of a good response permeate your thinking and your new text? I would label this as a Bad solution.  Of course, the underlying story and flow which made the “Good” responses so good will be difficult to reproduce. It also relies upon your own expertise in the subject and your knowledge of the achievements made by the client’s business.

The Ugly solution is to take the previous work and just cut it down to fit the page limit. On the basis that the original text scores well and that it covers the main area of the question, it should work. Plus, this has the advantage that your boss will see you have done what you were told. You have used the “Good” text. Another plus is that when the scores come back as very poor, you can avoid much of the personal responsibility. After all, the boss told you what to do and another evaluator scored it very highly!

Which did I use for my bid? I wimped out! I told the client that (truthfully) I was not an expert in Social Value or its business. As winning the bid was strategically important, I suggested (strongly) that they should use a real expert to create the responses, which I would review. The client saw the sense in this. I am now waiting to do a forensic review of the draft responses and will criticise every bit of my “How” list which is missed.

Sometimes honesty is the best policy.

This article was written by Andy Haigh .

Andy is an expert in bidding and tendering, specialising in competitive formal bids into EU Public Sector organisations. He is an authority on EU procurement legislation and can bring all these capabilities together to initiate and drive major complex bids through to a successful completion.

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