RFP & RFI – The Joys of Tender pt 2 – Writing them

“One of the best tenders we’ve ever experienced; the projected volumes were accurate and the timetable was kept to”

This was genuine feedback we received once –  because we knew our numbers and kept to deadlines (set by ourselves), we were deemed to be good. It appears that the bar may be set quite low.

Giving advice and tips as to the best way to respond to a tender is actually quite a simple thing to do. Giving advice as to how to compose them is not so simple for three main reasons.

  1. Each company issuing will have their own rules, procedures, processes and governance
  2. Most companies will have good quality procurement and supply chain personnel who are running the process
  3. When was the last time a company issuing a tender ever asked the recipients for feedback so as to improve their own process?

In the main its something of a one-way street and feedback is neither sought nor particularly wanted.

So here it is anyway.

(Also let the record show that we have been culpable of some of these!)


Get this right and the responses you receive will be that much better.

  • Clearly describe exactly what it is you are looking for. In detail. It might sound obvious but so many tenders we’ve seen give a good outline at a high level but not at a granular level; are you looking to outsource ALL your volume or just some? Are you looking for a panel of suppliers or just one? Has the decision to outsource been made already or will the tender responses help you make that decision?
  • The written word can be misinterpreted all too easily. The best process we’ve seen was when all tendering parties were gathered together in one room and the requirements of the responses were spelt out. A Q and A followed, then the tender was issued.
  • Be explicit about the amount of information, by section or even question, you are looking for.  If you state that you are looking at brief responses, those submitting the tender have NO idea what your definition of brief is so will err on the side of caution – brief becomes big.
  • Check with your IT department about any limits on e-mail size and compatibility. Responses are going to be big, corporate e-mail accounts nearly always have a limit and recipients need to know both this and whether you can unzip a file or not.
  • Stick to your timetable. You set it after all. If you can’t, don’t go quiet, communicate what is happening.
  • Inform of any decision early and always give feedback. People and companies get reputations and we’ve worked with a number of suppliers who increasingly won’t be part of certain tender processes because they perceive it to be a waste of time. They pour man hours into a process and get, literally, nothing back.


This is an external document issued to a selected few in the market – it represents your company and yourself. You might think of yourself as a buyer not a seller, but how the recipients view both you and your company can be greatly influenced by the tender document you issue.

  • If you are using a previous tender template and are editing it for a different commodity, do it carefully.  There have been countless examples seen where a reference to (for example) underground drainage services has been included in a tender for electrical goods. It makes little sense, lets people know what your last tender was for and shows a rather generic approach to the commodity. No one like to receive generic tender responses, so don’t issue a generic tender!
  • The background information about your company is actually very useful and important. Increasingly we’ve seen this get better and better, focussing on the wider group then narrowing it down to the area buying the good or service. This is the one chance you get to sell your company before the tender recipients get to sell theirs.
  • Does the look and feel of the tender issued match other publicly released documents from your company? It really should – fonts, sizes, colours etc all give a really good impression to the recipients. We once had a tender blocked from being released because we’d ignored some marketing guidelines; as much as it annoyed us at the time because we were on a tight deadline, we should have got it right first time.
  • Seriously, why would you use excel for lengthy worded tenders? For numbers, obviously; for short responses and yes/no answers, maybe; for big old worded answers; NO. Please no. It is such a bad format to use for responses, it looks bad, it feels bad. Those of us on the receiving end of these tenders waste too much time wrestling with the constraints of the format rather than focussing on the content. If you  REALLY have to use it, explain why as part of the opening blurb – you’ll get a lot more respect.


  • Only ask what you can measure or assess. Otherwise, what’s the point? Tenders are too big as it is.
  • Keep it relevant. We’ve seen some really odd questions in the past that make very little sense to the commodity we are bidding for.
  • Be clear on the rules of the response. If you’ve asked for costs, each company will have their own way of responding which is going to make scoring each response REALLY hard. For example, clarify that costs are to include/exclude VAT, delivery, rebate or any other variable.
  • Don’t try and blag the technical detail if you don’t know it. The companies you have tendered to are experts in the field and will spot it a mile away.





Heya excellent website! Does running a blog similar to this take a great deal of work?
I’ve very little knowledge of programming but I had been hoping to start
my own blog in the near future. Anyways, if you have any
suggestions or techniques for new blog owners please share.
I understand this is off subject however I simply needed to ask.

    Ian Guest

    Thanks for the kind words!

    In short, the blog posts do take time because they draw on years of experience in the particular area we cover. Content generation is critical but not at the expense of quality.

    We are looking at guest posts so if you are interested (a reciprocal arrangement would be even better) do let us know!

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