One of the most common mistakes we see in bidding is answering the question clients wish the buyer had asked… not the one that’s actually on the page! This can take many forms, such as:
- Not answering the question at all
- Answering some, but not all elements of the question
- Answering a different question altogether (e.g. writing an environmental answer for a social value question)
- Not making it clear to the reader whether the question is being answered.
The good news is that the solution to overcome this challenge is applicable to every sector. With that in mind, let’s dive in…
Step 1: Break apart the question
It’s easy to panic when you see a difficult question, so make it easier for yourself by breaking the question down into its constituent asks. While you’re doing this, you’ll force yourself to really read what’s on the page (rather than trying to ‘interpret’ what they might be saying… Buyers are seldom this mysterious or exciting!), and it will help you to pay attention to the words the Buyer is using.
Let’s try an example using a characteristically convoluted bid question:
“Give an overview of how you will approach and deliver Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) initiatives in collaboration with the council accompanied by an explanation of how you envision assisting the council in achieving our aims as set out in our ESG Strategy 2010 including the areas you will intend to focus on.
Provide details on how you would measure the performance of any such initiatives and provide an example of an initiative you have delivered in the last year that has improved the lives of local residents”.
First, let’s start by drawing out some of the question’s key words and assessing what they require:
- “Overview” – a summary, but considered from all relevant angles
- “How” – step by step instructions please explaining how you will do a thing, not just that you will do a thing (level of detail should be appropriate to ‘overview’)
- “approach and deliver” – how will you strategise/plan as well as deliver
- “Collaboration”, “assisting”, “our aims”, etc – keep the focus on how you will work with the client and help them further their strategy (keep the conversation about them as much as you)
- “Focus on” – an area where the client wants to see more details
- “measure” – think SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
So, what’s this question asking for?
It is asking for a considered overview of how you will work collaboratively with the council to deliver ESG initiatives that will help them deliver against their strategy combined with some focal points of particular interest to your organisation – backed up by an understanding of measuring the performance of such initiatives and a recent example.
What the question is not asking for (but which an overzealous writer might be tempted to provide) is a detailed understanding of how your organisation manages ESG issues internally, why you believe this is important, and a list of examples of the good work you have done for other clients…
Step 2: Structure the response in line with the question’s asks and reflect their language
Once you have a good grasp of the question you’re being asked, it’s time to pull apart the various ‘asks’ of the question and turn it into a viable initial response structure. To do this, you just have to do the following three things: identify the logical sub-questions that exist within the question, order them as closely to the structure of the original question as possible, and tweak the language to reflect that they are the headings of your answer. By doing that, the question outlined above, would look something like this:
- How we will approach and deliver Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) initiatives
- How we will deliver these initiatives in collaboration with the council
- How our collaborative approach will help the council achieve its aims as set out in their ESG Strategy 2010
- The specific areas of your strategy we will focus on
- How we will measure the performance of our initiatives
- An example of an initiative that has improved the lives of local residents.
The question is now split into six logical section that, in combination, will help you answer every element of the question the buyer has asked.
Step 3: Clearly signpost your response to guide your reader
Now we’re off to a good start – we have the roadmap of a response that will help answer the buyer’s question. However, we can do more; we can provide effective signposts for the reader in the body of the response by reflecting the language of the question back at them and clearly explaining the journey we’re taking the reader on. For instance, if we’re planning the body text for section 3 of our structure —“How our collaborative approach will help the council achieve its aims as set out in their ESG Strategy 2010 “— we can then set out the following body text structure like so:
“Our collaborative approach to ESG initiatives will help the council achieve its aims in three key ways which we explore below:
- Ensuring that every element of our service delivery process is designed to achieve the aims – xxxx
- Tracking and sharing ESG data to accurately measure joint progress against the aims – xxxx
- Regularly sharing experience and insights to drive continual improvement against the aims – xxxx
Through the above, our service will be collaboratively designed, measured, and continually improved upon in order to meet your ambitious ESG aims.”
The above not only consciously repeats key language in the header, but also clearly explains how the content you will be providing them is structured, and how it relates to the specific ask of the question. By doing this, you can ease the reader through the response and minimise instances of them asking themselves “am I lost? are they answering the question?”
Remember: keep reviewing your response
It’s easy to start with good intentions, but it’s easy to be led astray by the content you have to play with. For instance, if the Buyer asks for examples within a certain time frame, don’t be tempted to include case studies from outside of these boundaries.
As you edit and review your response, keep asking yourself: “is this still answering the question that’s been asked”? Ask this both at an overall question level and a section level. If, at any point, the answer is not an unambiguous ‘yes!’, you need to course correct
- Break the question down: pay attention to the words and structure of the question
- Structure your response against the structure of the question as clearly and comprehensively as possible
- Signpost your body text to guide your reader through the response and anchor the language back to the question
- Keep checking your bearings to make sure you’re not deviating from the question.
Need any help?
If you’d like 1:1 guidance to improve your bidding, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help.