How to make a good international bid
San Jose de Chiquitos, Bolivia.
I will never tire of stating that the first step for a company is to hire or sell and for that reason we have to prepare bids, either because we have been asked to do so, or because a tender has come up for grabs. Today I am going to give you some recommendations on how to prepare these bids, especially in the international sphere. It is for this reason that I will share the writing of this post with my partner José Papí (www.s3transportation.com) as some of the experiences we have shared have also enriched us mutually.
The first thing to clarify is that an international invitation to bid often consists of a series of official documents (or Terms of Reference), which are divided into two parts:
▪ The technical specifications, in which the scope of the work involved, along with the technical requirements and requested resources are explained.
▪ The Administrative Documentation, whereby the requirements for a bidder to prove their general ability and legal empowerment to present a bid are set.
Even though us consultants like to prepare the technical specifications, it is of the utmost importance to present the right administrative paperwork as any errors at this stage could lead to an expulsion from the bidding process meaning that the technical work undertaken could all have been in vain.Poor management of the administrative procedures could mean expulsion from the bidding process. In the Administrative Documentation, furthermore, we are often given clues as to the awarding criteria that can help us to focus our bid and make it a winner;as these are exactly the points that tell us how to evaluate the bid.
Let us begin with a series of ten basic guidelines:
1. “The Golden Minute”
▪ It is worth making a clear and precise outline of the consortium or the bidding group. In this summary the focus and main strengths must be clearly visible at the beginning of the text, so that we can grasp the reader’s attention.
▪ These relevant aspects should be ordered according to the aforementioned awarding criteria. It is not enough to merely interest the evaluator, you also have to make their life easier.
2. Graphic approach and the use of colour
The main aim of this recommendation is to hold the bid evaluator’s interest and offer them swift and informative summaries. As you can see, this is closely linked to the previous section. The use of bold font to highlight the main ideas of each paragraph is widely approved.
3. Adaptation of the company(ies) profile(s) to the subject matter of the invitation for bids.
It is of the utmost importance to contextualise the offer. General bids that are a bit one-size-fits-all never tend to do well in this type of bid. It is necessary to comprehend to the letter the Terms of Reference and put forward a trouble-shooter approach to problems, not simply a “copy and paste” job from the web page. In short, highlight relevance for the project. To achieve this, we have to try to choose our references meticulously, making sure that all fields of experience requested in the bid are covered. The description of each reference will need to be adapted, one by one, so that they are fully in line with the requirements, without masking the truth, only signalling the most salient points in relation to the tender.
Example: Do not put a survey on mobility for a bid on a project for R&D in Smart Transport Systems (STS)…
4. Summarise the contract specifications in 1-2 graphs or flowcharts
The aim of this action is to prevent 40% of the bid consisting in the long-winded repetition of texts already provided by the tender awarder.
5. Add clearly improvements and additional services.
This issue deserves a specific section in your bid, as well as a billing in the “golden minute”, with 3 or 4 additional improvements above and beyond the contract requirements stipulated by the client are always looked upon kindly.
- Being at the forefront in terms of recent advancements in transports contracts awarded by the client. This is part of the aforesaid contextualisation of the bid.
- To achieve this, if it is possible it is worthwhile holding a meeting with the client (if they allow this) and visiting each region
7. Insertion of indicators / quantifiable aims: It is also advisable to go beyond in terms of indicators and “quantifiable” or “philosophical” aims and add SMART Indicators = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant& Time-bound.
8. Schedules / detailed procedures
When they request a detailed breakdown of working units, specify these by days and week, rather than months and quarters, as this will give your bid more credibility.
9. Take care with the biographical description of the experts.
▪ For international consultancy bids the team you put together is the lynchpin, therefore, I recommend you define the role of each expert (in accordance with their experience) so that their profile professional profile makes them ideal for the specific post, ensuring at all times that these fulfil the basic requirements. Copying and pasting their CV will simply not do.
▪ There must be a level of coherence between the consortium members. For example, DO NOT put a leader with 2 specialist areas and 3 references, only to be followed by a partner, who “depends” on the former, with 8 tasks and 10 references.
10. Never overlook the aesthetics
By this we mean centring, font type, header, page numbers, cover, contents etc. Do not close the bid until it is all in the same format
Now let’s delve a little further:
1. English, English, English. (wherever necessary, in many of the tenders financed by Multilateral Bodies)
Added niggle: Us Spaniards have a bad name in the EU and the rest of the world in terms of languages, and as such, our work is gone over with a fine tooth-comb compared to others.
2. Standardisation of English – Spanish / Latin American – Spanish qualifications
Clarify the standardisation measures in place between different countries when a specific academic qualification is required. Master’s degrees, PhDs and professorships etc. These do not have the same names the world over, and so you will need to adapt these.
3. Emphasise specialisationand the experience of the organization itself
For example, clarify, in a bid dealing with mobility, that we are company with wide-ranging experience in the field of transport, standing out from one of those “hollow consultancy shells”; highlight our winning points.
4. All CVs in the same format
Specify in the CVsthat each expert 120% fulfils the client’s requirements. Present these all in the same format and, insomuch as is possible, of the same length.
5. “Typos” and oversights in administrative documentation.
Little oversights, errors in numbering, lack of criteria in terms of size and font types etc., annoy the hell out of civil servants in multilateral bodies … Remember that ”evilisinthedetails”…if you lost the battle in the first attack, then there is little you can do to win the war. As I said above, do not hit print until you are sure the aesthetics are covered.
6. “Unspanishify / Internationalise” the texts
An evaluator from abroad does not know our regions, our cities or our acronyms if we put things like AA.PP. or the names of Universities: Nor do they know our quality standards in force. You will also do will to remember that thousands in English are written with commas and not full stops (1,000).
7. Be careful with “copy and paste”
Compulsory reading / proofreading and consolidation before delivery, the term we use for “X” in section I must be called “X” in Section IV.
8. Use of “bold text” to highlight the key words in the paragraphs
We must make the evaluator’s job easier when trawling through long paragraphs. As you can see, we never tire of mentioning this.
9. Create consistent project management structures
Clear hierarchical lines relating to the contract’s tasks. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance to define horizontal and vertical working relationships clearly in the organisational flowchart. And remember, there must be a balanced share of experts amongst the consortium members.
10. First things first
Do not begin to write until you are sure you have fully understood the Terms of Reference. The strategy of writing and checking against the Terms of Reference at the same time is folly and can often lead to an unpleasant outcome.
And now, share your secrets, we have told you everything, well, almost everything ……
This post has been brought to you by Jose Papí and Julián Sastre.