40 Common Bidding Mistakes – and how to avoid them!

We all make mistakes, however diligent we are. This can especially be the case when working under pressure and/or on complex, high profile projects. Unfortunately, in a bid situation mistakes can cost you the bid. To help you prevent that from happening, here are some tips that you can use to build in processes and safeguards that help you avoid or deal with them.

Bid Selection

1. Not maintaining a bid / no bid decision-making process
By not holding a bid / no bid discussion there is a risk that you will submit bids that cannot be won. To ensure you focus your efforts on winnable opportunities, implement a decision gateway using tools such as go / no go calls, a bid / no bid matrix tool, or even a SWOT analysis.

2. Double Bidding
Large organisations with multiple divisions, for example, a Head Office and Local Office, can if there is a lack of communication and collaboration, both bid for the same opportunity. To avoid this ensure that you have clear communication channels between both of you and maybe consider sharing opportunities.


3. Not Knowing the Client, the Incumbent, the Competition or Price Point
Deciding to bid when you do not even know the key information listed above is known as speculative bidding, as it is based purely on speculation and not known facts. This approach often leads to low bid win rates. Wherever possible, be sure to gather intelligence on all of these aspects, as a minimum, and use them to increase your prospects of success.

4. Not Using Publicly Available Information
There is an enormous amount of information available if only you look for it. Public Sector organisations are legally obliged to present information relating to the opportunity such as procurement strategies, committee meetings etc. It can only benefit you to use all of the available sources of information to gather intelligence about the buyer organisation and your competitors. Bidders can also use Freedom of Information Requests to access information that may not be readily available.
Private sector firms often publish their Annual Reports, business strategy plans and their websites can contain useful insights.

Bid Kick Off

5. Not Having a Disciplined Start
The bid documents land and everyone goes rushing off in their own direction and does their own thing, resulting in a disorganised mishmash. This is what happens when there is no control or structure to the way work starts on a bid. Best practise dictates that there should be a kick off meeting with all of the key people who will be working on the bid. Its purpose is to discuss vital elements such as win strategies, ownership etc. For example, at AM Bid we have a Bid Kick Off Workshop for all of our bidding opportunities.

6. Not Assigning Roles, Timelines, Review and Submission Arrangements
Once again. at the start of the process it is essential to identify and assign roles and responsibilities. Timelines and reviews processes should be agreed and communicated clearly.

7. Salami Slicing of Bids
Sometimes it is unavoidable that different people write different parts of a bid response. Normally this happens because you need subject matter experts to write their own technical piece, to ensure it is technically correct. This can result in the response being a bit of a text blancmange, rather than reading as a cohesive written piece. To resolve this, ensure there is a piece of work done to ensure that the whole document has a single tone of voice. The best way is to do this is to use a bid team/writer which can be external to your organisation. They can then interview subject matter experts and then write up the responses, saving you time and ensuring a professional finish, thereby ensuring a coherent bid is submitted. If this is not possible, it is still worth getting a professional to do a single tone of voice exercise on it.

8. Not Having Visible Executive Buy-in or Sponsorship
Bids use a huge amount of resources in time, money, and people. Without sponsorship from the top level of the organisation to drive and support it, it is nigh on impossible to get the resource you need, when you need it. This often results in a sub-optimal response being submitted which may be unlikely to be successful.

9. Not Having a Written Bid Management Plan
A bid manager is like the conductor of an orchestra. To be able to manage the process, guide the participants and make sure you reach the end goal, the bid manager must have an understanding of all the various moving parts of the bid, its requirements, timelines, and participants. The only sure way to effectively map and manage progress is to have a clear plan, driven by the bid manager, to deliver effective winning bids submitted on time.

10. Not Attending Buyer Briefings / Site Visits
Why would you not want to take every opportunity to engage with the buyers? Not only does is give you the maximum number of opportunities to engage with them and gather information, it is also your chance to be seen by the buyer and your competitors. Use these meetings to get to know them and build a rapport. Insights taken from these meetings can push organisations to achieve more tailored bid submissions.

Specification / Instructions Provided to Tenders

11. Not Reading all of the Documents
Not reading all of the documents can mean that you miss a key point. At the very least the bid manager should read, analyse, and map requirements from all of the documents. It can be time consuming but is well worth it. Not reading or understanding the full set of information provided can result in lower scoring bid submissions and missing substantive points may affect the pricing. The buyers have spent time putting this together as part of the tender for a reason. For technical bids it is imperative that a technical subject matter expert reads everything as they can often pick up technical requirements that would otherwise be missed.

12. Not Asking Clarification Questions
Check, check, and check again. If something is missing, unclear, incorrect, or ambiguous raise a clarification. Clarifications provide a great opportunity to focus your bidding submission, remove ambiguities; level the playing field and can even be used tactically.

13. Not Paying Attention to Submission Instructions
It is critical that attention is given to these, and something is that a good bid manager will be hot on. Make sure that you have read, identified, and understood all the instructions regarding the format and submission requirements. Take note of the detail, there is a big difference between 1,000 characters and 1,000 words! The instructions will likely give you page limits, formats of documents, where they are to be uploaded etc. It is vital within the process of a bid to adhere to these.

14. Not Checking the Submission Portal
Not checking a portal thoroughly for hidden steps and documents, can lead to additional unpanned work, or even the bid not being submitted before the deadline. For example, not checking accreditation questions on the portal, as these may require you to answer far more questions based on not having a certain accreditation e.g. ISO. To avoid this, test the portal to ensure that you are clear on how to submit the bid, and whether you will be required to answer further e.g. ‘drop down’ questions.

15. Not Testing Input Documents
As part of your early planning and checking it is essential to check all documents into which you have to input data as part of the response. These documents can contain errors in format and formulae, etc. It is essential to identify these whilst you can still raise clarifications, that will get them fixed and allow you to complete your bid.

Technical / Quality Submissions

16. Not Checking the Evaluation Criteria
The evaluation criteria will allow bidders to assess the respective importance and weighting of the questions which should influence the time and effort spent on building the answer. Use the scoring criteria to understand how to win marks. Bidders may need to be exceptional on quality to counter the impact of price, so ensure that you look for every opportunity to maximise your bid scoring.

17. Not Answering the Question
The most frustrating thing for an evaluator is to read reams of information and not actually find the answer to the question. This will mean that they cannot award marks to you. So answer the question directly, and in a way that makes it easy to mark and find key points. Take time to ensure you understand the real meaning of a question and answer it fully.

18. Improper Response Planning
We all know the alternative meaning for assume. Do not let that happen to you. Make sure you understand the response requirements. The buyer has set instructions, page limits etc. because that is what they want from you. So, if they give you 5 pages write at least 4 and preferably 5; a response half a page long indicates that you do not understand the requirement, or have not out the effort in.

19. Generic Response
If you respond to bids on a regular basis, it is probable that you will have a mass of documents and content from previous responses. It is so tempting to do a copy paste job, but please don’t. This leads to other customer names slipping in, and inappropriate information being included that was only relevant to its original use. Worst of all, this approach is easy to spot during evaluation and will show a lack of care. Buyers want, and rightly expect, to read tailored responses that truly reflect their requirements and specification.

20. Using the Wrong Client Name
It is at the least annoying when someone gets your name wrong, and it is the same for organisations. Bidders must avoid incorrectly naming the buyer. Always use consistent and correct names when referring to the buyer throughout the bidding documents e.g. it is The City of Edinburgh Council, not Edinburgh City Council, Edinburgh Council or even City of Edinburgh District Council (it changed to its current name 25 years ago!).

21. Not Referencing the Specification
The specification is a key point of reference for you and the buyer; referencing the specification within the response document makes it easier to see if you are meeting the requirements, and also shows that you have taken the time to understand and accommodate them. This is especially important for complex and/or technical bids.

22. Making Claims but Not Providing Evidence
Making claims without providing clear evidence creates empty words. Bidders must be specific and provide tangible evidence that either evidences the truth of a statement or illustrates the effects of stated actions. Otherwise they are just empty words.

23. Not actually Providing Commitments
Buyers require commitments as often the winning bid submission becomes part of the contract. Providing guarantees and stating what you are committed to delivering will provide greater assurances for buyers this usually translates into higher evaluation scores.

24. Not having a Consistent Style / Tone
Reading a bid response should be like reading a book. It should flow, have a consistent tone that includes common terminology throughout. For example, in a social housing bid are you writing about customers, residents, tenants or service users? Try to mirror the language that the buyer uses.

25. Not Planning Your Graphics in Advance
Good graphics take time to plan and create, so start early. Infographics are an effective way of illustrating a story, but only when they work. Maximise their impact by taking time to get them right.

26. Spelling / Grammar Mistakes
If u do nowt spell properly it shews…. Spelling and grammar matter. Take time to get the response properly proof read, if this is not possible use the document ‘read through’ function to have it audibly read to yourself. Best practise is that those who write it should not proof read it.

27. Getting Mixed up Around Legislation / Regulation
Make sure you fully understand and address the legal and regulatory requirements relevant to the service and location where they will be delivered. These can differ between the home countries, especially when bidding into a devolved administrations, for example, bidding from England into Scotland.

28. Contradictions in the Bid
Do not contradict yourself in the response. This is common when different individuals are writing different parts of the bid. Avoid this by implementing a bid team that can write the bid as a cohesive written piece or at a minimum review it for you. Make sure that you check the buyers documents for contradictions too, in time for you to get clarification.

29. Not Having a Clear Customer Value Proposition
Make sure you translate and explain the benefits of your proposal in alignment with the buyer’s needs. Personalise them so that evaluators can really relate to them and reward you accordingly.

30. Reliance on Aspects of the Bid that are not Scored
Make sure that everything that is key to your proposal is in the main part of the response. Appendices and additional bid documents may not be reviewed or scored, and at worst, can get you disqualified if you ignore an instruction to not include them.

31. Making Assumptions
Always submit clarification questions for any areas of doubt. Don’t guess, check.

Bid Management of the Opportunity

32. Not Having Enough Reviews / Not Enough Communication
Bid reviews are critical to improving the quality of your response. So whatever your timeline build in as least two reviews. First one to check whether the response appropriately address the buyer’s needs, includes subject matter experts in this. The second one should be a core team of senior level individuals, including your sponsor / senior stakeholder, who will review it from a strategic viewpoint, making sure it flows and tells a comprehensive, consistent story end-to end.

33. Not Tracking Clarification Responses / Updates on the Portal
If the bid is published via a portal, this will be your point of communication with buyers. If you do not regularly check this you may miss important messages, newly answered clarifications revised documents, or other updates on the portal. These are likely to impact on the preparation of the response, so miss them at your peril.

34. Not Escalating Delays Early Enough
Do not exacerbate the impact of delays, by delaying escalation to deal with the issue. Find out the reason, get it resolved and provide the required support to ensure work comes back in line with agreed deadlines. Aim to provide clear communication for these delays, providing transparency to all on the delays within the bid. This allows other members of the team to understand the reason for delays and enables for appropriate duration for these delays to be resolved.

35. Relying on Subcontractor Timescales
When subcontractors are part of your submission you need very tight controls, clear roles, and responsibilities, and most of all deadlines that have been committed to. Make sure that they stick to the agreed deadlines by keeping up frequent communication with them. This enables any issues or delays to be picked up and managed straight away.

36. Leaving Submission to The Last Minute
Bidders may miss documents or miss clicking certain parts of the portal by submitting so close to deadlines. Avoid submitting at the final stage to prevent these issues or others which may arise due to busy portals / servers / slow broadband, etc. Submitted documents may sometimes need to be in certain formats, maximum file sizes, etc – you do not want to discover this with insufficient time to make the necessary adjustments to the bid.

37. Not Double & Triple Checking the Submission
It is important to look over a submission a number of times to highlight that all essential elements are within the bid.

38. Not Getting Feedback
Win or lose, always ask for feedback. Understanding what parts of the response scored well and what did not is invaluable in driving improvement. Especially if you can get the reasoning behind the scores and competitors comparative scores. Push for is, if it is not offered. Public sector bodies are obliged to provide it and private organisations may when you explain it is to drive improvement.

39. Not Using the Feedback
Once you get feedback, use it and do a lessons learnt, or it is wasted. Involve all that worked on the bid. Celebrate the good parts and agree improvement for the others. Share these lessons learnt to all appropriate personnel.

40. Not Keeping and Discussing a ‘Lessons Learned Log’
Internal feedback is also a useful tool to drive improvement. Keep notes on what went well and what did not. Once the bid is submitted, discuss these with the team and get their feedback too. This allows the individuals who created the bid to feedback on their experiences and feel that their contribution was valued. They will often come up with great ideas for improvement.

Whether you choose to try out some, or all of these, or indeed think of your own, using these techniques will help you avoid mistakes, making the process less stressful, and less prone to error.

Whilst the majority of the tips suggested relate to public sector bidding, many of these suggestions also apply to private sector proposals. These tips should help bidders to avoid common mistakes and ultimately optimise bid success rates.