In difficult B2B categories, winning proposals make things simple

Blackboard covered with mathematical formulas

Business-to-business (B2B) procurement is fraught with risk. The financial risk is obvious, given the contracts are large, lucrative and long-term. But there’s also risk relating to quality, service, compliance, privacy, data security…

In services categories, the risk is even greater because services are, by definition, intangible, perishable (once used a service can’t be resold), and often inseparable (insofar as services are produced and consumed simultaneously).

The reason competitive tenders are so popular is because they effectively manage and mitigate the risks inherent in B2B procurement.

Requests for tender are usually complicated but that doesn’t mean your response should be too.

No matter how complex your sector or space – whether you’re bidding to deliver software-as-a-service, manage a global portfolio of shopping centres, or provide audit and tax advice to a Fortune 100 company – the key is to keep it simple.

Make your tenders easy to read, and easy to understand. Here’s how.

Plain, not simple

Write in plain English. Even better, write as you speak. Be clear and concise. Plain English is logical, easy to understand and engaging. It sounds obvious but sometimes what’s plainly apparent isn’t that simple.

“Plain English is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.”


Don’t assume

It would be a mistake to assume your tender will be evaluated by people who are well informed about your industry or business. Most commercial tenders are assessed by a multi-disciplinary panel which includes representatives from procurement, legal, finance, IT, and any other department relevant to the purchase. It’s reasonable to think those reviewing your tender will be intelligent and educated; unreasonable to think they will be experts in what you’re trying to sell. The solution: write for the common denominator, not an informed audience.

Cut the bull

Every profession, every industry, every organisation has its own vernacular. Don’t impose that on a prospective client. Avoid jargon, business slang and unnecessary technical language. If your audience needs a glossary of terms to decipher your proposal, you’ve missed the mark.

Ditch the shorthand

Abbreviations and acronyms should be used sparingly, if at all. To you, PR might mean page rank. To someone else it could mean public relations, permanent resident or performance review.

Only include an acronym if the words are being used repeatedly.

If your proposal is a large document, write the words in full, followed by the acronym, the first time they appear in each section. That way there will be no confusion about what the letters mean.

Lower your capital

Speaking of letters:

“Capitalisation is governed by style rather than grammar. It is subject to fashion. In the seventeenth century, almost all nouns were capitalised. In the twenty-first century, we favour minimalism.”

Monash University

Many business writers have the bad habit of abusing and misusing capital letters. Don’t. Over capitalisation is distracting, arrogant, and can signal you’re internally-focused. In particular:

  • don’t capitalise job titles unless they immediately precede a person’s name (for example ‘the school principal’ or ‘Principal Skinner’) and
  • don’t capitalise generic terms in place of a proper noun (for example ‘Government of Australia’ or ‘the government’).

Last word

If words don’t come easy, say it with graphs, diagrams and illustrations. Punctuating large bodies of text with pops of colour, and white space, will contribute to the readability of your document.