Boilerplate Blindness – Don’t Force Square Pegs into Round Holes

As the COVID-19 focus in Australia and New Zealand starts to shift from health concerns to economic recovery, seller organisations are adjusting to the prospect of likely increased competition, changing procurement practices, fast track stimulus measures and a raft of other strategies that, at face value, present a great deal of opportunity.

This will mean lots of tenders, quotes and proposals being needed in a potentially short timeframe. A logical way to address this ‘avalanche’ is to maximise the use, and reuse, of previously drafted submission content.

Using boilerplate material is practical, but not always effective

We understand the desire to recycle bid content. Tender ‘boilerplate’ or ‘reuse’ material (as it is also known) is perfectly acceptable for many bid content requirements. In fact, APMP best practice suggests that boilerplate will usually comprise around 50-60% of a completed submission.

So whilst recyclable bid content is important, it isn’t the whole story. Preparing winning submissions requires significantly more than just changing the client name and price on your tender ‘template’. To ensure your submission is as competitive as possible, you need to work with your boilerplate to develop a truly customer-centric proposal that demonstrates your understanding of your client’s needs, values and challenges.

If you rely too heavily on generic boilerplate content, you’re likely to run into the following three key problems:

1. Not answering the questions

We often hear phrases like, “we’ve already got CVs we can reuse for that” or “let’s use the organisation chart/quality plan/ referee details /etc. we put together for that tender last year”

While it’s time-efficient to reuse tender content, its unchallenged use can deliver responses that miss the buyer’s requirements and possibly not even directly answer the questions being asked. This will guarantee poor scoring by evaluators.

Start by fully understanding the questions in the invitation documents. Then look to see if you have reuse materials that specifically address them (at least in part). In many cases, you’ll find you have the basis of your response within your boilerplate. From there you can craft your generic materials into a consistent and compelling response. In other words, build on your boilerplate rather than relying on it.

2. Getting a false sense of progress

Given tenders substantially comprise of boilerplate materials (especially potentially supporting information like CV’s, plans, etc), it’s very easy to overestimate your progress.

Unfortunately, lots of copy and content brought across from a previous tender or bid library isn’t real progress; it’s just the first step. And what’s worse, this ‘apparent’ progress can mask problems that may be challenging to correct – especially if discovered late.

Instead of measuring progress by ticking off a list of documents, make sure your tender progress tracking is based on the completion of buyer focussed milestones. These should include compliance (i.e. have I answered the question?) and responsiveness (i.e. does it explain why they should pick us?). Using these measures will properly arm you with information that allows you to focus on what’s really important to the buyer and to prioritise your bidding efforts accordingly

3. Using out of date content

Tenders are time and context dependent. They tell your organisation’s story at the time they were created, and for the purpose for which they were created.

However, organisations evolve. Projects are completed. People come and go. Processes change. Your submissions must also evolve to reflect this change. Just because what you did two years ago was great, it doesn’t mean that it’s still great, or even relevant to the current opportunity. So, unless your boilerplate content is keeping up with these changes, its usefulness rapidly diminishes over time.

Take the time to regularly update your organisation’s key people, experience, processes, case studies and the like, to ensure your boilerplate provides maximum benefit at the time you need it most.

‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work in tendering

If your proposals keep coming up short, it could be because you’re relying too much on boilerplate materials, or trying to force its use where it doesn’t belong.

Instead, recognise boilerplate for what it is; an extremely useful place to start. Then build on this information to demonstrate your understanding of your client’s needs and articulate how your organisation alone has the solution to its problems. Doing this will maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of your tendering efforts, helping you win your fair share of the post Covid-19 opportunity coming your way.


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