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Why is it so hard to Answer the Question?

Jack Bolton
Written by
Jack Bolton
answer the question

Answer the question, that’s it. Just do it. The question is in front of you, it isn’t difficult to understand, the subject matter is obvious, the buyer has even provided a number of bullets and an elephant sized hint as to what you need to do to earn marks.

So why doesn’t the question get answered?

We know that generally speaking the reasons why tenderers fail to answer questions properly usually include:

  • Panic – Tenderers can be intimidated by the formal tender process for a number of reasons and therefore don’t read the questions properly.
  • Having a “one size fits all” approach – they either have a model of service delivery and that is what they base their responses on and ignore the spec. or they have “standard” responses and use these without editing them.
  • Focusing on one word or phrase in the question – e.g. the question may be about some specific aspect of their quality management but they just see the word quality and write all they know about it.
  • Not following the structure of the question – The question may list a number of specific items the buyer expects the response to cover. Oftentimes however, these are either completely or selectively ignored and responses end up with no structure at all.
So how should we answer the question then?

Here’s how you should approach any question that requires a written response:

read all the docs

Read All the Tender Documents

Start by reading all the documents especially the specification and the questionnaire.

The specification will hopefully be a clear statement of how the buyer wants the service delivered. You should seek to fully understand this before you start answering any questions.

Read the Questionnaire

DON’T scan read this and then start trying to answer it straight away.

DO read it through initially to try and get an overall sense of what aspects of the service offer are important to the buyer. For example:

  • What is the split of the total mark between quality and pricing?
  • What aspects of your service offer is the buyer asking questions about?
  • Which questions have the most marks?

Now read each question individually to try and understand what each one requires. Look at:

  • What is the question about?
  • How is the question structured? – e.g. is it a simple question or is it divided into sections? Is there a number of bullet points the buyer expects to be covered in the response?
  • What is the word or character limit?
  • Are they asking for any specific attachments, e.g. a mobilisation plan?
  • Are any additional attachments permitted?

Plan Your Response

plan your response
For a question of the type “Describe your approach to…” with no list of specifics areas to cover:

If we use the example of health and safety then typical topics your answer should include are:

  • The principle components of your management system, (e.g. policies, training, audit and review, processes for things like accident reporting)?
  • Who is responsible for managing it (overall and day-to-day)?
  • Any accreditations?
  • How you keep everything up to date?
  • Key aspects you know from your experience in your industry will be important to the buyer.

Once you have decided what topics you will cover, create a plan of how you are going to answer the question and what order your topics will be in.

For a question where there the buyer has listed a number of specifics to cover in your response:

This should in principle make the planning of your answer easier. If the buyer has provided a list then your answer should reflect this. Just follow their list in order.

Gather Your Information

Once you have a plan you can gather the information you need for your response.

Write Your Response

Once you have done all that, you can begin writing your response. From here, it is an ongoing process of drafting and review until you have a response that you’re happy with and is the best you can do with the information available.

Answer the Question – General Points

Who is going to read my response?

When you are writing your response try to keep in mind that you don’t actually know who the evaluators are going to be. They may include people who are not experts in your industry. So try to avoid filling your response with a large number of acronyms and lots of jargon. If you must include acronyms, make sure to explain their meaning.

Make it Personal

Don’t write in the third person about yourself, Perfect Co. will do this, Perfect Co. will do that. Use ‘we’ and ‘our’ as much as possible. Similarly, use ‘you’ and ‘your’ when referring to the client.

It’s Not All About You

Although the response is about demonstrating your capability, when that consists of ‘Me, me, me, that’s enough about you, back to me now’, you will definitely lose some brownie points.

The buyer wants to know that they are firmly at the centre of your service offer, that you understand what they want and will work hard to deliver it.

Break Your Response Down

Whether the question has or doesn’t have a list of specifics to cover, break your answer down with sub-headings. Where you have been given a list of specifics by the buyer this is obviously easier to do.


If something is required then provide it as per the buyer’s instruction.

If the buyer has allowed additional information by way of attachments don’t use it to send marketing material or treat it as some sort of extension to any word limit. Make sure you answer the questions and use any allowable attachments to enhance your responses.

If the buyer says no attachments other than those specifically asked for, they mean it. Don’t ignore the instruction as you may risk disqualification and your attachments will not be considered anyway.


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