What’s a response library?
A response library, tender library or bid library, is a set of semi-standard answers containing information you are most likely to be asked in any given tender.
On the surface, a response library seems like a no-brainer – the aim is to maintain a collection of answers to previous bids, relevant and/or related information, policies, process documents, certifications and so on, that will save you vast amounts of time when responding to your next bid.
However, response libraries have both advantages and disadvantages:
- Major time savings can be made by collating all information relating to certain topics. This information can be used as a starting point for your next response, allowing you to cut and paste details, sentences or whole paragraphs without needing to write the full response from scratch each time.
- Policies, process/operational documents and certifications can be saved to and accessed from one place and updated as necessary, ensuring that the correct version is always available for use in your next tender response.
- All of your staff can contribute to and use the library, ensuring a more consistent style and approach throughout your bid. It also helps new bid writing staff to get up to speed swiftly.
Response libraries are very useful for:
Responding to a number of bids that are extremely similar in scope, e.g. all from the same or similar tendering authorities and/or for the delivery of the same or very similar goods and services.
- Conversely, valuable time can be squandered when trying to shoe-horn ‘standard’ answers that don’t quite fit that particular question into your response. This is an easy trap to fall into – often, it’s only on a second reading and understanding of the question that it becomes clear more is needed than what’s currently in the library. And if you haven’t calculated that into your original time schedule it can make for a very stressful last minute rush.
- Likewise, it can be overwhelming to try to distil and cram in all of the information you have on a topic into a very tight word limit. Choosing what to keep and what to leave out can be time consuming and frustrating.
- It can also be hard to develop a consistent structure for your library in a way that makes it truly easy to search for and find the relevant information, as many bids ask for different things in different areas. For instance, it seems sensible enough to put everything related to, say, quality into a ‘quality’ section but in reality individual bids might ask for specifics about quality in other areas, e.g. performance management. And then aspects of performance management might be alluded to in, say, staff training etc. and so on. So it becomes a maze of interlinked information that may be difficult to untangle at speed when responding to another tender.
- Libraries need regular attention. Many well organised and well considered libraries start out well but later descend into chaos, partly because, once a deadline is out of the way, the last thing anyone wants (or has time) to do is go through it all again, dissect each answer and add the good bits into the library; people are just relieved to have finished the bid and want to forget about it! This can often lead to the library becoming more of a dumping ground than a carefully curated resource; the once useful store of information becomes yet another pile of stuff to sort through – which takes time – and eventually the library is ignored in favour of either writing from scratch or cutting and pasting from the last bid. Valuable nuggets of information then get lost in the mists of time and never seen again.
Response libraries are not quite as useful for:
Responding to a diverse range of bids, e.g. from different types of tendering authority and/or for the delivery of different goods and services. While the library may have a certain amount of useful information, semi-standard answers inevitably need more re-writing for each individual bid.
Be realistic in your aims for your library and in your expectations of how much time it will save you when writing your bid responses. An effective response library will be a well balanced mix of:
- Standard, rarely changing information, which can be updated as and when necessary, e.g. technical product specifications, policies, company processes, operational procedures, staff training schedules and qualifications, certifications etc.
- Semi-standard information that may require some minimal tweaking to fit each particular bid, e.g. service and delivery management processes, account management team structures, how you will ensure the required Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) will be met, distribution of management information reports etc.
For the majority of bids, there will also be a requirement for non-standard, non-library information that will need writing from scratch for each individual bid, e.g. pricing structures, specific (and sometimes seemingly random!) responses to questions relating solely to the individual authority etc.
You will also need:
- Someone to maintain responsibility for the library – this person should be the ‘gatekeeper’, ensuring that the library is kept up to date and doesn’t become a dumping ground for irrelevant and/or duplicate information.
- A simple but efficient way of structuring your library, so that people can easily search for and find the information they are looking for. How this should be developed for your company is largely down to how your staff access information already – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution unfortunately.
- A routine way of examining bids, prior to starting your response, to determine how much standard, semi-standard and non-standard information will be needed, and then allocate tasks and time accordingly.
- Patience and optimism! Like a garden, a good library doesn’t spring up overnight. It will become more fruitful as time goes on – but only if it’s regularly pruned, fed and weeded 😉
(Hat tip to Chris S; this post is an expansion on my answer to his query in the UK Bid Writers Guild forum. It’s also something I’ve been pondering about a lot recently, having several clients who want to streamline their bid writing processes)