Qualifying the Bid

The G4S debacle we discussed in the last post raised a big issue for bid writers: how to qualify your bid. Is that astonishing £300 million tender opportunity going to turn into a real disaster for your company? Less melodramatically, are your bid writers going to waste weeks of sleepless nights filling out PQQs trying to win a bid you weren’t ever going to win?

Don’t go for every bid

Setting aside an apparent opportunity isn’t the same as wasting one. Trying to win a tender opportunity means putting in an enormous investment in time and energy. Much better to put that effort into a quality proposal than spreading it across dozens of failed prospects.

Before you choose which bids to aim for, read the tender contracts in detail and consider:

  • Are you qualified for the bid? Do you have the right accreditation, the right resources, the right documentation to get through the PQQ? More to the point, can you demonstrate that to the procurer?
  • Is the bid right for your business? Can you demonstrate prior work for clients in the same sector?
  • Do you understand the bid requirements? That unclear pricing structure could really hurt you after the contract is won, as happened to G4S!
  • Who is the buyer? Do you have a relationship with them? Will you be able to establish a dialogue with them? Will they ask you to provide five times the number of personnel you were contracted for at the last minute, and do you have contingency plans if they do?
  • Who are your competitors? Can your bid writers demonstrate why it is that your company will be a better choice?

Get some sleep!

The answers to those questions aren’t always as obvious as they sound, particularly in tender contracts with long or arcane PQQs. Win that Bid has a lot of experience in helping people to get those winning contracts, but also in avoiding two of the great curses of bid writing: wasting time on failed bids, or winning bids that the company was never suitable for in the first place.

Get Tender Ready with The TROC button today

What Does It Mean?

Get Tender Ready with the TROC todayCompanies that have passed the TROC (Tender Readiness Online Check) or otherwise prequalified to respond to large private or public sector invitations to tender may display this symbol.

What Does It Mean For Tendering Authorities And Procurement Officers?

Public Sector organisations should look for this symbol on SME company websites, because:
  • An SME company displaying THE TROC TENDER READY symbol is indicating that it has met the minimum criteria qualifying it to respond to a Public Sector tender
  • This means that the tendering body can confidently approach the company and invite them to participate in a procurement exercise.
  • Looking for the TROC TENDER READY button will help tendering authorities to meet the Government’s aspiration that ‘25% of public sector contracts should be awarded to SMEs’.

The TROC Tender Ready symbol is a private sector initiative, with no government funding or taxpayers’ money involved.

Companies who have successfully completed and passed a Public Sector PQQ or won a contract within the last TWELVE months should contact info@procurementconnection.org.uk to get their badge and press pack.

It’s up to the both the Private and Public Sectors, as well as the press and other media organisations, to raise awareness of the TROC Tender Ready symbol: it will help procurement officers to identify ‘Tender Ready’ busineeses and therefore help more SMEs to win Public Sector contracts.

New tender opportunities in Defence?

The Defence white paper released on 1st February 2012 has some important news for bid writers. Notably, it raises the possibility that the MOD will be procuring from a much wider range of sources than they had been previously. The paper states:

“Wherever possible, we will seek to fulfil the UK’s defence and security requirements through open competition in the domestic and global market, buying off-the-shelf where appropriate”

It is debatable how far this aim will be met. It will meet resistance from both vested interests in the defence industry and a number of powerful arguments about the practicalities of defending the nation using equipment sourced from outside. This makes it difficult for bid writers to predict exactly how MOD tenders will work in the future.

The MOD has made some more concrete initiatives of interest to bid writers. The threshold for advertising tendering opportunities has been reduced by 75% to £10,000 and they can now be found on Contracts Finder. Internal guidelines are being changed to ensure that PQQs produced by SMEs are not rejected on the basis of rigid turnover-to-contract value ratios without proper assessment of companies’ actual capacity and potential. This, along with the new Defence Suppliers Forum might present new tendering opportunities for bid writers in the future.

New procurement rules in Scotland

The Sustainable Procurement Bill passing through the Scottish Parliament aims to open up new public sector opportunities by making the public sector tender process more standardised and transparent.

Complaints in the construction industry were a major driving force behind this bill. Industry leaders have been complaining that the existing construction tender rules were unfit for purpose and exacerbating the decline of the sector.

The Scottish government claims that the Sustainable Procurement Bill would ensure that:

  • contract opportunities are advertised or awarded through Public Contracts Scotland;
  • public bodies adopt streamlined procurement processes friendly to Scottish businesses;
  • smaller and medium companies have more opportunities to win public sector tenders.

Alex Neil (MSP) also emphasised that community benefit clauses will be an important part of the new procurement rules. He stated that the “bill will seek to ensure that major public contracts deliver training and employment opportunities”.

If it passes this bill will obviously offer advantages to Scottish businesses aiming for construction tenders. However, the simpler public sector tender processes ought to make it easier for other companies as well, especially those that emphasise their CSR and training programmes.

Knocked out at PQQ stage? Learn how to get feedback

Writing a tender for the vast majority of public tender contracts in the UK will involve filling out a PQQ. There are plenty of suppliers eager to fill those tender contracts and so the contracting authorities use them to keep the number of tenders they look at manageable. This can raise problems for suppliers that we’ve discussed before.

However, even if you do provide everything requested by the PQQ , it’s still possible to get knocked out at this early stage. It isn’t always easy to find out why you’ve missed out on a contract at the tender stage, let alone the PQQs.  For this reason it is important to know what the regulations are.

Regular 29A of the Public Contracts (Amendment) Regulations 2009 states that a contracting authority must notify an applicant of exclusion from the process. Regulation 32 then clarifies that the contracting authority must provide reasons for this decision, including details of why successful candidates progressed.

It is important to ascertain what went wrong in a failed PQQ so you can use that information the next time you find yourself writing a tender. Win that Bid can help you analyse the feedback you received and help you seize the next opportunity.

The economics of the sandwich

Lothian and Borders Police has come in for a bit of ridicule lately, following news that they had issued an incredibly complex PQQ describing their sandwich needs in pedantic detail. Other recent stories include complaints about construction tenders with over one hundred questions and extremely high accreditation requirements. These can seem like impossible hurdles for public sector bid writers. The solutions don’t seem immediately obvious: after all, a few weeks before the newspapers ran their story about sandwiches-by-committee, they ran a different story about widespread (and viscerally detailed!) complaints among the police about the standard of catering in the organisation. Lothian and Borders Police clearly felt they needed to respond with stringent quality requirements in their tender contracts!

How can companies cope with these problems?

It is worth complaining to the government’s mystery shopper program if you find yourself confronted with a public sector tender PQQ request that seems insurmountable for anyone other than an established supplier. Blanket requests for ISO accreditation or similar is probably the most common stumbling block for tender writers. In particular, companies tendering for contracts in the environmental sector have a real problem with ISO14001, which is time consuming and expensive to implement.

The good news is that the Cabinet Office has already taken action to provide alternatives: An example would be that of TUCO, the University Catering Organisation, which was asked to review its PQQ requirements after complaints that it asked too much in ISO accreditation from suppliers. Obviously, procurers have a right to ask for guarantees that their tenders will be fulfilled: now they are simply being asked to provide alternative ways of providing those guarantees. Most of the irreconcilable problems surrounding public sector tender PQQs will relate to the council’s transparency requirements.

Bid writers going for government tenders in the UK should not be afraid to make complaints about poorly written PQQs or confusing requirements. In recent months Win that Bid has seen some particularly egregious examples of poorly constructed PQQs – the inexperienced procurement team in Northern Ireland is a particular offender! This is something that the government seems genuinely intent on changing. In the meantime, it is important to pick the right tender for your business, and Win that Bid can help you find tenders.

Getting the Basics Right

The basic strategy for getting through complex public sector tenders is to be prepared for them in advance. After a few UK tender bids a bid writer will have a library of policies and documents ready to go. It’s worth getting started on building that library now so you can be ready to take the next big opportunity – one thing you really need to avoid is going in unprepared and rushing to hand in the bid at the last minute. To help you along, Win that Bid’s bid management service can advise you on putting together everything you’ll need.

Tender Writing Insights: The Devil is in the Detail

When it comes to completing PQQs or tender writing the devil is often in the detail especially the closer you get to the submission deadline.

Take for example a company Win That Bid worked with a few years ago. The PQQ was for a contract with the Irish Government. At short notice, the client had asked us to complete the tender writing part of the PQQ and help them develop their win themes. All very straightforward and as often happens on the final day we worked onsite to ready the submission which included the PQQ submission itself and all associated documentation such as insurance certificates, health & safety policy, accounts, etc. Job complete we left the client’s office. Some weeks later we received news the PQQ had been unsuccessful, the reasons; the health & safety policy hadn’t been signed and the the insurance certificates weren’t included. How could this be? We knew they were in the pack before we left. It turned out the secretary in charge of sending the PQQ to Dublin with two days until the deadline automatically put it in the normal post. On realising the error of her ways she quickly printed out the pack again and sent it by courier. Of course this was the first submission received as well as the one which arrived prior to the deadline and therefore was the one marked by the procurement team.

The moral of the story – do not leave your tender writing and PQQ submission until the last minute whether its submitted by post or via an online portal. From the off, create a timetable of deliverables to lead you to two or three days prior to submission and build in some slack.

For all your PQQ, tender writing or bid co-ordination needs contact hello@winthatbid.com or give us a call on 0203 405 1850.

Are you ready for the Bribery Act?

The Bribery Act 2010 is due to come into effect very soon but are you prepared for the change it will bring?

Increasingly, public sector tenders require the supplier to explain their anti-bribery and anti-corruption processes and procedures. Despite a number of delays The Bribery Act is now due to come into force on 1st July 2011. The purpose of the Act amongst other things will be to:

  • provide a more effective legal framework to combat bribery in the public or private sectors
  • create two general offences covering the offering, promising or giving of an advantage, and requesting, agreeing to receive or accepting of an advantage
  • create a discrete offence of bribery of a foreign public official
  • create a new offence of failure by a commercial organisation to prevent a bribe being paid for or on its behalf (it will be a defence if the organisation has adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery
  • replace the fragmented and complex offences at common law and in the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889-1916
  • require the Secretary of State to publish guidance about procedures that relevant commercial organisations can put in place to prevent bribery on their behalf
  • help tackle the threat that bribery poses to economic progress and development around the world.

The Ministry of Justice published updated procedure guidance on 30th March 2011 that can be put into place by commercial organisations. The report advises that an organisation can form a case against the offence of failing to prevent bribery providing that they can prove adequate procedures are in place in the organisation. This is under section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010.

The guidance sets out six principles that will assist commercial organisations with planning, implementing, monitoring and reviewing their business to ensure it is bribery free.

The principles are:

  1. Proportionate procedures
  2. Top level commitment
  3. Risk assessment
  4. Due diligence
  5. Communication
  6. Monitoring and Review

After each principle there are suggested practical guidelines to help your organisation address them. This designates control to the organisations to review their business and undertake the relevant risk assessments to determine whether or not their procedures are sufficiently robust. If your organisation does not meet the required standard, you are advised to implement anti-bribery procedures as soon as possible.

The guidance presents a risk based approach to adopting the sufficient procedures and acknowledges that different procedures will suit different organisations depending on

  • size of the company
  • markets in which the business operates in
  • the nature of the company’s business partners and transactions.

If you are flummoxed with your obligations under this new act or are having difficulties with any aspect of your bids and tenders, Win That Bid is simply a phone call away.

Tender Writing Insights: What no PQQ, Francis Maude?

The hills are alive with the gentle rumblings and occasional cheers about the possibility of scrapping the PQQ (pre-qualifying questionnaire) stage of the public tender process.

Francis Maude has confirmed that by scraping certain parts of the PQQ process, it will help encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to win public sector contracts. Nice sentiment but is it really going to help the SME? At Win That Bid, we spend some of our working day with clients to help them with the tender writing and PQQ process and quite frankly some of them are so badly written and poorly assembled, you wander what the Buyer was thinking of. Maybe they were thinking of what they were going to do at the weekend or what they are going to have for lunch, definitely not thinking about the job in hand. Often they are riddled with errors, contradictory text and have confusing sentence structures which all add to the hassle of the tender writing task.

Inspite of these frustrations, we must remember that the questionnaire stage serves an important purpose. It helps the buyer reduce the amount of unsuitable bidders whilst suppliers spend a fraction of the time finding out whether they are/are not suitable. Imagine if the way to win contracts meant going straight to tender? This would mean that SME would have to spend much more time tendering to no avail which could ultimately mean less companies compete. Francis Maude’s intention is good, however, perhaps he needs to think about his approach. Perhaps it is not the process that is at fault, more the interpretation by buyers.

Often irrelevant questions are asked and demands for policies and procedures need to be met even if they have nothing to do with demonstrating one’s capability at delivering the actual service. Francis Maude should focus on delivering more training and guidelines to buyers as well as reviewing the PQQ process to ensure the all important fairness to the SME market.

What do you think? Tell us or drop us a line on any aspect of the tender writing process.

Why aren’t your PQQs being shortlisted?

When assisting clients with their pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) you’d be amazed at just how often we see the same mistakes rear their heads time and time again. And if we notice them, you can bet your prospect will too. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation – you know you have to improve your responses, but each practice PQQ is a missed contract and worse still possibly a dent in your reputation.

To help you try to identify where you might be going wrong we’ve decided to let you in on the top 3 PQQ blunders that in our experience prevent suppliers from getting shortlisted:

Strike One: Not proof reading! You’d think this one was obvious. The main culprits are;

  • Concentrating on the narrative questions and not spending enough time on the detail of shorter responses
  • Cutting and pasting text from different drafts
  • And the really embarrassing one, using content from old PQQs and forgetting to change the details!

These kind of mistakes disrupt the flow of reading and can start to distract from what you’re trying to say. And in the case of using copied text from former PQQs they say to the buyer that you aren’t taking them seriously, therefore how on earth will you be able to deliver the contract?

Often clients have proof read their documents, they just haven’t done it well enough or because they have written it struggle to see the wood from the trees.

Tip One: finish your response in good time and ask a colleague to give it a good proof read.

Strike Two: Not taking maximum advantage of your word limit! What a waste! The buyer has given you a set amount of space to tell them about your company, and you leave it blank?! It may be difficult to think of how best to structure your answers, but you should always aim to use as much of the allotted space as you can. Lots of blank space can create the impression that you don’t have much to offer.

Tip Two: Decide what’s important to the buyer in this section. Consider why have they asked this question. What would be the ideal answer?

Strike Three: Not selling your business! It may feel strange to blow your own trumpet so shamelessly but don’t forget this is a competition. The buyer will have a ton of documents to read through and if you don’t convince them that your company is the best then you won’t be shortlisted. If you understate your capabilities and achievements the buyer will reach for the next PQQ, so make sure they know you’re the best.

Tip Three: Before getting into the content, identify your story. Why are you better than your competitors and why should you win this contract. Carry this theme throughout the PQQ.

So there you have it, three simple rules for success. We know that this is only a small part of growing your business, but at times like these every little helps. Every PQQ is important, so don’t waste your chances.