How To Win Bids and Tenders

Wondering how to go about winning bids and tenders? Writing first-class bids isn’t an exact science – but at Win That Bid, we’ve got the expertise to help you secure your dream contracts with ease.

Top Ten Tips for Winning Tenders

1.    Be thorough: answer every question in the bid document – missing out a couple of vital questions can lose you the entire bid.

2.    Know your marketplace (competitors & pricing): spend time researching your competitors and understand their pricing prior to the bid writing process.

3.    Appeal to your reader: offer persuasive, benefit-led responses and think about the customer – what’s important to them? What are they looking for in their supplier?  Don’t simply provide a list of features – if you want to win tenders, take your responses one step further and state the benefits.

4.    Have a model: build a library of standard PQQ and tender responses – save documents such as insurance certificates, policies and yearly accounts in one place that is easily accessible by others in the company.

5.    Outdo yourself: don’t leave your tender until the last minute – make sure that you have dedicated ample time and resources to produce the best possible result. If you can’t submit your best effort for this bid, why you are submitting at all?

6.    Be decisive: make a conscious decision to bid – if you are tendering ‘just because’, this is not the recipe for a winning bid.

7.    Discriminate: can you deliver this tender? Do you want to win this bid? If you win, what will happen to your other contracts? Make sure you’re bidding for business you really want.

8.    Understand the bid requirements – and adhere to them.

9.    Know your audience: read the bid evaluation criteria – what’s most important to the customer?

10.  Be proactive: engage with the customer – being invited to bid is a compliment, and likely to put your submission in a stronger position than a cold response.

 

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Laying the procurement pipeline

New information has emerged from the Cabinet Office describing the £84bn ‘procurement pipeline’ planned for the next five years. Covering 18 business sectors, the pipeline lays out the government’s anticipated project needs over the next few years. Notices of this kind have been published since November 2011; the most recent announcement adds professional services, financial services, waste management, and fire services.

The government’s goal is to make it easier for companies to plan ahead, something that has traditionally been difficult for organisations working with the public sector. Skills gaps can be identified and dealt with earlier. Moreover, it is evidence of a laudable transparency in government spending that can only help improve processes and efficiency.

Back in April business secretary Vince Cable laid out the reasoning behind these plans. “Frankly, we’ve been too short-term in how we’ve done procurement in the past. Our key competitors in Europe already see procurement as an integral part of a proper industrial strategy and it’s time we did the same.” Recent procurement scandals and political rows have made it difficult for the government to prove it has any kind of industrial policy at all, and rather overshadowed the wave of initiatives, ideas and proposals streaming out of the cabinet office.

This initiative comes at a time when many businesses reliant on government contracts (especially those devoted to major infrastructure projects) are struggling. Construction giant Balfour Beatty recently issued a profit warning based on a dearth of major schemes, while a former Laing O’Rourke executive recently told the press that lack of infrastructure investment and planning in the UK would lead his ambitions elsewhere. Infrastructure schemes have fallen by half in the year to October, while £3bn of construction work is behind schedule or even entirely halted as a result of planning appeals. Friends and colleagues in the construction sector have sitting around waiting for suitable bids to emerge.

The Pipeline can give companies time to plan ahead which they might not have had before. Win that Bid’s vast experience in a number of sectors can help you make best use of that time, to be ready to grab the opportunities ahead.

Virgin Rail and the right to challenge

The origins of the Virgin Rail scandal last month rapidly became lost in the recrimination and blame, as the Department for Transport attempt to apportion culpability and pundits discuss the role and capabilities of the civil service. When self-styled “tie-wearing adventurer” Richard Branson launched his legal challenge to the West Coast franchise decision two months ago, it was widely regarded as a knee-jerk, even ill-considered action of a man known for scrappy battles on behalf of his business.

The DfT was due to award a long term franchise to FirstGroup until “significant technical flaws” became evident during their preparations for the Virgin lawsuit. These flaws became evident in the risk assessments of First’s winning bid.

Virgin faced substantial risks in mounting a challenge to the DfT. Some of these risks were revealed in the initial media coverage of the challenge that portrayed Richard Branson as an opportunist and a sore loser (not helped by Virgin Rail’s relatively poor public reputation). If the legal case had failed Virgin’s commercial reputation (and finances) would have suffered.

They had a number of options, all of them risky:

Under Public Procurement law Virgin could mount a formal challenge. To do this they would have to allege that the contracting authority has run the process in an unfair or opaque manner. If they were successful in this, the contract award would have to be suspended while the issue is resolved – allowing more time to discover exactly what happened (and why they lost).

Their second option would be a judicial review. They would need to show a public interest in such an action – easily achieved, given the political climate – but the latter stage would be more difficult. Virgin would essentially have to prove that no reasonable authority would have made the contract decision. Before the events of last month, this was considered unlikely to happen.

In the event, Virgin were able to prove that large parts of the process was flawed. The DfT has spent the last few weeks apportioning blame, mainly directing it at the civil servants involved. In turn, there has been a lot of scrutiny directed at the structure of the procurement process –

A great many qualified professionals have been lured out the public sector by higher wages in recent months, and this, combined with poor systems of review, greatly contributed to the fiasco. We have been discussing government initiatives on this blog for months – all of them seem doomed to failure if the Civil Service can’t do something to arrest the skills gap in government procurement.

Richard Branson’s decision to challenge has been vindicated. The DfT has ordered a number of independent reviews and Virgin has been awarded a short term contract under circumstances that some rivals claim were actively uncompetitive (there should have been a tender for the contract extension). Since the fiasco Virgin has changed strategy dramatically, aiming to expand its market share into the East Coast lines that GNER and National Express mismanaged back into government hands three years ago (under contracts similar to the one offered to FirstGroup). They will likely also retain the West Coast franchise in the long term, if they can see off competition from Abellio.

Virgin Rail weighed up the risks inherent in challenging the bid and made the strategic decision to do. Meanwhile, we’ve been noticing that numerous tenders are having their deadlines put back – maybe as a result of jumpy procurement officials? Win that Bid can help you weigh up the risks in your own bids, and comprehend the contracting authority.

New risks and opportunities for consultants in the public sector.

The government wants to cut down on the amount it spends on consultants. In the last year it cut its consultancy spending by almost two thirds. The latest change was announced by the Cabinet Office last month. All consultancy contracts worth over £100,000 will be have to be procured by means of a framework agreement called ConsultancyONE. This will replace any existing framework agreements and last for a duration of 4 years. The government wants to supervise consultancy related public sector tenders more closely.

The change in the framework presents both risks and opportunities for consultancies. Bid writers will find contracts easier to find and pursue – there will be more details provided in the OJEU notice and the PQQ has been simplified. Bid writers will no longer need previous experience of working in the public sector is no longer required. Moreover, the framework will breakdown into much smaller lots for specialist consultancy. This ought to make it much easier for smaller, specialist consultancies (especially SMEs) to meet the requirements of public sector tenders. Larger consultancy companies may be forced to reconsider their existing strategy when faced with these new competitors.

Procurement – Carbon Footprints

May 2011 saw the publication of a report outlining Bristol City Council’s Carbon Footprint that related directly to procurement activity.  [Please see the full report: Carbon Footprint of Procurement] Will we see more local authorities asking questions on carbon footprints? Probably not!

The report does provide a response to the question ‘is the Carbon Foot a consideration for procurement teams’?  In basic terms the answer is ‘yes – BUT’. That but is always going to be there as cost is always a key consideration that outweighs marginal or woolly statements.

If it is not a primary consideration we need to really review what steps suppliers can take to ensure that carbon reduction targets are built into their responses in a way that does add value, has potential to score points and builds a credible, measureable indicator for the buyers without saddling the supplier with unnecessary burdens .

Carbon reduction will reduce operational costs in the long run, however for it to be really effective in council target terms it needs to have an annual impact that stands scrutiny.

Suppliers working in the areas listed should look at the development of their carbon reduction strategy for procurement as an opportunity to add value:

  • Construction
  • Sewage treatment and disposal
  • Refuse disposal
  • Waste Management
  • Community Services  including Health care

We should all be continually looking at our energy reduction targets, how we access our own services and materials with effective carbon management systems.

However most companies when asked will not have a clear understanding of what their carbon footprint is or how to measure it.

Therefore in our energy conscious market anything that demonstrates a clear commitment to sustainability and environmental management systems should include a carbon management plan.

A recent update to the EU Guide encouraged procurement teams to use environmental criteria in scoring tenders, note the point made:

“Applying environmental award criteria may make sense, for example, if you are not sure of the cost and/ or market availability of products, works or services which meet certain environmental objectives. By including these factors in your award criteria, you are able to weigh them against other factors including cost.” Section 5.2 of Buying Green 2nd Edition – EU Guide 2011 [Italics ours]

So to meet the environmental objectives the core of the response needs to offer better value and additionality that will make a real difference in the context of the council targets. Where do you begin? Possibly with these five steps:

1.       Measure/Audit your Carbon Footprint

2.       Report the results annually

3.       Provide evidence of reduction targets and how you are meeting them

4.       Substituting with less-carbon-intensive alternatives

5.       Renew the scheme regularly as products change

Suppliers can have a significant impact on Public Sector targets by adopting an EMS with a Carbon Reporting element, it may not be required in the Tender but it will not go unnoticed.

Do carbon footprints count? Yes if you link them to a carbon reduction plan and an environmental management system. These are much easier to introduce and will reward suppliers with an additional competitive edge.

Tender Writing Insights: What is a Framework Agreement?

A framework agreement is an opportunity for you, the supplier, to be included in a shortlist of suppliers for a fixed period (eg. 4 years). Whether it’s worth your time depends partly on how fairly the buyer allocates work within the shortlisted suppliers.

Our experienced consultants have worked for most large buyers, so we have inside knowledge that we use when selecting suitable tenders and framework agreements to recommend to you as part of our bid management and co-ordination service.

Framework agreements are much bigger and meatier than your average PQQ and you will need to set plenty of time aside to complete.

Buyers like framework agreements because they are a useful way of procuring services. They offer:

  • continuous improvement within long-term relationships
  • better value and greater community wealth
  • reduced transaction costs

If you want to try to win a framework agreement, consider these:

  • You will be on a supplier list of many
  • There is no guarantee of work, so before making a start on the lengthy documentation, always try to get to know the buyer and whether they are fair in sharing the work around the list of suppliers (ask us)

From the buyer’s viewpoint, a framework agreement is a way to procure products and services over a period of time for a number of projects or schemes. The implications for a local supply chain can be adverse if local suppliers are excluded in favour of national companies.

Some of our clients have said that they spent too much time writing a tender for a framework agreement, winning the contract to much excitement and then not receiving a jot of work from it.  Others have built their business success on winning a framework agreement where the work has been fairly shared between the suppliers.

What have been your experiences on winning framework agreements (or losing them)? We would love to hear your thoughts on this or any aspect of the tender writing process. Drop us a line at hello@winthatbid.com, give us a call on 0208 405 1850 or contact us on Twitter.

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