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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Mysteries of the Cabinet Office

Over the last year you may have seen mentions in this blog of the Cabinet Office’s “mystery shopper” initiative, an enterprise that offers businesses the chance to ‘shop’ bad public procurement practice.

They’ve finally released their first progress report, and it makes for fascinating reading.

They’ve investigated over 300 complaints. Of those grievances:

  • 81% of all cases raised issues with the procurement process.
  • 38% of complaints concerned the problems faced by SMEs in dealing with very complicated (and long!) PQQs.
  • Unachievable financial requirements were repeatedly cited as a major problem for SMEs.

The Cabinet Office claims to have been able to bring about a positive change in 4 out of 5 cases investigated. Among the successes they cite: reducing the required insurance levels for a British Council contract by 50% to 90%, settling invoices left unpaid by Imperial College Healthcare and working with the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation to smooth their procurement process.

Tender specifications came up for special criticism, either for being too complex or too prescriptive. Problems with insurance requirements were a repeated issue. Several cases (usually involving NHS trusts) required companies to have required insurance at the time of bidding, rather than in time for the contract itself. This was one area in which the Cabinet Office was able to make changes.

7% of issues dealt with the contracting process after the bid. A lack of clarity surrounding the end of contracts was something flagged up for attention. Other issues involved e-procurement systems. In one case, two companies with very similar names submitted similar bids, resulting in one company being entirely ignored.

The mystery shopper programme is one of the more realistic initiatives to have come out of the Cabinet Office under the current government. Unlike more top down initiatives it can respond to specific process problems quickly, sometimes during a live bid.

The Public Procurement process can be deeply intimidating for small companies with limited resources. However, in the event of unfair or dubious decisions there are recourses SMEs can take, the mystery shopper programme included. Win that Bid’s consultants have lots of experience on both sides of the fence: we can help you make the best decisions.

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.

Technically Speaking

Readers of this blog will have seen many admonitions against boilerplate, jargon and overly complex technical data. However, there will be times – especially in the method statement – that this can’t be avoided.

Some of the usual basic rules apply:

  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it focused on the client
  • Avoid complicated terminology
  • Avoid long polysyllables in general (if like me you had to look that up, you know why!)
  • Use the client’s terminology

What will the reader focus on?

Informed, technically minded readers will be looking for accuracy and so it is imperative that your data is correct. This is especially important when submitting similar but distinct data across different lots. Be really careful when reformatting complex tables – it could mess up or remove entire columns of data.

More pragmatic thinkers will be looking for simple illustrations of your point and win theme. Bid writers need to strike a balance between impact and legibility on the one hand and specific detail on the other. In all cases make sure your charts are large and legible. Don’t be afraid to put complex charts into separate appendices.

A bid writer’s data needs to be backed up. A reader won’t automatically believe that you’re capable of meeting the terms of a security tender just because you lay out the particulars of how you would do it. Details of your experience and benchmarking will help, and will often be what less informed readers will look for first.

Is this necessary?

Ask whether your technical details are necessary. Often, bid writers will be asked to provide specifics. In that case, provide everything requested – but if they didn’t ask for something, ask yourself how the technical data relates to your message and win theme. If you can take it out without reducing the impact of your message, do so.

Focus on specific benefits to the client

When discussing technical detail, bid writers should focus on the benefits of the client. If your magnificent new threshing machine reduces fuel costs by a third, discuss how that will help the client’s bottom line rather than spending paragraphs on self-congratulation and long, specific explanations of which semi-legal uses of vegetable oil were used to achieve it.

The client will want certainty (especially for security tenders and the like). The buyer will want to know whether your processes work, and especially what will happen if some part of them fails to work. They will want to know that your product will be the solution to their problem, rather than a source of new ones.

Your technical statements are there to prove that. Win that Bid can help you strike the balance between legibility and detail.

Processing your Proposal

Submitting a winning bid is an enormous task. The method statement alone might consist of 10 or 15 different documents and dozens of appendices. The final process of assembling a tender proposal often involves an enormous deluge of information, emails and revisions, during which time there isn’t time to stop and think. This is one of the reasons it is so important to take stock after the proposal for the tender opportunity has been submitted.

How effectively did the team work together?

Even when the bid writing team is working well together, there can be problems which effect the creation of the tender proposal. These often involve lines of communication, especially during the review process. It is important to ensure that the team is aware of where their different responsibilities lie. Creating checklists and document folders available simultaneously to the entire team can be a great help.

How effective was communication between the bid team and other people involved?

During a large proposal the bid writing team may well have needed a great deal of technical information for method statements or financial documents. A delay here can be a real bottleneck in submitting the final tender proposal.

Again, problems here can often be down to failures in communication. After submitting the tender proposal, discuss where those problems occurred and what can be done to ameliorate them later.

What can be done to improve on the process?

There will be times during a bid where you will wish you had done something in a different order or used a different method. During the final assembly of the bid there often isn’t time to implement that change.

After the bid, note down the problems that occurred and the solutions that came to mind. Take the chance to update your internal process documents or create a checklist of things to assess when going for the next tender opportunity. Win that Bid can help you assess your processes to make them even more effective.

Paying attention to EU procurement rules so you don’t have to

The Cabinet Office has released a Procurement Policy Note (PPN) discussing the latest results of negotiations in Brussels about changing the procurement rules which ultimately define public sector tenders. These EU rules can be a bit obscure and so it is interesting to get a window into the process and progress of these discussions.

There are a few specific areas of interest to bid writers within the document.

Reducing minimum timescales

The government has supported proposals to reduce the minimum timescales for responding to advertised procurements and preparing tender documents. So far a reduction from 40 to 35 days has been agreed upon, under the open procedure.

Increasing the use of self-declarations

Regular readers of this blog will have seen several articles about government initiatives (not to mention scandals and complaints from business) surrounding the length and requirements of public sector tender PQQ documents. The latest response is to increase the use of self-declarations, whereby only the winning bidder must submit documents and certificates proving their status, while self-declarations of compliance must be accepted by the procurement officers up to that point. This will be a welcome change for SMEs and smaller bidders, if it isn’t open to abuse.

Financial Requirements for SMEs

The Cabinet Office has continued to argue that SME business should be encouraged by breaking large bids into lots, at the discretion of the purchasing authority. It also wants to reduce the turnover requirements relative to contract size. Together with proposals in favour of “innovative public service delivery-agents” such as employee owned “mutual”, these are further moves in favour of diversifying the pool of bidders from which governments and public sector purchasing authorities draw their contracts.

The final results of these discussions will probably be adopted in early 2013. Win that Bid can help bid writers keep up to date with the latest public sector tender developments.

Believe in your Corporate Social Responsibility policy!

The Carbon Disclosure Project, a non-profit devoted to encouraging more environmentally responsible practices in business has released a report on “supplier management”. In particular, it highlights the increasing willingness of companies to drop suppliers who don’t abide by their CSR policies or environmental promises.

There are several reasons for this. The first is arguably the desire of large companies to “greenwash” their image, particularly now that scandalous practices in offshore manufacturing (notably those effecting Apple in China last year) are becoming much less easier for multinationals to hide.

The other driving force is a growing awareness of the financial benefits of cutting emissions within their supply chains. Many large companies have achieved savings in their own internal systems but according to the UK Carbon Trust fewer than half of multi-nationals (40%) are addressing their “upstream” emissions, i.e those generated by their suppliers. Ultimately, rising energy and commodity prices mean that more efficient, sustainable practices will become ever more important in keeping costs down, and this will become important in private sector tenders.

Businesses writing tenders are being encouraged to optimise their logistical processes, focusing on reducing waste and improving their environmental practices, two activities which almost always complement each other. Private sector tenders will be looking for companies that accept the necessity of environmental corporate social responsibility and more importantly can prove that they have implemented their strategies. Win that Bid can help companies writing tenders make their CSR as relevant and attractive as possible.

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.

The Bribery Act 2010 in force

You might have seen some conflicting news reports about the Bribery Act lately. Notably, the legal firm Ernst & Young recently polled company employees and found that only 6% of companies surveyed believed that the Bribery Act compliance rules had affected their business. That said, the Bribery Act 2010 is also very young – the first person to be sentenced under the terms of the act was sent down on the 18th of November 2011.

He wasn’t some high flying CEO handing over diamonds in exchange for winning an oil contract or for favour in a weapons contract bid but a 22 year old court clerk from Redbridge called Munir Yakub Patel. His six year sentence (which could have been somewhat worse had he not pleaded guilty very quickly) has been taken as proof that the courts intend to take the act seriously. However, since he was a public employee, it is difficult to glean any information about how the courts intend to treat businesses in anti-corruption cases.

The big thing that everyone should take away from the sentence is this: Munir Yakub Patel didn’t offer a bribe, he took one. This is why the Royal Mail have been issuing guidelines warning postmen not to take Christmas tips worth more than £30 and this is why companies need to know the compliance rules so they don’t inadvertently find themselves in unexpected legal trouble by taking a gift they shouldn’t have done.

The Bribery Act 2010 is especially unclear on the subject of gifts between companies. The Ministry of Justice didn’t specify any monetary value above which the act comes into force which can leave companies open to unexpected legal challenges.  A company can cover itself by having a clear and public policy regarding gifts, including a maximum monetary value.

Things to consider

When choosing “reasonable and proportionate gifts” it is important to consider the context. Giving a lavish gift to a retiring client shouldn’t present a problem since there isn’t any intent for the recipient to act improperly in exchange. Similarly, presenting a gift in recognition of a job already accomplished is generally acceptable. Companies should be more circumspect when exchanging gifts in an ongoing business relationship.  The general consensus appears to be that “reasonable and proportionate” gifts include items like calendars and USB sticks. Be careful with expensive alcoholic beverages and avoid things like expensive jewellery, Christmas hampers and foreign trips.

Another reason to have a clear policy is that companies can now be found liable for failing to prevent employees or contractors from taking or receiving bribes. This makes it especially important for expanding businesses involved in multiple tenders or business relationships to have a clear anti-corruption policy that all employees are aware of, simply to protect themselves. It wouldn’t be worth the cost of a legal wrangle if an employee inadvertently takes a £200 bottle of champagne from a contractor and gets called up before the courts! For this reason the company’s policy on bribery should also be provided to suppliers and other relevant business contacts such as those bidding for tenders so that they don’t inadvertently expose the company to legal trouble.

In addition to the arrest of Munir Yakub Patel, fines have also been brought against a number of large corporations. It is likely that 2012 will be the year that the Bribery Act 2010 comes into its own and the year in which business finds out how the courts intend to apply it. To ensure your business doesn’t face undue problems, read the act, draw up a simple compliance policy and ensure that your employees are aware of it. Those simple steps will do a lot to limit the exposure of any company to the new anti-corruption rules. Win that Bid’s bid management and co-ordination service can help get all your documents in order and fill in any gaps.

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.