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.

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.

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.

Changes to government IT procurement

A new IT procurement framework worth £1bn pounds has been announced by the Government Procurement Service. Recently, the government has had some problems with IT public sector tenders, reflecting badly on both its IT procurement methods but also on the obsolete legacy systems being used across the public sector.  It is hoped that this framework will help all government departments (from local authorities to the ministries, the NHS and even the BBC) buy a vast range of different IT services and improve the entire tendering process.

As detailed in the the contract notice, the framework is divided into 35 contract lots each lasting at least two years. These cover a very wide range of different services from “Big Data” (processing and managing large quantities of information) to customer relationship management tools. Other areas covered include various geographical services, HR, and IT security services.

The new IT procurement framework comes hot on the heels of the government’s announcement that it had prepared a list of approved suppliers for the Public Services Network, a marketplace for public sector tenders surrounding communications services that the government hopes will reduce costs. This 28 member list includes a number of well-known brands like Fujitsu and BT, alongside various newer suppliers. According to Francis Maude, the PSN marked “a major milestone by establishing a competitive ICT marketplace at the heart of the public sector.”

The closing date for bids will be July 30th, with a maximum of 680 companies able to enrol. Companies looking to take advantage of the new IT procurement framework can get lots of help from the expert bid writers at Win that Bid.

What exactly does the buyer want?

When aiming for a tender contract it’s important to consider what the procurer wants from the contract. This is a vital part of winning contract opportunities.

Public and private sector organisations are putting a relentless focus on cost efficiencies. Many companies believe that the main role of their procurement team is to deliver cost savings and this will be a critical aspect of many contract opportunities.

However important these savings are, they may not be the only goal of the organisation. This is particularly true of companies that are looking to expand their business. They may wish to increase their productivity and competitiveness in the long term, by introducing new systems, methods or tools. Equally, they might want a new approach to a critical area of their business which appears to be failing.

The majority of procurement work involves SMEs. These companies do not always have the most effective procurement methods and so it is particularly important to communicate with them about the aims of their tender contract and discover what it they want now, and what they will want in the future.

Have you been paid yet?

Recently an alliance of small business lobbying groups sent a letter to the Business Minister Mark Prisk, highlighting one of the biggest problems facing companies tendering for contracts in the UK today: late payment.

The numbers present a clear picture of the both the scale of the problem and who the mostly likely perpetrators are.

  • Large companies are responsible for 48% of late payments and account for most of the £24 billion owed to small and medium suppliers in the UK.
  • Late payments for UK Government tenders or charity work constitute just 9%, less than public/private concerns.
  • Both the public and the third sector have improved their record in recent years .
  • Prominent excuses given include a lack of payment authorisation and reports that the “cheque is in the post”.

Encouraging Prompt Payment?

Businesses can be scared to “name and shame” large corporations who mess around with their tender contracts, despite the fact that late payments break businesses. In these circumstances, it can be difficult to know exactly who to complain to. A poor UK government tender PQQ structure can be flagged up for the Cabinet Office to look into, but what about a multinational?

You could try encouraging prompt payment by the tender issuer. The letter to the Business Minister suggested a clampdown on “prompt payment discounts”, a strategy in which suppliers offer discounts on products in exchange for guarantees of payment on time. Several business advice websites suggest doing just that to incentivise punctual payments for commercial tenders. A company considering this should ask themselves whether they want to be paying the buyer extra to do what they claimed they were going to do on the tender contracts.

What can businesses do?

The best answer – and unfortunately the most complex to implement – is to make your business more resilient in times of unexpected cash flow problems relating to late payment. We can help you transform the capabilities of your business. Firstly, it’s important to consider how many sources of income the company has. It is dangerous for a company to rely on just one major contract or tender.  Another important safeguard to pursue is a high credit score. Being transparent about the financial state of the company can be helpful in other aspects of winning bids, especially for new companies who may not be able to provide the several years of financial data requested by most UK government tender PQQs. Win that Bid’s Bid Management service can help you assemble the right documents.

Don’t let yourself get pushed around.

Companies should also research the organisation issuing the tender. The sources of information aren’t always immediately obvious. This is an area in which a consultancy like Win that Bid can really help you in assessing whether to pursue an opportunity. Carrying out credit checks on potential customers is a good start. Communication between the supplier and the customer is always important: You should be clear about what the payment terms of the tender contract are and request clarification if they aren’t clear. And if the customer does try to change the terms of the contract, a supplier should make it clear that it expects something in return.

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.

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.