We strongly advise our clients to take full advantage of the resources, information and support available to them to ensure they submit a high-quality, bespoke submission that reflects the buying authority’s requirements and preferences. In this blog we discuss why market engagement events and site visits can act as a valuable source of insight and knowledge if utilised correctly.
What are market engagement events and site visits?
In addition to the tender documents issued by the buying authority, many buyers (depending on the service/contract size) offer the opportunity to attend pre-engagement, engagement events and site visits to further understand the contract aims and requirements, and how these may change/evolve throughout the life cycle of the contract. Each has a slightly different purpose, with an overall aim of enabling bidders to put forth the most accurate and competitive application:
- Early engagement event – these are issued by the buying authority whilst the opportunity is still in its infancy and has not reached tender stage. Often the buying authority is interested in your thoughts and opinions. For example, if you were to deliver a care contract how would you incorporate assistive technology, or if you were to deliver gas servicing works how would you manage customer complaints? This is very much designed to give the buying authority solid, practical ideas on how a contract should be delivered by experts who are already delivering similar services. Whilst some of our clients view this as a waste of time as it is not technically leading anywhere, it can in practice be beneficial as you are directly involved in shaping and designing the service standards and requirements, possibly giving you a competitive advantage.
- Engagement events – following an Invitation to Tender, some buying authorities (particularly for large or complex contracts) host a single provider engagement event. The date/time will be included in the tender documents with the agenda often centred around explaining the tender documents or service, answering questions, or clearing up any ambiguity.
- Site visits – where the contract requires an on-site presence such as security services or the running of an extra care scheme, or will lead to the site being altered (e.g. construction works) interested parties are invited to arrange a site visit so that they can tour the site/facilities, speak to staff, and understand site particulars.
Why are they important?
In theory, the more time and effort you put into a tender bid the better quality it should be. Rather than leaving everything to the last minute and quickly compiling somewhat generic tender responses that do not reflect the buying authority’s requirements, careful preparation, a detailed understanding of the contract, and ‘insider knowledge’ can drastically improve your submission, with attendance at the above enabling you to:
- Ask questions – if you think there’s anything unclear/missing from the tender documents, you can ask there and then rather than waiting for a clarification through the portal. For example, if a contract involves TUPE, but the TUPE information does not appear accurate you can voice your concerns in person.
- Obtain further information – in our experience, buying authorities are quite likely to ‘let slip’ information that is not detailed in a specification or tender pack. For example, a specification may allude to a ‘stakeholder forum’ which could mean a multitude of things. However, by asking them to explain what this means to them, you can adapt your approach accordingly.
- Identify specific concerns – similar to the above, buying authorities often avoid explicitly stating concerns or issues they have had previously. However, in person they may be more comfortable explaining recruitment issues, quality concerns, or simply their ‘vision’ of how they want the partnership to work. Take note of what they say! These snippets of information could be the difference between winning and losing as the inclusion of bespoke information will show that you listened, understood and applied practical solutions to improve the service.
- Identify site requirements/challenges not obvious in site drawings or illustrations – most buying authorities provide a description of the site, site drawings and sometimes photographs. However, a site visit using your expert knowledge will often enable you to identify challenges, issues or concerns that are not present in the tender documents. For example, the site entrance may be smaller than it appears, or blind spots present on a security site not identified in images. By visiting the site, making note of challenges and speaking to people already employed at the site you can put forward bespoke proposals, using explicit examples.
How you can prepare to get the most out of market engagement events and site visits
It is always advisable to review tender documents as soon as they become available:
- Firstly, read through the specification and make note of any key requirements, themes and contract-specific requirements that stand out
- Look at the pricing document – this can often provide further insight into the size of the contract, staffing requirements and hours of work
- Review the quality questions critically to assess if they are addressing anything that would not be obvious in the tender documents such as contract challenges, traffic management plans etc.
This will provide a foundation to inform what information you are missing, or what you specifically want to look for during a site visit. From here, you will have a clear goal regarding what you need, and how you will collect it; for example, you could compile a list of questions to ask during an engagement event, or print illustrations and circle areas you want to visit specifically during a site visit. During events/visits take notes, recordings, photographs and anything else you think would be beneficial. This information, including any specifics should then be included in your tender submission where appropriate to demonstrate that you understand the contract purpose, and have identified any challenges or opportunities for added value.
Tender writing support
Whilst supporting clients with a bid or tender we regularly provide them with questions to ask at events, or request that they check specifics during site visits based on the quality question set, with this information then relayed to us during short information collection meetings. For more information on getting the most information from the buying authority, and to learn how we can support you with your tender needs contact us free on 0800 612 5563 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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