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Published Date: 10-05-2021
Author: Executive Compass
Category: Top Tips
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For most organisations there will come a time where you need to tender for a contract, especially when working with the public sector. The process can seem daunting, but we break it down into simple steps and our top tips for tendering.

Understanding the tender process

First of all, it is important to understand the tender process and how you tender for a contract. For most goods and services procured by the public sector, they will use a tender process. The contracting authority will advertise the contract to the market, for interested companies to express their interest and submit a bid for the contract. The bid will be predefined by a certain set of criteria from the authority, mapping out exactly what they are looking for.

Contracting authorities (or ‘buyers’) use both a one-stage and two-stage process. When using a two-stage procurement process, there is a PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire) first to assess a bidder’s suitability. However, the one-stage process groups both PQQ and tender into one process.

PQQ and Tender Definitions Infographic

Eight top tips when tendering for contracts

1. Assess the contract and scope of works for suitability. It is really important to undertake a strong ‘bid/no-bid’ decision with your internal bid team to ensure the contract opportunity is right for your business. Ask yourselves the following questions to check for suitability before you decide to tender:

  • Can you deliver the contract? And, not only this, can you prove/evidence your delivery? Quality tender questions will expect you to outline thorough processes and procedures to assure the contracting authority that you can deliver on the scope of works.
  • Is the opportunity a good fit for your business strategically? Have you determined whether your organisation is ‘bid-ready’ and can submit a strong, competitive tender within the submission deadline?
  • Do you have a good chance of success? Can you effectively resource the contract and meet all the KPIs outlined by the authority within the tender documents? Will you be able to submit a price which is competitive in the current market? Try to determine who your main competitors might be, and how you stack up in comparison.
  • Do you meet all minimum requirements and evaluation criteria? This may consist of a financial assessment or minimum financial turnover, certification or accreditation with a relevant industry body (e.g. the CQC) and ISO accreditation for a relevant management system, such as ISO 9001:2015 for your quality management system. If you do not meet all requirements, you are likely to fail the initial assessment.

2. Create a bid plan. Rather than diving straight into the writing or, even worse, copying and pasting narrative from another tender, ensure you have a strong and comprehensive bid plan to help guide and plan your submission. Each bid will have its own time pressures; however, setting aside a bit of time at the start of the tender process will ensure you do not miss anything, have clear aims and objectives in place and, crucially, understand the tender. In your plan, set yourself smaller deadlines to keep the bid on track – this also aids in avoiding unnecessary stress around the submission.

3. Listen to the buyer. Tendering does not need to be over-complicated; ultimately it is there for the buyer to procure a product or service, and therefore you need to listen to what they want and how they will evaluate you. Tendering for a contract and the bidding process is not there to trick you, so try to focus on what the buyer is asking, rather than what you would like to say. Align your responses and organisation’s experience with the buyer’s main focus and objectives. If they are marking your response heavily on an area such as social value, research into the authority’s social value strategy, and align your company accordingly. They do not want you to guess or to ‘make up’ a response; they will clearly tell you what you will be evaluated on – stick to answering the question.

4. Don’t make unnecessary assumptions about the tender. We often hear from newer clients ‘don’t worry, the authority knows us and we will win this contract’ or, ‘it’s a fix’. You may have a relationship with the contract authority, for instance, but when tendering for a contract the process must be transparent and fair. You will only be evaluated on the tender that you submit – not your previous relationship or assurances that it will be fine. If another company scores higher than you in the tender, then they will be awarded the contract. Similarly, if you are new to an authority, it is not to say that you won’t win the contract – many authorities experience performance issues on contracts, and may be looking to address this by seeking to appoint new suppliers. Ensure you are planning ahead, aware of contract end dates and renewals, and have a team or resource to complete any tender submissions.

5. Align responses with the wording of the question. When writing bid quality responses, you should ensure that the structure and wording of a response is tailored as closely as possible to the question wording. This includes the use of subheadings to break down the question into constituent parts, bulleted points to keep content concise, and using the authority’s preferred terminology – for instance, ‘tenants’ instead of ‘residents’. Some bidder organisations with large bid libraries will try to force existing material into new responses. While this may save time in the short term, it is unlikely to result in a high-scoring, competitive and ultimately successful tender.

6. Emphasise your ‘differentiators’ or USPs. The quality element of a tender gives you the opportunity to explicitly tell the authority why you are the best choice to be awarded the contract. These will subsequently form your ‘win themes’ to be integrated within quality responses, allowing you to earn full marks from the evaluation committee. Key differentiators or USPs are entirely dependent on what you feel your organisation does differently from other bidders. For instance, if you are already the incumbent supplier on a contract, your tender could be dedicated to explaining to the contracting authority the benefits of an experienced delivery team and model. Equally, if you have an exciting piece of technology which can create efficiencies and reduce administrative burden, make sure to emphasise the benefits within your responses.

7. Ensure sufficient time for a quality review. Arguably, the quality review stage of the tender adds the most value to your tender submission. Allocate time for a senior member of your bid team – for instance, a contracts manager – to review all narrative content within the submission against the scope of works and contract specification. During the quality review process, the assigned reviewer can offer tips for strengthening and enhancing the bid within the stipulated word limit. The quality review step of the tender process could end up as the difference between a winning submission and one that falls just short of the mark. It should be given due time and consideration within your wider bid plan.

8. Save and analyse feedback to drive continual improvement. Following the contract award, whether you are successful or not, always request feedback to see how you were scored, comparisons against other bidders (not only quality, but also in terms of price) and take forward any ‘lessons learned’ for future tender exercises. If it was your first tender and you were not successful, do not be put off and keep monitoring opportunities for the next bid.

What will be included in the tender documents?

Public sector authorities are advised to use their own judgment on what to include or exclude within a ‘tender pack’ or tender documents. Occasionally, such as when bidding for Crown Commercial Services contracts, tender documents can number in the hundreds, making it complex to navigate and digest all the relevant information. However, these are unusual cases – most procurement exercises will contain the following tender documents:

  • Invitation to Tender (ITT): Outlines the purpose and scope of the authority’s procurement exercises, tender timetable including the evaluation period and contract award, and a list of which documents need to be returned. The ITT will also include a section regarding the evaluation criteria and quality/price split, making the evaluation.
  • Contract specification: This tender document contains information on specified parts and materials to be used when performing works, preferred timetable for works or services to be delivered and KPIs or timescales for delivery. The specification should be used and referenced extensively when completing the quality element of the bid, mitigating the chance of noncompliant content within any narrative responses.
  • Pricing schedule: Often contained in an Excel spreadsheet, this document allows bidders to submit a detailed breakdown of how much they will charge the authority to deliver the scope of works. The evaluation split between quality and price varies by tender, but it is important to note that most contracts do not permit renegotiated prices during the contract term – consequently, it is important to factor outside variables, such as inflation and wage increases, into the overall price.
  • PQQ or Standard Selection Questionnaire: Comprising pass/fail responses, the standard selection questionnaire/PQQ requires you to complete a list of standard company information and data responses around your organisation’s history, economic and financial standing, and mandatory and discretionary exclusions. As the first stage of the tender exercise, you will not progress to the second stage of the evaluation process.
  • Quality questions or technical envelope: Bidders will be required to respond to a series of questions on different topics regarding their strategies for delivering the contract, typically within predefined word, page or character limits. The quality section of the tender usually takes the most time of any step in the tender process, and this forms the majority of bid and tender support services we provide for our clients.
  • Associated ‘sign and return’ documents: This includes the form of tender document, declaration and contract details, certificates of collusion and/or non-canvassing, and confidentiality agreement. Failure to complete these documents could result in your bid being automatically disqualified – double-check the submission checklist within the ITT so nothing is missed or omitted.

As above, there may be further tender documents required in order to submit a compliant bid. For instance, many authorities choose to incorporate an Excel spreadsheet for social value, allowing bidders to input qualitative commitments in an easy-to-read tender document. Equally, hard or soft facilities maintenance contracts (e.g. security, cleaning or gas/electrical tenders) may include an asset or address list, giving a full view of the contract’s scope of works.

How do you find a tender opportunity?

This is much like a job advert, in that once there is the need for a contract to be procured this will be advertised to the public for companies to apply. Public sector buyers are obliged by government legislation to advertise relevant opportunities in a publicly accessible location. This ensures transparency and fairness for all organisations looking to submit a tender.

There are many websites and online portals which host tenders for contracts, but the two government sites are:

Find a Tender Service – this replaced the Tenders Electronic Daily European site as of 1 January 2021, and tends to advertise opportunities with slightly larger contract values.

Contracts Finder – this advertises all public sector contract opportunities in the UK, over £12,000 in value.

Contracts Finder and Find a Tender are both free to use, and you can sign up for relevant alerts. You can also filter by your geographical region, industry sector, contract value and more. Each contract notice will then contain details of how you can submit a bid to the relevant authority. So, it is very simple to monitor contract notices, and you do not need to pay for an extravagant service.

Outsourcing your tender writing

As a professional tender writing consultancy, Executive Compass specialise in supporting clients to complete a tender submission to bid for a contract. We work across the whole of the UK, with organisations of various sizes and experience tendering for contracts.

In the public sector, the procurement process from advertisement of a contract notice to submission of a tender is around four weeks. We are very used to working with short deadlines, and our team of bid writers work with your organisation to submit a high-quality tender submission – making this process as simple as possible for you.

Contact us today to discuss how we can support you to tender for a contract.

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