In the past, hard copy tender submissions meant that you were unable or restricted in submitting clarification questions to purchasing authorities, as it would result in an unfair competitive advantage.
The subsequent embrace of online e-portals for bid and tender opportunities has made it easier for the buyer’s representatives to communicate with all bidder organisations, certifying compliance with procurement regulations and policy. Questions are published anonymously in a central, easily accessible location on the portal, ensuring a fair, transparent tender process where all bidders have equal access to information and updates from authorities.
We advocate a straightforward approach to submitting clarification questions, aiming to be candid and open about why they are necessary, how to submit clarifications and how to interpret responses from the buyer – facilitating a competitive, compliant submission.
Read all tender documents as early as possible
At the beginning of each tender opportunity, scrutinise the tender pack in detail, making a checklist of all submission documents and the requirements of the specification. While reading the documents, you may encounter certain parts of the ITT, contract KPIs or terms and conditions which are ambiguous or have conflicting information. Examples our bid and tender writers have encountered include:
- Conflicting information over the submission deadline, with dates two weeks apart stated within different tender documents
- Certification or accreditation which are mandatory criteria for submissions – for example a minimum ‘Good’ rating from the Care Quality Commission
- If not outlined in the documents, whether TUPE is likely to apply and how this should be referred to in quality responses or considered in pricing schedules.
The deadline for submitting tender clarifications is typically stated within the Invitation to Tender document. Generally speaking, the deadline is between 7 and 10 business days prior to the submission date. While this means you need to be organised in your approach to submitting clarification questions, it also gives ample time to change your tender submission in accordance with information received by the authorities.
Make specific reference to the document and issue in question
If you have noticed inconsistencies, omissions or other ambiguities within the tender, make careful note of relevant details, including the document’s title, page number and relevant clause or section. When submitting a clarification, you can then make specific reference to your claim rather than speaking more generally, while also reducing the administrative burden on authority representatives.
Authorities can sometimes receive hundreds of clarifications for a single bid opportunity, and issue short responses which can be difficult to interpret. By indexing the clarification using the above method, you are more likely to receive a precise and substantial response.
Conduct frequent checks of the portal and opportunity
Ideally, you should be checking the clarification log daily or several times a week to ensure nothing is missed or omitted. For example, if you begin a lengthy response on a question only to find out the day after that it has been removed from the tender exercise after review, you have lost a day’s work which could have been allocated to other questions or relevant tasks, such as completing a mobilisation plan or other appendices which form part of the submission.
Equally, some clarifications lead to updated documents issued by the authority – underscoring the importance of periodic portal checks. Although some portals have automatic notification function alerting you of a new clarification for all organisations who have expressed an interest, this should not be relied upon, and you should conduct your own due diligence to support this.
Post Tender Negotiations (PTNs)
Occasionally, PTNs or post-bid clarifications from the authorities can be confused or conflated with clarifications submitted by bidder organisations. For clarity, PTNs are issued to individual tenders following a submission deadline, offering the opportunity to refine or improve bids before contract award. A PTN must be approved by a suitably senior member of the procurement team, and is often extended to bidders to clarify the following:
- Supply and cost of spare parts, materials or additional services outside the scope of works and pricing schedule, such as discontinued Vaillant spare parts for a gas servicing and repairs contract
- Querying completion or delivery dates earlier than those specified within the tender documents, including details to support how this will be achieved
- Confirming particular social value commitments or initiatives from bidders, particularly if they have a higher monetary value than expected.
Crucially, an audit trail of PTNs must be held by the authority, to ensure the process has remained fair, transparent and the procedure has not been exploited – for example, pitting businesses against each other to negotiate prices down from the initial tender.
As part of our wider bid management support, our bid and tender writers conduct an independent review of the tender documents, flagging anything unusual or ambiguous to your attention. Following this, we can support you with drafting a clarification request and interpreting the response from the buyer’s representatives, based on our experience in supporting clients with over 7,000 PQQ, SQ and ITT submissions.
To find out more about the bid and tender services we offer or have a free, no-obligation chat about a tender opportunity you have identified, contact a member of our sales and marketing team at 0800 612 5563, or via email email@example.com.
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