This is a guest blog from Simon Richardson: UK public sector procurement professional.
To achieve my objectives as a procurement professional, there is a clear and transparent process that every potential supplier needs to follow – without exception. To win a contract you need to pass the tender exam.
Passing the (Tender) Exam
Contracts are awarded to suppliers who pass the tender ‘exam’ and who give me and my colleagues in procurement confidence that they will deliver as promised. For avoidance of doubt, contracts are NEVER awarded as a result of time on a golf course!
In the public sector we want to work with great suppliers who will work with us to deliver our objectives. We go to extraordinary lengths to get things right and work hard to make the process a level playing field for all potential suppliers. If you are to stand any chance of winning a public sector contract, you must read all the documentation, fully understanding our objectives and what you are being asked for. After ten years I am convinced that the single biggest mistake made by suppliers is that no one bothered to read the instructions!
Once you have fully understood what being is asked for you can increase your chances of winning by following these ten tips:
1. Focus on the areas with the highest weighting
In public sector tenders the ‘weighting’ or points available will be clearly shown. Like good exam technique, look for those questions with the most points and focus on providing a full and compelling answer to them.
2. Provide a full and convincing answer
The questions you answer have been compiled to help us understand if you can deliver what is required. The people who review your submission are looking for one thing; that you properly convey your knowledge and confidence. You have to convince the evaluation panel that they should award you a contract and hand over public funds to you. If you answer a question with a simple ‘yes’, ‘compliant’, or worse still leave an answer box blank; you will get zero points.
3. Tackle the difficult questions
If you are faced with questions that you find difficult to answer – do not leave a blank space. The evaluation team wants to be confident that you know what you are doing and you need to convey that you have the ability to deliver. Don’t waste your own or our time with a half hearted response. Provide an answer which demonstrates how your products, services, skills or knowledge would best help us to achieve our objectives.
4. Don’t be late
The tender will have a closing date and time. This is there because there has to be a point in time when we need to close the first stage and start the evaluations. Don’t be late with your submission. Anything after the closing time risks being dismissed, even if it is only by a few minutes.
Sometimes it can be the smallest detail that lets a potential supplier down. If you’re going to upload the documents from home instead of your office then take into account your broadband speed. I’ve seen deadlines missed because of woefully slow upload speeds.
Aim to get the proposal submitted the day before the deadline. If you can’t get your submission in on time, or you are on the last minute when you want our business; we are unlikely to be confident about your ability to deliver if we awarded you the contract.
5. Be clear with pricing
The person drafting the tender document always gives the pricing section a lot of thought and consideration. The section is designed to help save us time and make pricing comparisons easy and fair. Make your pricing proposal clear. If there are any additional or optional extras then make this obvious. Never make your pricing proposals so complex that clarification has to be sought; that is a cardinal sin in the eyes of procurement.
6. Submit a proposal that can be understood
Nothing turns off an audience than someone speaking or writing in acronyms and jargon. You will alienate those scoring your submission if you haven’t considered who the audience is and their level of technical knowledge. Do not assume the people scoring your submission have the same level of technical knowledge as your own specialists – always check.
7. Make it easy to find
The procurement process is designed to be fair and make the selection of a supplier as easy as possible. It doesn’t help your cause if you decide to make our lives more difficult.
When the tender deadline passes and all the documents and attachments are downloaded, the review begins. Making references to other presentations, certificates, screenshots and so on is fine; it’s great to see that you have gone to so much effort. However please make sure everything is clearly referenced. If you cause the evaluation team to hunt around wondering if they are reviewing the right attachment against the right question it demonstrates a lack of organization on your part. The last thing a procurement professional wants to do is give a low score because they can’t find the right attachment.
Provide a clear contents list, colour code it, number it but please do not simply provide a list of attachments for the evaluation team to sort out for you!
8. If in doubt – ask
When procurement drafts the tender documents we think we are writing them in a clear logical way that can be understood. We really do want to draw out the best possible response from suppliers.
However there will be times on complex tenders when we may not have explained ourselves well enough and you might need clarification. Clarification questions are encouraged but do it early in the process. Sometimes there will be a cut -off date for clarification questions and if you leave it too late you risk your questions not being answered.
9. Send the right team to present
If you are invited to a presentation it’s because the evaluation team wants to see the human side of the tender submission. We are not interested in brilliant presentations from salespeople or senior management people who we will never see again. We want brilliant presentations from the people who will be implementing your solution for us.
Everyone invited to present will be given the same set of questions to answer, and a strict time table to adhere too. If you want to stand any chance of being selected, ANSWER THE QUESTIONS and provide evidence that you will deliver on your promises. Never ever go over time and please, please practice your presentation before you stand up in front of us.
If you take along any equipment, lap tops, software or audio visual equipment leave nothing to chance. Know how to use it and that make sure it is fully functional. If your products let you down on your demonstration, don’t blame us for believing the same could happen if we buy from you.
Do remember that you are being assessed even before you get into the room, you may unknowingly bump into one of the evaluation team in the car park, washroom or in the reception area.
At the last presentation I attended I overheard the two main presenters talking in the car park about how how they would give the ‘standard spiel’ and use the same presentation as they had done for a completely different organization. Later they explained that one of their colleagues couldn’t make it because they had something more important to go to. As you can imagine this was hardly inspiring and left me and my colleagues feeling decidedly undervalued! The lever on the trap door had been firmly pulled and this team never had a second chance to make a good first impression.
10. Don’t behave like a politician!
We all know what politicians are like; as election time approaches they are all over the electorate with promises of a better tomorrow if you vote for them. Once in power of course, you tend to see less of them and the promises made are often forgotten. When election time comes around they are out ‘pressing the flesh’ and making promises again.
Incumbent suppliers can be like that and any procurement team will be only too aware of complacency and the interest shown only when a contract is out to tender. We want you to be honest and consistent with the interest you show in us and in delivering on your promises.
It doesn’t need to be scary
Sitting the tender exam need not be scary and procurement professionals are acutely aware of the effort that most suppliers put into completing documentation and into presentations. They do want to help you to help them. If you are not successful, make contact and find out where you can improve and where you did well and do it better next time.
Good luck !
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy these:
- I called but you weren’t there
- Be honest with potential prospects… A cautionary tale
- If you want to win business, shut up!
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