Thinking about the buyer’s aims when you respond to a tender opportunity will increase your win rates. Directly addressing their objectives, whether stated in the tender documents or not, will help your proposal stand out from the crowd.

Behind most public sector tenders is a procurement team or professional and a well-developed business case for the tender. This business case will articulate how the procurement exercise will help the organisation meet its strategic aims, for example setting out its ambitions for efficiency savings, added value, sustainability, social value, and local employment.

Tender documents made available to the market might have been a year in the making! There will be a strategy document for the tender to set out the case for why it’s needed, different ways the service could be delivered to bring efficiencies, the budget, and whether a call-off from an established Framework would be a quicker and cheaper way to procure the service. Buyers will be looking for innovation, potential partnerships, offering opportunities to local SMEs and possibly to involve stakeholders in the procurement exercise.

The procurement project team will be writing the documents, questions, scores, weightings, and creating the pricing schedule and considering how this might achieve efficiencies. The team might plan a Prior Information Notice or supplier engagement exercise to bring in potential suppliers to comment on the proposals and input ideas before the final documents are issued. If you get the opportunity to get involved at this stage, you could help shape the final specification, potentially getting you ahead of some of your competition.

When the organisation completes the documents, they will be signed off internally and approval given to publish the tender. The procurement team is likely to coordinate the responses to clarification questions and establish the assessor panel and set up moderation meetings.

The COVID-19 Pandemic delayed many tenders by months, with some public sector organisations using emergency powers to extend existing contracts to minimise disruption as organisations redeployed staff to focus on urgent tasks.

One longer-lasting legacy of the Pandemic will be the economic impact on businesses and how procurement teams assess bidders’ financial health. While bidders will be required to submit previous years’ accounts, these are historical. Even accounts for the year ending March 2020 will not reflect the impact of the lockdowns that have followed. Government assistance given to businesses because of COVID has provided life support: allowing delayed payments, loans, cash grants, tax relief, and furlough payments for employees who had no work. As this support ends, how will the public sector satisfy itself that it lets contracts to businesses that will survive?

Public sector opportunities. For companies able to pivot their services and look for new opportunities, the public sector potentially has a lot to offer. The public sector procures a lot of services, will pay its suppliers in a timely fashion and is more financially stable than many private sector organisations.

New suppliers should spend some time to research, and understand, the public sector in advance of bidding. The tender expectations and culture will be different from the private sector. Watching our LinkedIn Live recordings about public sector bidding is an excellent place to start.

Responding to tenders involves a lot of effort, time, operational and strategic thought, don’t waste this by failing the first qualification stage hurdle! Have a look at some public sector tenders in your sector and start to gather the information you need. If you need to achieve ISO accreditations, start this early so that you are ready to bid when the right opportunity comes along. You can also begin work on relevant case studies, policies, and procedures, commission good quality photographs and update staff CVs.

Winning public sector work without a track record can be tricky. You will most likely be up against companies with previous experience who will score better because of this. Consider getting into the supply chain as a sub-contractor as a way in, or collaborate in a consortium. Have a look at award notices for contracts let, note the companies securing work and then contact them to offer your services.

How to be successful in public sector bidding.

For anyone bidding into the public sector, the aim is to pass the qualification stage, then score well on quality and pricing to win work. Many organisations fail the early qualification stage, wasting a lot of time and resources. To improve your prospects for success, make sure that you answer all of the questions (ask a clarification question if you don’t fully understand what’s wanted or you’re not sure if you meet their criteria) and thoroughly explain what you do where this is required. For example, many companies struggle to articulate their quality management system and approach, so write this in advance and use it for future tenders (tailored as needed). Make sure your responses can be read easily and that you have answered the question fully. Include sub-headings to guide the assessor through your response. In other words, make it easy to mark!

When you get past qualification to the quality and pricing stage, many bidders do not answer the community benefit / social value question well. Although you may have an excellent generic answer about your company’s great work, the buyer is looking for you to be very specific about what you will do for this contract, their end users and their local communities. Doing your homework will help you find out local priorities from the buyer’s strategic plans, including young people, older people, job creation, or work experience. Make sure your offer is of interest to them.

Remember that the tender assessment panel will consist of subject matter and other experts, probably including procurement, finance, legal, the service and maybe stakeholders, so answer your questions to address the range of issues they are interested in. Ensure that you put in clear, strong reasons why your solution will address their needs; assessors can take these soundbites with them into moderation meetings as examples of the value you bring.

You have successfully passed the quality stage, and the buyer has invited you to give a virtual presentation of your bid to the panel. This interview is used to sense-check your proposals; the tender documents will confirm whether this is scored or not. Take the relevant people you need for the presentation and be clear who will answer which questions. Use this time for your pitch, repeat your key points, the benefits you offer, and how this will address their needs directly. Don’t assume the panel knows you – even if they do – treat them as you would a new customer and tell them about your business.

An external bid specialist can help you to bring a new perspective to your proposals, as a fresh pair of eyes. We can also assist you in navigating the choppy waters of public sector bidding.