Procurement – How to Help Bidders deliver best value to you

Bidding to win business can feel like a test of nerves at the best of times, but sometimes the format of the tender documents makes the job harder. It then becomes even more of a challenge for bidding organisations to give procurement teams the best view of their proposal, capabilities, and experiencer and deliver best value. At times this happens to such an extent that some bidders, often the smaller ones, find it impossible to make themselves stand out enough, and so lose out on winning a contract they would be ideally placed to successfully deliver.

Like sales and marketing, the end results are much better when there is consideration for the needs of the other party during the engage process between bidders and procurement. When procurement teams give bidders the flexibility to showcase their capabilities in a structured, informative way then the procurement team, and therefore the buying organisation, reaps the benefit of being able to make better informed decisions. Giving space for the bidders to be innovative in both their solution design and proposal allow the best options to be put forward.

Making the bid process onerous, complicated, and lengthy, results in a high cost of bidding and level of risk for bidders. This can have the negative result of bidders deciding not to respond, usually because the bid process will cause the profit margin to have been eroded away before the contract is even won. Or, the risk and commitment levels are just too high. This limits your market and can lose you access to new, innovative organisations that could provide the best service/product available.

So, we would like to offer some insight into how procurement teams can get the best out the organisations bidding to win a contract, with the ultimate result that the buying organisation gets the best outcome too.

Here are ten key areas for consideration that will get the best out of your bidders and procurement process:

1. Allow for pre notification and pre-engagement before the bid is released
Early notification of your intent to use tendering for a contract allows organisations who want to participate to plan ahead, and to be as prepared as possible to give their best solution and proposal, once the actual tender is published. Allowing potential bidders access to the procurement team and subject matter experts prior to the issuing of the bid, allows you, as a procurement team, to get a really good understanding of the market and what is available/possible. This will help you to refine the tender documents to include any new innovations that you really want to have. This engagement also allows bidders to gain a greater understanding of your needs and respond accordingly.

2. Avoid arbitrary thresholds
Do not set arbitrary thresholds that rule out organisations that you would really benefit from engaging with. This is especially important when looking for innovation, as this tends to come from smaller organisations that can get ruled out of inflexible procurement due to factors such as turnover, insurance levels, number of years’ experience etc.

3. Be responsive and timely in responding to clarifications
Bidders ask for clarification because either something is unclear, information is missing or there is a perceived/real error in the tender documents. Bid responses are necessarily based on exactly what is stated in the documentation, so it is absolutely essential the information is present, accurate and clear. To get the best responses possible turnaround your responses to clarifications in a timely manner, and where possible, do not save everything up until the end. Also, consider the impact of the clarification responses as bidders need time to evaluate and assess the impact of and required changes and so an extended deadline may be required.

4. Be clear and unambiguous when answering clarifications
There is nothing more frustrating to bidders than when the clarification responses are either confusing, ambiguous, or even worse point straight back to the original documents without further explanation. If something was clear, the clarification question would not have been asked in the first place. Not answering in a proactive, clear, concise way leads to misunderstandings and confusion that can only harm the quality of response, so use subject matter experts to create the responses where needed. Bidders will withdraw, build in cost, make wrong assumptions and may need additional resource to address the increased risks.

5. Excel does not work for written requirements
Excel documents are designed for numbers, data etc and not written proposals. Insisting on its use leaves bidders frustrated, spending many hours trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This usually results in a lower quality response. The same can be said for character/word limited responses that do not allow for graphics and force truncated descriptions that cannot in any way illustrate capability, functionality, or benefit. If you need to set restrictions, be cognisant of the type of product or service involved and the way that information will need to be represented back to you to allow you to make informed decisions. Use a set commercial template, free of errors and omissions, to guarantee a level playing field on the commercial side.

6. Keep the bid documentation and the instructions within it clear
Issuing complex, fragmented bid documents lead to confusion and makes it very difficult for key information to be picked out. Having to cross reference high number of documents is time consuming and error prone and are likely to result in misunderstandings and ultimately lead to weaker submissions.
Use clear cross references and naming conventions in the same way bidders are expected to. This is especially important to SMEs, who are less likely to have a dedicated bid team and can result in smaller bidders / suppliers being confused as a result of the mass of confusing documents then withdrawing as the opportunity is judged as just too complex.
Be clear on areas such as TUPE and social value, provide define requirements and follow through beyond award to ensure what is promised is delivered.

7. Ensure the bid documents are of a high quality.
Documents that are full of errors, mis-numbering, confusing terminology, and descriptions, or have information missing, often provoke a large number of clarification requests. This takes up more time for bidders and buyers resulting in more work and risk for everyone. This is especially so when multiple revisions of documents have to be issued.

8. Be responsive and engage with bidders in an open, helpful way
Providing a bid contact who is unresponsive and/or unhelpful, or worse still away, leads to delays and loss of time to put together quality responses. For bidders to give their best, they need procurements teams to be responsive and react in a timely manner.

9. Everyone needs holidays
Issuing bids around Public Holidays, or during busy holiday periods shows a lack of empathy by buyers towards bidders. This is a short sighted approach that can only be detrimental to the responses that buyers will receive in quality and/or number. Buyers are unlikely to receive the best proposals available from the market, as most bidders will either no bid or not submit the best quality response due to a lack of time and available resource. Often bidders will no bid to prevent having to cancel holidays etc. for people over times like Xmas. If a bid has to be published during these times then it is necessary to give a longer response time that will balance the restrictions on resources.

10. Provide detailed, timely, constructive feedback
Whether bidders win or lose, it is only fair that buyers provide detailed, timely and constructive feedback. Using a diverse evaluation team and detailed feedback demonstrates that a fair, transparent process is being followed. Poor, untimely, or non-existent post-bid feedback shows a lack of courtesy towards bidders. There should always be feedback from the buyer in order to allow organisations to understand what was good and not so good so that they can improve their solutions, and bid submissions going forward. This is especially important for public sector bids where there is a requirement to feed back and strict standstill periods.

Given a bit of freedom in how to respond, there are so many ways that bidding organisations can use to present their proposals to the buyers. So please, if you take just one thing away from this, make it this. Give some thought as to how to enable bidders to put their best foot forward and illustrate their proposal and how they will deliver the contract in the most appropriate and informative way. You and your organisation can only benefit by getting the best value on offer. Being more open allows for innovation and greater benefit to be offered during the procurement process and this provides buyers with better outcomes.