Six tips for successful tendering

In a break from my series on the marketing mix, I want to return to a topic I last covered in March 2015: tendering.

Many of my colleagues and associates shudder at the thought of even attempting to tender for a public sector contract just because of the sheer amount of paperwork involved.

And, although I like a nice simple and short tender (they do exist!), I’m just as happy doing the big ones.

As a former public sector commissioner, I’ve been the one writing the tender, the specification and running the bidding process. In fact I still carry out this role for some clients now because the act of tendering can be just as daunting for the client as for the bidder, especially if you’re not expert in the service you are tendering for.

So, for many creative tenders - e.g. websites, statutory publications, large branding projects - the client may need someone on the inside who can help to steer them to a successful appointment.

So, as I am currently sitting on both sides of the fence - both as client and bidder (obviously for different contracts!) - I thought it would be timely to offer some advice. This might be particularly useful because I notice the tender market has hotted up a lot since the start of the year and, in Cornwall at least, it’s about to get hotter*.

[*New European growth funding will hopefully ‘hit the ground’ within the next two months or so.]

So here are my six tips for successful tendering.

Tip number 1: Follow the instructions! 

This might seem like such an obvious thing to do that it doesn’t need saying but, I can promise you, from the client-side, it’s incredible how many people submit half-finished tenders. Running a tender for a big website project recently, I sifted all the bids that came in and the very first test was, have they submitted all the documents asked for? More than one failed to do this and one of the ones that failed was, unbelievably, a local authority. I imagine they thought that I would take some of the requirements as read but, clearly, that can’t happen as all bids have to be evaluated on a level playing field.

So, my advice is, read it through very carefully and, if it’s a big one, list all the items that you must provide and gather them together methodically, filing them ready for your submission.

Also, if they ask you to fill out a form, do so. Don’t create your own version of their tender, styling it up as you go. This is intensely irritating to the person doing the procurement. They have taken the trouble to provide a form for you: it’s easier for you to make sure you are giving all the information that’s needed and easier for them when they have to compare one bid with another.

Tip number 2: Don’t be tempted to ‘go the extra mile’

Although in certain circumstances it’s great to surprise and delight your prospective new client - for instance when you are pitching informally rather than tendering - you are literally wasting your time and theirs if you are in a formal tender situation.

Sending in additional documents, case studies, concept ideas when they have not been asked for is pointless. And it’s worse than that because, ultimately it’s not following instructions.

I’m afraid that for all you creatives out there, all your lovely work will be in vain. I can guarantee you, it will be completely ignored by the client. They can’t take it into account because they didn’t ask for it and therefore to do so would be unfair on the competition. Anything extra like that cannot be scored and therefore it will make no difference whatsoever to where you are placed in the evaluation. The time to put that additional effort in is when you get invited to interview.

Tip number 3: Pay attention to scoring

All public sector tenders will give you a scoring schema to guide you. This will tell you how they will evaluate your bid and what elements will be most important to them. This is vitally important information. If they say that price only account for, say 20 percent of the score, that’s telling you they pretty much don’t care what the price is as long as the other elements are up to scratch. They will also have said what their overall budget is so it’s usually safe to pitch your price at a couple of thousand under that. If on the other hand, price is worth 60 percent then you know you are going to have to be super competitive. Some tenders will break down each question or each section with a score for each one so, if they are saying that the answer to the question about ‘approach to the brief’ is worth 30 percent, that’s where you put a lot of effort.

Tip number 4: Use the opportunity for clarification questions

Because tendering is not easy for the client, they often miss out information which, for the bidder, is pretty important. If you are not sure about anything to do with the tender or what’s required, ask. They have a duty to answer. But be aware your question will almost always be shared with all bidders. There is always a deadline for clarification so, read through the tender early and get your questions in on time.

Tip number 5: Be brave!

Don’t be put off by big tenders if you are a new or small business. Public sector tendering regulations mean that new businesses and small businesses have to be given an equal chance to tender.

If you are too small to deliver all the services yourself you can do it by tendering as part of a consortium. You don’t have to set up a legal consortium but you would need to have terms of reference and would submit these as part of your tender return.

If your business is very new then you can submit cashflow and profit and loss forecasts in lieu of accounts. Bear in mind that for large tenders there is usually a turnover threshold but, if you submit as part of a consortium, that can usually be overcome. If you do submit forecasts, make sure they are comprehensive and realistic.

The main thing to consider is, do you have at least some of the expertise required by the contract and, if you join with others, do you collectively have the skills and experience required to deliver the whole contact? Sometimes, large tenders can be broken down into lots, this is specifically designed to make it easier for small companies to be in with a chance to win contracts.

Tip number 6: Get feedback

The same set of regulations state that the contracting authority (the client) must give feedback if asked to do so within 15 days of contract award. This feedback must include the reasons for rejection, any positive feedback and the name of the winning bidder.

This information is so important to you if you want to continue to bid for contracts. It will tell you: where you fell down compared to others and where you did well. Knowing the name of the successful bidder can also give you important insight. Have a look at them and consider how they are different from you. If you are likely to be in competition with them again, consider what you might have to do to up your game. If this is down to the amount of experience you have in delivering the required services then you might have to accept that it is just a matter of time.

Best of luck!