There is no shortage of advice to businesses who want to sell products or services to the public sector. Unfortunately, some of this is not good advice, and there are firms who exploit the ignorance of many firms to sell expensive training, consulting or advice that brings little value.
Why should our advice be different? Well, if you are a potential bidder or government supplier, we are not trying to sell you anything here. And secondly, our Managing Editor, Peter Smith, has what may well be unique experience in the field, as he:
- worked as the Procurement Director of a major government department with a spend of £3 billion a year;
- ran his own small firm that bid for and won business from a whole range of different public sector bodies;
- wrote policy and guidance documents for government (including the UK National Audit Office and Finance Ministry) on policies such as supporting small businesses bidding for contracts;
- worked as an adviser supporting firms bidding for contracts; and
- acted as an expert witness in a number of court cases concerned with public procurement, including challenges to contract decisions.
So Peter’s perspectives is unusual, in that he has seen the issues from all sides and angles. He will be writing here regularly about the issues facing firms bidding for public sector business, but to start with, we asked him to identify the most vital pieces of advice for firms. Here are his top three tips. And no, taking your contacts out for a good lunch is not one of them!
- Understand clearly what you can offer the prospective public sector customer, and why you really deserve to win the contract. That sounds obvious, but it means both understanding the needs of the client and your own strengths. No public sector organisation needs just another quite competent printing or cleaning firm, and do not think that the public sector owes you business just because “I pay my taxes”.
- Understand the bidding process both at a high level (e.g. which EU procedure is being used and what does that mean), and at a detailed level. If you don’t understand either, get some help (that doesn’t have to be paid, many governments now offer good free advice to firms on bidding for instance). That means at the detailed level reading tender documents very carefully, and responding in exactly the way the contracting authority asks you to. “Answer the question,” is probably the most frequent piece of advice I give bidders!
- Get a foothold in the public sector. Whilst some buyers are becoming less risk averse, having some similar experience to what you are bidding for is very valuable. That is true even if the experience is only a very small contract, or it may even be worth doing some unpaid work, if it is relevant to future bids.
There are many more points of course, and this is just a start of what will be our regular advice offered to firms looking to win government contracts. And we would very much like suppliers to contribute with comments here too, and help us to highlight examples of both good public sector procurement practice, and less good where that is appropriate!