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Five Tips for Organisations Bidding for Public Sector Contracts

It is not something that I personally do a lot of now, given the demands of running Spend Matters Europe, but I do still occasionally get involved helping firms that are bidding or wish to bid for government contracts. That can be through training sessions, advising on approaches to tenders and bidding processes or reviewing bids (pretending to be the hard procurement evaluator, a task I enjoy …)!

We’ve written a certain amount here previously on the subject, but having recently run a workshop for a very nice group of people, I thought we’d feature this “top five” list of key advice to bidders, all topics that came up in our recent discussion at the training session. We’re not claiming these are the only points of course, or perhaps the most important, but all are worth noting for any organisation that wants to win public contracts.

1.  Don’t say “no” to any qualification questions

Do you have a quality control process, ISO9001 or equivalent? Do you have a health and safety policy? Equalities statement? Three examples of similar projects delivered? Of course you do! If you don’t have policies, you can easily get them from a suitable website. If you are really saying no to any pre-qual question, perhaps on experience, then perhaps you should not be bidding. Or sometimes you can take a somewhat different experience and shape it to meet the current requirement.

2.  Answer the question that is asked

Not the question that you think is being asked, or you would have liked the buyer to ask. Read the question, and any accompanying guidance or explanation, very carefully, and several times if necessary. If the question is about customer administration, don’t assume “they must mean customer service”. If it says “administration”, that is what they mean. Often there is more guidance as to what the buyer wants you to cover, so use that. And if you are still not sure, then by all means ask for clarification. There is nothing wrong with genuine and politely presented clarification questions.

3.   But look to weave in what makes you and / or your solution the one the buyer should choose

I once worked with a firm that was regularly placed highly in a global “best firms to work for” list. Not only were they very well placed, there was no other firm in their sector that came anywhere close. And just to make it even more impressive, their business sector was one where the skills and motivation of the staff was absolutely critical to both the firm and to the service they delivered to their clients. The fact this was an independent survey as well gave it additional validity and power.

Yet they had never mentioned this survey in their tenders for various government contracts and frameworks! My task was to help them work out where they could mention this in as many tender responses as possible – without forgetting point 2 above! In the case of a more specific project, your competitive advantage may be in the cleverness of your solution rather than something about the firm. But the same principle applies – try and work this in to your response wherever this is feasible.

4. Use the word limits and relate length of your response to the marking scheme

For instance, if there are three sub-questions or specific points covered in the question, then unless it says otherwise, write about the same amount on each. If the marking scheme tells you that one section is worth twice as many marks as the other, write twice as much. And generally, use the full word limit. If you are given 500 words and you write 100, it looks to the evaluator like you are lazy or just don’t have much to say about how good you are (unless the question really is very simple).

5.  Write clearly, make it easy for the evaluator

Put yourself in the shoes of the person (people) evaluating your bid. They may have 3, 10 or 20 or even more to read. You don’t need to worry about fine writing style, but make it clear, logical, easy to follow. Punctuate properly, use bullets, sub-headings, maybe charts where appropriate to try and make it a pleasant reading experience. Content is vital of course; but you want the evaluator to feel like reading your bid is not too much of a trial.

 Good luck and good bidding!