Eight common tendering mistakes to avoid at all costs
Winning public sector tenders is a complex and time-consuming process. However, with a combined 90 years of successfully writing and winning tenders, Augmentas Group has an intimate understanding of what works – and, crucially, what doesn’t.
We have identified the eight most common reasons bids fail to hit their mark. While we believe that partnering with an experienced procurement professional is the surest route to success, keeping these pitfalls in mind when writing a bid should at least reduce the likelihood of ruling yourself out of the running early on.
1. Not understanding the rules
Government procurement officers don’t want to waste their own time or yours, so the tendering process is well documented. Lack of familiarity with the rules will quickly become obvious – and won’t only harm your chances in winning your current tender: it also could have a bearing on how you are viewed in future rounds.
To take just one example, no company can bid for contracts with a value that exceeds a quarter of their own annual turnover. This would put any £6m contract out of reach of companies turning over £20m or less. Rules like this are designed to protect both the government (and, in turn, the taxpayer), as well as the contractor bidding for the work by minimising risk on both sides.
2. Not reading all the documents
Preparing for a tender can involve more reading than writing. Extensive documentation provides everything you need to know about the contract on offer – in granular detail. It is essential that your bid team is intimately familiar with its contents.
In particular, look out for Selection Questions (also known as SQs), the Invitation to Tender (ITT), evaluation criteria, specification and pricing schedule. These will initially help you evaluate the attractiveness of the contract and should form the basis of your bid if you decide to proceed. Don’t focus solely on the core documentation: supporting documents relating to the nature of the contact and its reasons for issue are equally important.
Your first step, having read the documents, is to convene a strategy meeting to gauge your company’s likelihood of success. If it looks unlikely, don’t be afraid to step away. It will save a lot of time and expense.
3. Not reading the clarifications
Preparing a bid is a big job and, with deadlines approaching, it can seem that the only way to get it completed on time is to skim-read the documentation. Doing so risks missing vital information, which is often included in footnotes, endnotes and supplementary documentation.
Clarifications are an important source of context. They provide nuance for otherwise broad-brush headings and can fundamentally change the tone of your bid by more fully explaining what the procurement team is looking for. Tailoring your bid to fit will increase your chances of success.
4. Missing the nuance of what the buyer is looking for
Every contract is an opportunity to solve a problem. Whether it is taking over a school meals service or upgrading a railway mainline, the contractor will be expected to deliver a solution that the government doesn’t have the expertise to handle in house, or at a lower price than the state could otherwise achieve.
If your bid doesn’t demonstrate an ability and willingness to deliver what the procurement team is looking for, it will quickly be ruled out. It is often said that a good salesperson can sell anything, and that may well be true, but it’s equally important to recognise the subtle difference between purchasing and procurement. Where purchasing is focused on short-term benefit, procurement is the process of sourcing the best long-term solution to a defined problem. The stakes are far higher in procurement, as reflected in the process and how it needs to be approached.
5. Not answering the questions properly
Use the full space made available to you and make an effort to answer every question as fully as you can is key. Include details of past successes where relevant and demonstrate not only why your bid should progress to the next stage, but why your company is the most suitable candidate for the contract overall.
Re-read your bid several times and try to anticipate where questions may arise, bearing in mind that any loose ends may raise doubts that weren’t previously an issue. Answer these questions in your main body or supporting documentation to increase the likelihood of success.
6. Relying on stock answers
A library of past bids and model answers, like the one we maintain at Augmentas Group, is an excellent reference resource. It can guide the process of writing future bids by demonstrating which approaches have been successful in the past, and what should be avoided. However, it should never be used as a direct source. Copying and pasting content that has been used in previous bids only ever answers historical questions, which have already previously been answered.
Every answer should be written afresh to directly address the requirements of the current bid, even if it is merely a continuation of a contract your organisation already holds.
If there is any boilerplate material in your document, confine it to your positioning statement.
7. Not taking a professional approach
The adage that you get out what you put into it is often true when bidding for a tender. Adopting a piecemeal, ‘have-a-go’ approach rarely succeeds, and is frequently obvious from the submitted material, which can be thin, poorly argued and not adequately supported by relevant evidence.
Your bid needs to instil confidence in the procurement team, which is tasked with finding contractors that can be trusted with – often – millions of pounds of taxpayer funds.
8. Not asking for feedback
Failing to win a tender is disappointing, but it should not be the end of the process. Understanding why your bid was unsuccessful will help you to write a more effective bid in the future. This is in the interests of the procurement team as it will keep the market competitive and give it a wider choice of potential providers to choose from.
Asking for feedback, and performing a post-mortem within your team, in which the feedback is compared directly with elements of the bid is an essential part of preparing for your next application.
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