What does it take to win UK public sector contracts?
Discover what it takes to win public sector contracts in the UK. This article aims to provide helpful tips on how to proceed.
An introduction to public sector procurement
Bidding to the Public Sector is strategically critical for some organisations. For others, it can be an important market which adds significant value to their business. For many, it can appear a daunting prospect, involving a lot of effort and limited reward. This short paper is designed to give some helpful insight into how best to proceed.
The first point to understand is that buying in the public sector is highly regulated. Despite what you may have heard about dodgy PPE deals during the COVID crisis, this type of practise is extremely rare. In general, public-sector procurement is conducted in accordance with the Public Contract Regulations, which are published on-line if you wish to find out more. These regulations are designed to ensure transparency and equality of treatment, so it can be proved that all suppliers are treated the same. The process is therefore highly dependent on the written word and even personal conversations must be captured and shared to all parties to avoid any seemingly unfair advantage.
Procurement professionals must open competition to any who wish to bid by publishing their opportunities online. Alternatively, they can buy via a framework, which is similar in concept to an approved supplier list and limits potential bidders to those who have been previously selected onto the framework. Nevertheless, the frameworks must themselves be open to all to apply for and be subject to a transparent selection process.
In all cases the objective is, as far as possible, to remove the influence of personal relationships and bias from the process. Procurement professionals are restricted from engaging with supplier sales professionals during the buying process and all communication must be made in writing, with responses open to all to see. Despite this there is much published about engaging with buyers early to “influence their decisions,” especially from those who sell bid intelligence software.” However, from our experience as professional public sector buyers, this is challenging. Nevertheless, there are practical steps which you can take to improve you chances of success.
Start with case studies
An important part of a buyers job is to mitigate risk. This means they are typically looking for suppliers who have specific and credible experience of providing the service or products they are looking for. To evidence this, they look for case studies, reference customers and testimonials that are relevant. This experience does not necessarily have to have been in the public sector but it needs to demonstrate the effective application of most of the elements of the proposed operational solution.
Therefore, an easy way to start is by writing up your case studies explaining who you worked for, the problem or challenge they were seeking to solve, your approach to solving it and the measured results which you achieved. The most compelling case studies provide objective data which clearly demonstrate the achievement of specific results. To make them even stronger it is helpful to add customer quotes, which give potential customers confidence that you would be able to do the same for them.
In essence, your library of case studies defines the products or service which you can sell to the public sector. Trying to sell outside of this is almost impossible as you will be competing with others who can reference relevant experience and therefore, in the eyes of the buyer, are less risky.
- Start with case studies
- Recognise you are unlikely to win without them
- Define your public sector offers based on your case studies
- Collect objective results data, reference customers and testimonials
- Apply a common structure
Research the Public Sector and the specific departments you could target
Many people respond to Invitations to Tender (ITTs) based on what has been written in the ITT alone but this does not tell you who the incumbent is and invariably does not include sufficient information about the government department you are selling to. It is therefore always valuable to do some research, much of which can be achieved on-line.
Bidders who take the time to understand the challenges of the departments they are selling to and demonstrate understanding of their underlying problems and strategic objectives are far more likely to succeed. The Public Sector publishes a huge amount and there are many very useful documents available to understand. Policy papers, strategic objectives and major initiatives are almost always available.
You should also be able to find out who the incumbent is if it is being retendered and therefore understand who you are up against. They have a natural advantage in that they fully understand the contract requirements. However, this can be a disadvantage if performance has been questionable, especially as the new contract regulations will be taking greater notice of objectively measured contract performance when they come into being next year. The more you can understand this, the better.
You can also understand your competition by attending market engagement events as a list of attendees is generally made available. We recommend that you research the companies and the individuals attending, as their experience will be of interest and is likely to shape how they might respond. Bidders with a strong blend of operational, selling and marketing experience are going to be your major threats.
- Recognise the public sector is enormous and is comprised of many discrete organisations
- Find out more about your potential public sector customers
- Know more than has been written in the ITT about their problems, their strategy and their plans
- Show interest in them
- Attend market engagement events
- Research your competition, especially the incumbent
Make it easy for buyers and specifiers to research you and your services.
Much of the work conducted by professional procurement is conducted out of contact with suppliers. Nevertheless, to shape requirements, they need to understand the market and will want to understand the options available to them. Furthermore, those involved in the specification of the service are unlikely to be in the procurement team, they will be in the operational areas who are experiencing the problems that the procurement has been established to meet.
Civil servants typically have two major constraints: knowledge of the market and the time in which to find out more. Consequently, they are drawn to those organisations that can help them to understand more, but without being sold to. Procurement professionals will be quite reluctant to engage personally for fear of being in breach of the regulations which they are bound to follow.
Therefore, organisations who are more successful provide opportunities for specifiers and procurement teams to learn about how best to solve their problems and achieve their objectives. They provide accessible material and opportunities to attend events such as webinars which are more educational in content and which challenge the public sector to think about their problems in different ways. Much of this content is openly available and does NOT require buyers to fill in a form to access.
Procurement processes also can include market engagement events where the buyer is seeking to find out more. Use this as an opportunity to help them rather than to sell.
- Make it easy for buyers to understand you, your products and services
- Provide “commercial teaching” which helps buyers to understand the market
- Provide accessible material
- Aim to teach and inform, not to sell
Have a clear strategy
Those who succeed think very hard about their customers and what they can do to solve their problems. It is essential to have a clear strategy which targets specific areas of government which you have taken the time to research and understand.
Avoid bidding for absolutely everything. Not all tenders will suit your organisation and you do not want to waste valuable time and resources that could be put towards winning ‘must-win bids.’ Any bid must be assessed to see whether the time, effort, and expenditure required to execute it may be better used on other endeavours Moreover, through this process you must believe you can win the contract. There is nothing worse than an unmotivated bid team without confidence.
Once the opportunity has been selected it is essential not to just ‘jump in,’ ensure that you have read the tender contract specification very carefully and the requirements of PQQs/SQs (pre-qualifying questionnaire/standard selection questionnaire). Even if you are the incumbent or think you have a good chance of winning, the tender submission will ultimately determine who wins the contract. Thus, pay great attention to the requirements of the Invitation to Tender and know what you are going to be writing about.
- Research your targets
- Believe you can win the contract
- Carefully consider if the tender is the right fit for your organisation
- PQQs/SQs – Make sure you qualify
- Carefully read the requirements of the Invitation to Tender (ITT)
- Do not just jump in, develop a story board
Prepare in advance and apply good time management
All too often tenders are released with limited time to submission, meaning bids are written in haste. Preparation for this eventuality is essential, as the old adage goes “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” As soon as the tender is released, make every effort to ensure you raise any clarification questions early. As far as possible, you must allow the time needed to research and write a winning submission. Do not leave it until the last minute, this is how mistakes happen. Time Management when tendering is key.
- Ensure good time management
- Raise clarification questions
- Conduct essential research
- Do not leave it until the last minute
Answer the Questions
The reason bids are onerous on bid teams is that each bid must be written with the tender authority in mind – you want to tailor to the exact requirements of the contract. Deconstruct the questions to help form an appropriate, winning response, ensure you understand the point scoring mechanisms to make certain that you are maximising your answers to the questions asked. Answer the question with the information they have requested, not the information you believe they should know about your business.
- Tailor your response to the exact requirements of the contract
- Deconstruct the questions
- Understand the evaluation mechanisms
Give supporting evidence
You need to provide comprehensive responses, referencing all the relevant requirements and how the work can be performed to the required standard. Keep information consistent and do not compile the response using promotional material, as promotional material does not always match the tender requirements. In saying that, you want to be persuasive and not descriptive. Your task is to sell your service to the tender authority and be more compelling than your competition. With each claim you make, be sure to provide evidence and reference documents clearly. Support your arguments with relevant case studies and factual evidence.
- Do not compile using promotional material
- Be persuasive, not descriptive
- Make sure your answers are comprehensive
- Keep information consistent
- Make sure you provide evidence for the claims in your responses
- Reference documents clearly
You want to appear credible by having a tender bid that is professionally presented. Ensure that everything is standardised into the same font/typeface and structure, clear references to question numbers, with no spelling mistakes or illegible text. Keep to simple language within your responses and provide concise wording for easy readability and understanding.
- Structure and present it well
- Make sure you clearly reference the question numbers
- Avoid filler content
- Keep to simple language
- No spelling mistakes or illegible writing
- Be concise
Apply reviews from different reviewers
Your response needs to resonate with customers with different perspectives. A critical friend with multiple opinions can shed light on the response and see something you may have missed. A new set of eyes and mindsets is paramount for an effective response. Another person will be able to collaborate and offer different points of view, adding knowledge and experience which one lone writer cannot. Have your submission proofread and reviewed throughout the process so you can fix as you go, and especially prior to submission.
An important point is to ensure those who will later be involved in delivery are invited to participate and review. When you win the work, they will need to be committed to delivering the contract and to the commercial model offered. Without this, you will be creating high business risk.
- Recognise that you are communicating with a team
- Ensure reviewers are involved with different perspectives
- Involve those who will be delivering
Find the best procurement & tender management solution for you
There are many aspects to consider when writing a tender as outlined above. A tender exists as a method for a contracting authority to evaluate a bidder and appoint the most suitable organisation to a contract. It is a means of a fair and transparent procurement process. It is for your company to best portray yourselves and how you will deliver a contract, therefore take the time to apply best practices to put yourselves in the best position and be rewarded with a successful tender submission.
Augmentas Group Limited bid management support comes from a combination of procurement professionals who have worked in both the private and public sector, our bid management consultants who consistently win responses for customers in various sectors and industries. At Augmentas Group, we have 100% success rate at the qualification stage and 88% success rate at tender stage across numerous industries. We understand the formulae to producing winning tender submissions and we implement this into every bid we write.
Contact us for an exploratory call.