Tenders – Getting the Basics Right

I was fortunate at the end of May to spend 3 days in a workshop with 21 motivated business owners and senior managers – all focused on improving their business by supplying to a large organisation. The large organisation in question is BMA (BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance).

BMA operates seven coal mines and a coal loading terminal in Queensland, so they certainly qualify as a ‘large organisation’.

The workshop was jointly delivered by BMA and the Qld Department of State Development under the Accessing Supply Chain Opportunities (ASCO) program.

By far the most valuable aspect of the three days was having representatives from the BMA Procurement Team in the room for the entire duration of the workshop.  In my experience, the procurement teams of many large organisations exist in a parallel universe somewhere – virtually uncontactable and untouchable by we mere mortals!  The BMA personnel freely shared their experiences, answered our questions, and clearly articulated what it is that they look for when considering Tender submissions.

We got to work through a tender with the BMA procurement team, which allowed them to point out the parts that we should be paying attention to, and where many Tender submissions fall down.  Some of these were very obvious, but the feedback from the BMA team was that they see all manner of things presented to them in Tender submissions, and not all that they see are ‘best practice”.  Lack of attention to some of these basic items means that your Tender submission may be discarded immediately – without receiving any consideration at all.

So what do large companies look for when evaluating Tender responses?  And what can the owners and managers of SME’s do to make their tender submissions more likely to be a winner, and not fall at the first hurdle.

Tweet:  What do large companies look for when evaluating a Tender response?  http://bit.ly/1eiLjUp by @bronwyn_reid

Never assume anything.  If you have a question about something in the Tender – ask, and ask early. If anything is unclear, or you would just like some further clarification, ask the question.  A Tender can easily be lost due to the lack of a simple question.

Answer ALL questions.  Never, ever leave questions blank.  The tender evaluation team do not know if you have overlooked it or simply ignored it.  This is the fast track way to have your Tender submission discarded immediately.

Give them the full story.  You are not sitting beside the tender evaluation team when they read your submission, so they can’t ask you questions to find out what you mean.  Even if you’ve done work for that company for years, don’t presume that they know you, and what it is that you do.  While you may have done work or provided services to that company for years, not all the members of the evaluation panel will know you.

Articulate the benefit.  Make sure you are very clear on the benefit that your solution/product/service will provide to your prospective client. To help you get clear on this, complete a Value Proposition Canvas before you start.

Contact only the people specified.  Each Tender will have a designated contact.  Direct all questions or correspondence to them only.  That way you can ensure that you are getting the correct and official answers to your questions.

Don’t put N/A.  If a question is Not Applicable to you, tell them why.  Just a short sentence is sufficient so that the tender evaluation team know that it really isn’t applicable to you – not just that you don’t think it is.

Don’t send them hunting for documents.  By all means include attachments to help your business case, but give at least a brief description within the Tender – not just “See Attachment J”.

Emphasise your strengths.  Emphasise your strengths, not your competitor’s weaknesses. Make sure that you emphasise how your strengths will assist your prospective client – that will work to raise questions in your client’s minds about whether they can perform as well as you.

If you need more time, ask early.  If you really do need more time, make sure you put in a request early.  If you ask the day before, you can be sure that your request will be denied.

If you aren’t qualified, don’t bid.  Make sure you read the eligibility criteria and proposed contract carefully – before you start writing.  Many Tenders will have minimum requirements for insurances, professional qualifications, contract conditions etc.  If you don’t meet their criteria – your submission will be ruled out.  (A possible exception here is where you submit a bid, even though you may not be fully qualified, just to get ‘on their radar’.  Make sure you have thought this through properly though – you don’t want to appear incompetent).

Follow their format.  If they have given you a form or spreadsheet to complete, use it.  From experience, I know that some of these can be difficult to follow.  However, they are usually trying to achieve a situation where they can compare apples with apples.   Don’t give them oranges.

Showcase relevant experience.  Include information on projects or work you have completed that would be comparable in size, value and risk profile to the one you are tendering for.  This will give the evaluation team insight into what you are capable of.  Make them relevant though – something you did 20 years ago won’t interest them.

Provide referees who will help your bid.  Always provide referees for work and projects that you showcase in your Tender. Be sure that they will provide a good reference for you, and let them know that you would like to provide their name as a referee.  There would be nothing worse than having your prospective client call a referee and getting “Never heard of them” in response.

Justify your non-conformances.  If you propose a non-conforming Tender, make sure you spell out the benefit of the non-conformance.  Sometimes, with the best will in the world, the team preparing a tender get it wrong, or there may be a new and better way that you have devised to achieve the same outcome.  If so, by all means propose the new or better way as a non-conforming tender.  But make sure that you clearly identify the benefit.

Don’t re-write War and Peace.  Keep your answers succinct and to the point.  It’s ok to repeat information if it is relevant to more than one question (Not “See Question 7”).

No jargon.  If you are using abbreviations and acronyms, include a Glossary.  Not everyone on the tender evaluation team will be a technical specialist in your field, so give them the best chance of understanding what you are talking about.

Formal tenders are becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence for SME owners and managers.  They take a great deal of time and money to prepare, so make sure you give yourself the best possible chance of being the winner. Stick to these basic rules, and avoid being one of those that are knocked out in the first round.

Bronwyn Reid

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