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Oxygen Finance

How Buyers Evaluate Tenders and What It Means For Your Next Bid

Creating, and sticking to, a strong, well thought-out evaluation process is key to running a successful procurement exercise. With that in mind, Crown Commercial Services recently released a guide for public sector buyers on how to evaluate bids. Although primarily designed for buyers, the guidance also proves illuminating for those who prepare bids so that they can ensure that they’ll be received in the best light.

Oxygen’s James Himsworth, formerly the Procurement Lead at Middlesbrough Council, looks at CCS’s advice and provides some of his own to prospective bidders; from assembling a formidable team to navigating potential conflicts of interest, crafting compelling communication and fine-tuning your bid against the evaluation criteria, to ensure that your next bid shines.

 

Bid writing is a team sport

First off, CCS recommend the creation of an evaluation team for procurement exercises rather than relying on one person to evaluate all bids.

The idea is to provide a balanced perspective, drawing on financial, technical, and purchasing skills within the buying organisation, with training provided for team members who may be unfamiliar with the evaluation process.

In addition, the guidance recommends that at least one member of this team should be trained on the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 which is concerned with fairness, transparency, and the equal treatment of suppliers.

As a supplier, you should similarly seek to ensure that you also pull together the skills within your organisation so that your bid is ready to stand up to the scrutiny of the buyers’ experts.

This may mean drawing on resources within other teams, such as finance, operations, and/or engineering departments, to kick the tyres on what’s been prepared. Better still, by involving these internal experts from the start, you’ll have a well-rounded, detailed bid that leaves no question unanswered.

 

Factor in potential conflicts of interest early

CCS also recommends that those involved in the evaluation on the buying side are aware of the need for fairness and to declare any potential conflicts of interest.

If your sales team have done their due diligence, you should have a good understanding of the organisational structure of the buying authority, most likely captured within your CRM system.

Although having an established relationship with someone within the buying organisation, for example, ex-employees, may at first appear a boon, it can lead to questions being raised. To combat this, make sure that your bid doesn’t assume any prior knowledge within the evaluation team, but instead assumes that those with a potential conflict of interest will have removed themselves from the evaluation process.

 

Write as if your competition were reading

Buyers are also advised to keep a well-documented evidence trail so that they can provide a transparent justification for their final choice of vendor, and feedback to suppliers whose bids were unsuccessful. This evidence trail will need to be kept for a minimum of three years from the date of the contract to show how the criteria and scoring had been applied, and the basis for the final decision.

For this reason, your team should ensure that any communication with the buyer would stand up to scrutiny and not detract from your bid. One rule of thumb would be to consider what a competing supplier might think if they were to read any of the communication you had sent. Buyers don’t want to be put in a difficult position, so ensure that none of your communication puts them in one.

 

The tender documentation is your touchstone

Scoring is a key part of the evaluation process, and CCS reminds those of the bids evaluation team to keep the award criteria and scoring methodology on hand throughout the evaluation process.

In terms of constructing scoring guidance, CCS recommends clear and specific advice for evaluators. For example, making it clear that insufficient evidence of the ability to fulfil a contract would equate to a lower score being given.

Similarly, the team you have built to develop your bid should also be given guidance to help them understand what is required of them in the areas of the bid that they are responsible for. This will include breaking down the tender documentation to identify the different areas your bid will be evaluated on.

CCS reminds buyers that scoring is usually focused on two components, price and quality, and therefore, you should ensure that your bid is equally strong in each area.

Should you find weakness in either, or both areas, then you may decide not to bid, and instead focus your efforts on other tenders where you will have a higher likelihood of being successful.

CCS also reminds evaluators to use only the evaluation criteria to make assessments and not to compare tenders against each other. This is important to remember. Even in tenders where your team is certain which competitors will also be bidding for the tender, your job is not merely to be better than the strongest competitor but to create the bid that scores highest against the evaluation criteria based on your current ability to deliver.

Indeed, you should always start your bidding process by evaluating your likely response against the tender evaluation criteria and what you believe are your likely chances of success.

If your likely response is not strong, then the best decision would be to choose not to bid at that early stage, wasting no further efforts. Even if it only becomes evident later that you are likely to be unsuccessful, it can be better to cut your losses there and then rather than plough more time into what will likely be a fruitless exercise.

 

Control your channels of communication

CCS makes clear that the clarification process should not be an opportunity for bidders to create a competitive advantage, and that buyers should create a single communication loop for all correspondence with suppliers for that reason. Indeed, clarification questions and answers should be included within the final contract. Know that any questions your team asks will be shared with your competition and included within the final contract.

In addition, once a decision has been made in ‘open’ competition (rather than a light touch, call-off or direct award) a mandatory eight working-day ‘standstill’ period will follow. This period exists so that unsuccessful bidders can request further information, and even call for a review of the decision. CCS recommends that a single point of contact be appointed within the bid evaluation team to manage communications during this period.

In the same way, your bidding team should also agree that all communication goes through a single point of contact, especially when possible conflicts of interest have been identified within the buying organisation, to ensure that your contact conduct stands up to scrutiny and allows those involved in the evaluation process to remain impartial.

 

Pulling everything together

Once the individual members of the evaluation team within the buyer have done their scoring, CCS recommends that the team appoints a moderator who has not been part of the evaluation up to that point to review the scoring of the team and moderate to ensure consensus.

Similarly, you should ensure that someone within the bidding team, who is not responsible for producing any one part of your response, reviews your bid against the criteria to ensure there are no contradictions, identify any weaker areas, and point out any ambiguous or unclear parts of your response. They can then work with the team to produce a cohesive response. It is important to ensure that enough time is allowed for this to happen, considering the likely availability of the team members.

By understanding the process that buyers use when evaluating your tender, you will be best placed to ensure that your own bidding process, and therefore by extension your bid, reflects the buyers’ decision-making process. Adopting a disciplined approach should help you create a comprehensive bid that considers both quality and price equally and uses the best thinking in your business, covering technical, financial, commercial, and operational areas, that addresses the award criteria point-by-point.

Working with a team, you can ensure that responsibility for your tender response doesn’t fall on any one person, and that your bid truly represents the best that your business has to offer the contracting authority.

In conclusion, make sure that your bid answers the questions being asked of you by the buyer, that it is written in plain English and is understandable to someone who may not be an expert in your industry. Get a fresh set of eyes to review the bid for clarity, consistency and to catch any spelling or grammar errors before submission, and make sure that you leave plenty of time before the deadline to upload.

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