The public sector spends £200bn on procurement each year, yet in 2017 only 23 per cent of procurement contracts awarded were advertised, marked or identified as suitable for SMEs, let alone smaller suppliers. The sector is committed to widening its use of smaller suppliers, with a target of 33% of public procurement with smaller businesses by 2022.
SMEs play a vital role in supplying goods and services and the increased competition and innovation they bring will help to ensure that the public sector and larger corporations can deliver world-class services that are value for money. It is widely accepted that the use of local firms creates local employment opportunities and other local economic benefits.
Tender processes may seem complicated and time-consuming to any businesses being involved for the first time. It’s fair to say that your first one will usually be the toughest, because the process will be unfamiliar and you may lack some of the standard policies that you need to have in place to attach to the tender. But once practised, and once you’ve built up your stock of documentation, each tender will inevitably feel less daunting.
Our top tips for winning your first tender
1. Commit to it
You’re not likely to be the best tenderer in the world straight away. It can take a little while to get all the building blocks for success in place, to get used to writing succinctly and with the buyer’s mindset. Winners commit the time and resources to build long-term success.
2. Be selective
First of all, it’s important that you don’t chase every tender request out there. The process can be intensive and you should think carefully about how your expertise and experience, and ability to deliver, matches up to an opportunity, how this compares to your competitors’ strengths, and what the chances of winning really are. GrowSmart has a resource that helps you identify those you have the best chance of winning and where to find tender opportunities.
3. Address weaknesses
All proposals are critically assessed and evaluators provide feedback (formally and through the debrief process) showing you where you fell down. If you get a one-liner – “thank you for your interest but I’m sorry to say you’ve been unsuccessful” – go back and ask for detailed feedback. Learn from it and you’ll see improvements in the scores you achieve.
4. Meet buyers
Winners maintain a list of buyers, easily obtained from tender notices. Buyers are generally happy to meet with SMEs when there isn’t a tender in progress, both individually and at Meet the Buyer events. It’s an opportunity for them to learn who you are and to share their challenges and tender plans. SMEs that do this are better prepared for the tenders when they arrive.
Yes, it’s time consuming, but if you don’t research, you’ll almost definitely lose out to someone who has. Before you start any proposal, you need to understand:
- The client – make sure you understand the client’s business, products or services, and especially the problems they’re facing and the solutions they’re looking for via their request for responses.
- The market – show the client you understand their world by researching the market, how their industry works, and referencing what is important to them. For example, all local authorities have local economic strategies within which they will issue calls.
- The competitors – comparing yourself objectively to the competition that are likely to be bidding can help you decide whether you have enough advantages to submit a bid, especially if there is already an incumbent delivering that supply.
6. Use tools
The tendering process is similar all over the world, so it makes sense to use technologies that simplify finding or qualifying tendering opportunities, or that can simplify proposal compilation. Put in place:
- a robust and objective process for making the bid/no bid decision
- shared access to a bid library on your network so that everyone can access bid documents
- Subscribe to tender portals like Contracts Finder and Proactis
- Make someone responsible to manage that bid library
- ensure Health & Safety, Quality, HR, and other policies and accreditations are kept up-to-date and compliant
7. Testimonials and case studies
The best way to prove that you have what it takes to do the job is to provide examples of past work in your proposal. So if the structure of the tender documents allow for this, use testimonials, references and case studies.
8. Leverage Social Value
Many public sector tenders request or allow for the delivery of some kind of social value. This could be anything from work placements, apprenticeships and education sessions in schools, to community activities, recycling, adopting environmental standards and employing local people. If you or your business is involved in any activities of this kind, this is where you can score a few precious points.
Hopefully, these tips will help you write the perfect winning tender, but as welearned the hard way, practise really does make perfect. Whatever happens, don’t become disheartened if you don’t win, but learn how to do better next time.