A key checkpoint in any company’s journey is the point at which a supplier’s contract terminates and a new tender process can be initiated. It can be an exciting time, perusing through the proposals forwarded by suppliers offering a diverse and innovative array of services, but it’s also a time that demands a high degree of professionalism, care, and guile.
In this piece, we’re going to look at some of the ways you can enhance your management of the tender process, drive effectiveness from start to completion, and establish new or renewed relationships which benefit all parties.
Establish a process to begin with
As the tendering journey can be a long and complex one, establishing a clear process at least provides signposts and checkpoints that all stakeholders can recognise and work towards.
It is surprisingly common to find companies initiating a tender process and essentially improvising their way through to completion. This all too easily leads to miscommunications, disorganisation, and – ultimately – an unsatisfactory outcome.
Although a tender process should be organic, there needs to be a structure which is constant, accessible, and familiar to all bidders and employees involved in its execution. As an example, a tender process might follow a structure such as the following 11-step route;
- Formation of a Procurement Team
A procurement team will typically involve representatives from all departments involved in managing the contract; e.g. HR, quality management, Health & Safety etc.
For high-value tenders, or tenders that involve contracting out for the first time, a larger team (including directors) will usually be required and follow the full tender process. On the other hand, smaller tenders may only require an abridged procurement process overseen by a smaller team.
- Development of Tender and Assessment Criteria
Having put together a procurement team, the team should then agree what the tender will involve e.g.;
- Specification or general requirement
- Supplier requirements and mandatory requirements (e.g. ISO standards)
- Questions for bidders
- Tender rules and/or instructions
- Assessment criteria (how bids will be scored e.g. 60% quality / 40% price)
- Type of contract (e.g. one-off, term or framework)
- Creation of the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)
This should form part of the initial selection process to help select potential suppliers for suitability for the works. It is used to create a list of companies to either be invited to tender or can be made available to anyone (e.g. OJEU tenders).
This qualification stage might only be made available to an approved supplier list, as part of an initial screening interview, or a formal PQQ (questionnaire to assess against minimum requirements). Some tenders incorporate aspects of the PQQ within the tender therefore eliminating this stage.
- Issuing the Tender
The invitation to tender (ITT) will be issued to the list of selected potential suppliers. This might involve a set of questions to be answered along with a pricing matrix. Alternatively, it could be less formal – simply asking the bidder to submit a formal proposal and a price.
Public sector and corporates tend to use formal ITTs – especially for higher-value tenders.
- Holding a Tender Briefing Meeting
It is common and useful for all parties for the tender procurement panel to hold supplier briefing meetings. They are useful to help clarify the tender, answer any questions, and ensure that the most suitable bidders proceed with the tender.
- Initial Assessment
At this stage, the tender panel mark each bid against the agreed assessment matrix. This results in a league table of the highest and lowest bidders’ scores.
- Produce a Supplier Short-list
The assessment is then used to create a short-list of potential suppliers. The number of bidders in a short-list will depend on the nature of the contract. So, for example, a framework agreement will require a number of suppliers to be awarded a contract, whereas another tender might only have one winning supplier.
- Organise Presentations, Interviews & Visits
Short-listed bidders can then be invited for further assessment by means of a tender short-list presentation or a Q&A session. This might be extended to a visit to supplier’s premises and possibly meeting some of their customers. Again, the tender panel will assess this against their pre-determined assessment criteria.
- Selecting the winning supplier
Whatever the tender procurement process, the tender panel will arrive at its final scores and will use those to select the best performers and award contract(s).
- Holding the Negotiations
The extent to which there is scope for negotiation will depend on the nature of each individual tender. A large-scale tender may not offer much scope for negotiation whilst other, smaller tenders might. Procurement teams should always keep in mind that it is unlikely that there will be opportunity for any major negotiation – especially not on the overall price.
- Awarding the Contract
Once everything in the tender procurement process is finalised, contract(s) can then be awarded.
Look back to move forward
A classic mistake that tender managers make when beginning a new tender process, is jumping straight into assessing proposals without first undertaking a period of reflection and evaluation of previous tenders.
The first stage of any tender process should involve a selection of stakeholders getting together and discussing and defining precisely what is required from a new supplier. This should involve conversations about what has worked well with previous suppliers, and what has not. It should also involve conversations about how well previous tender processes worked and whether anything can be done differently.
Taking the time to revise erstwhile tenders means managers are able to;
- Improve on the results of previous tenders.
- Remind suppliers of services that have been previously offered, giving them ideas for requirements for ‘added value’ when they re-tender for the same or similar contracts.
- Give suppliers ideas of methodological or technological changes suggested by previous bidders, which may be of more relevance now.
- Help suppliers write the new tender specifications, and so lead to a smart contract.
Facilitate healthy competition
Once you’ve got to a stage where you know exactly what you want from a supplier and how you want the tender process to look, you’ll need to start planning activities for bidders to complete. Multiple factors need to be considered when building these activities, including ensuring they are;
Accessible: Naturally, you will want activities the bidders to undertake to be sufficiently rigorous so that the best and most compatible suppliers can be found. However, care should be taken that these tasks don’t become overly complex and drawn-out so that they become inaccessible to smaller businesses.
Relevant: Providing you took the time to map out exactly what you want from a supplier, creating activities relevant to your end goal shouldn’t be an issue. It is though, a common error made by bid managers to build activities that lead to suppliers’ showcasing their capabilities generally, and not in ways that are specific to your requirements. Always keep in mind that you want a supplier to add value to your operations. If you know how a supplier could achieve this, ensure that activities allow them to demonstrate precisely the ways they are able to add the value you’re looking for.
Efficient: This ties in with making activities accessible. Again, you want your activities to be rigorous but not to the point bidders become overwhelmed by the workload, nor yourself by assessing them. Look to make activities as streamlined as possible. Using online forms can help as reports can be generated accurately and without error speeding up the whole process.
Fair: This is a factor that needs to be managed for reasons other than securing the best supplier. EU procurement regulations allow for suppliers to challenge the buyer when they believe they have been treated unfairly during the tendering process. Even if unsuccessful, such a challenge can be time-consuming as it stalls the contract’s progress.
Prevent challenges before they arise by double checking your tender documents:
- At the SSQ (Standard Selection Questionnaire) stage, ensure you have not erroneously excluded any bidders
- At the tender stage, double check;
– all important information is fully shared with all bidders
– look out for anything that could be seen as biased marking
– ensure you do not alter the award criteria or weightings after receiving bids
There are few organisations that downplay the importance of getting the tender process right. However, recognising the importance of this process doesn’t necessarily translate into executing best practice.
Driving effectiveness within this critical business function requires an approach that is methodical, structured, open to revision and clearly understood by all stakeholders. Cutting corners may save you time and nominal expense, but the problems this can unleash further down the line make this a gamble no business should contemplate making.