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Bid process

Talking to clients part 1: Scoping calls

When you receive an RFP, and are deciding whether to pursue it (or indeed, deciding whether to continue your pursuit, as you should already have a fairly good idea by this point unless it’s a cold bid), how often do you undertake a scoping call with the client?

Many firms assume once an opportunity is issued, the client is off-limits – however this is not always the case. Some clients offer scoping calls as part of the procurement (group and individual), and even if they don’t expressly mention in the RFP documents, you can ask. Worse case, the client says no. Best case, you learn key intelligence and insight that may not have been included in the papers.

So you have the scoping call agreed and diarised – but who should attend, and what should you ask?

The scoping call should involve those who will be heavily involved in the bid production and sign off

Unless the client restricts attendees to one person, you should aim for your bid manager and bid lead (e.g. sponsor, whoever will sign off the submission) to attend as a minimum. You may also find it useful to invite key subject matter expert(s) if the opportunity is technical in nature. At the basic level – the scoping call should involve those who will be heavily involved in the bid production and sign off, so that they fully understand what the client wants, and so can ensure your submission is persuasive and is written to win.

Once your attendees are decided, you should gather scoping questions from the bid team – not just the attendees. It should go without saying that you should not ask anything that is already set out in the documentation, unless it is unclear. Scoping calls are the chance to discuss the client’s unwritten needs or issues, and can give you those golden nuggets of intelligence that other bidders may not have. They can help frame your bid themes and value propositions, and your questions could cross the client’s business/sector, culture and requirements, their position on fees, and the performance of their current providers (if applicable). Of course, there is no guarantee that a client will answer everything you ask, but examples of key questions include:

  • Are any changes planned for your business? What impact will they have?
  • What plans do you have to increase your competitive position?
  • What do you feel are the current issues facing your business?
  • How does this project/service fit into your overall business plans?
  • What, in your opinion, does added value look like? 
  • Who are your current service providers? Why did you choose them? What do they do well, or what would you like to see them do differently?
  • How important are the project/service costs/fees for you? Is there anything that has caused you a problem with fees or billing in the past?
  • What would we need to do to convince you that we are right for you?

Scoping calls can provide an opportunity for you to ‘get into the weeds’ of a tender and the client’s unspoken needs, potentially giving you competitive advantage – all within the procurement rules. As long as you plan properly ahead of time to make the most of the opportunity, what have you got to lose?

The second part of our ‘Talking to clients’ series next week will address presentations within the procurement process. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just about PowerPoint!

Categories
Bid process

Bidonomy’s top blogs of 2020

We’re quite pleased that the word cloud we’ve created above, from all our published blogs, has team, client, process and content front and centre – quite rightly the factors that underpin every bid!

In terms of readership numbers, these were our top ten blogs of 2020…clearly, everyone’s as into (or frustrated by?!) linguistics as we are! Although also very proud to see the ode to Tommy Caldwell’s free climb up The Dawn Wall of Yosemite so high up the list – a personal favourite blog.

  1. Apostrophe Rage: or, how I learned to love the Oxford comma  
  2. The Redundant That
  3. To bid, or not to bid
  4. The Dawn Bid: Free climbing the bid process
  5. Setting up and managing an effective content library
  6. A brief history of bidding: Past, present and future
  7. Once Upon A Bid
  8. When is Best Practice not best practice?
  9. The Right Team, or the ‘Their Turn’ Team?   
  10. The Great Exec Summary Debate

When Bidonomy was set up in June 2020, we had no idea how well received the blogs would be. We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to read and engage with us, and who took part in several polls we ran on LinkedIn.

Happy New Year!

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Bid process

The 12 Days of Bidmas

On the first day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… a double G&T.

On the second day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the third day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the fourth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the fifth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the sixth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the seventh day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the eighth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the ninth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the tenth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… ten detailed bios, nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the eleventh day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… eleven colour graphics, ten detailed bios, nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the twelfth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… twelve days till deadline, eleven colour graphics, ten detailed bios, nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a doub-le G-&-T!

Happy holidays everyone!

With additional thanks to Victoria Lee for her help in composition.

Categories
Bid process

Bidding as the incumbent

How do you bid in a re-tender if you’re the incumbent? Do you take it is a given that you’ll retain the contract, as your firm’s been successful with the client? Do you assume the client knows a defined amount about your firm, and focus on anything that is new or you haven’t previously offered them? Or do you treat it as a new bid for a new client, not missing a beat in terms of research, preparation and what you can offer?

According to the APMP’s Body of Knowledge (BOK) “Complacency is the number-one reason incumbent contractors lose”; so your answer should be the third option – but there is still more to it than this. The BOK sets out three phases to winning as the incumbent:

  • Performing to win. Making sure performance is on track, soliciting customer feedback, capturing metrics, and identifying trends
  • Preparing to win. Capturing rebid with the vigour of new business, shaping acquisition and solicitation, and preparing price-to-win and the solution from the ground up
  • Proposing to win. Writing a compelling proposal aligned to evaluation criteria, bidding to the solicitation (not what you know), and not assuming that the evaluator knows your performance history”

The first phase is vital. You should plan for your recompete in plenty of time; after all, you know how long the contract is for, whether any extension discussions have happened, and therefore should be able to anticipate when the client will issue the retender. While you should be gathering client feedback throughout the contract anyway – via client review meetings, informal feedback, reporting/MI, your own performance metrics etc – you should be collating and reviewing this information as a bid team at least three to six months before the retender is due.

Create a feedback loop with those on the front line with the client

You shouldn’t rely on just client feedback however. The second phase, preparing to win, needs the bid team to create a feedback loop with those on the front line with the client – your Account Managers, Project Managers, and Service Delivery Managers to name a few. They are the people who are best-placed to gather intelligence (capture management) on:

  • Were any issues raised by the client that you overcame?
  • Did you demonstrate an improvement in performance during the contract?
  • Did you bring any added value innovations and improvements as a result of the contract?
  • Is anything new or coming down the tracks that is of importance to your client?
  • Are any competitors are talking to them, and how your client views this competition?
  • Are there are likely to be any cost constraints – or indeed larger budgets (we can but dream!) – for the new RFP?

This is all key information you can use to your advantage when recompeting – assisting with the development of your win themes and value propositions, and your price-to-win model.

The third phase is where complacency could really come into play. As the BOK states “The old adage ‘proposals are scored, not read’ might very well apply here.” The danger with being the incumbent is that you assume you’ve carried out the contract well, the client is happy and there’s no reason for them to change supplier – so you don’t need to change things up too much. On the flip side, you could also know too much – and risk bidding for the current contract, not the retendered RFP. 

Do not assume that the procurement evaluators know your business at all, as they may be completely independent to the client service side. As with any bid, you should answer the questions as written – not how you think they should be answered based on your current relationship – and ensuring you can achieve the highest scores against the evaluation criteria. You must be compliant, regardless of how well the client knows you, and how well you’ve performed (or think you’ve performed!) You should also challenge your business. Don’t simply continue how you have been working– what can you do differently this time around? Always ensure you are offering the best solution to the client and their future needs.

Throughout these three phases, one factor is key – leverage what you know, but don’t rely on it or take it for granted. The client won’t.

Categories
Procurement

Are you ready for post-Brexit UK public sector procurement?

Last week, the UK Cabinet Office issued a Procurement Policy Note (PPN) reminding UK contracting authorities* that when the UK withdraws from the EU they will no longer be able to publish opportunities via the OJEU Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) system**. New procurement notices normally legally required to be issued to TED will instead have to be issued to the new UK e-notification service, Find a Tender (FTS) which will go live at 23:00 31st December 2020 when the transition period ends.

Fancy a game of snakes and ladders? Following the new FTS guidance

The PPN instructs Contracting Authorities what action they will need to take, which varies depending on which other services they already use. There are also exceptions – mainly if the procurement had already been published, or a PIN issued, on TED prior to 23:00 31st December 2020 – in which case until the procurement is concluded (i.e., awarded, withdrawn etc.), all subsequent notices and stages will still have to be published through TED. The Cabinet Office does suggests replication on Find a Tender as well however.  

The Notice was accompanied by a set of FAQs and a flow chart that wouldn’t look out of place on a snakes and ladders board but, despite initial appearances, is a helpful map of the various scenarios.

But what does this mean for bidders?

If you currently bid for UK public sector contracts, you will need to use the new FTS platform, in addition to any other portals** you are already registered on.

You cannot access the FTS url, or therefore register on the platform, until it launches after 23:00 31st December 2020, but you can access test data outputs, and can also request data for testing from the Crown Commercial Services (CCS) helpdesk.

EU public sector opportunities are unaffected of course, and will still be published on TED.

So get updating those portal spreadsheets, and don’t forget to register on the new FTS.

We have a feeling the CCS helpdesk might be a little busy fielding queries for a while!

*Including Central Government Departments, Executive Agencies, Non Departmental Public Bodies, wider public sector, local authorities, NHS bodies, and utilities in respect of procurements regulated by the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, the Utilities Contracts Regulations 2016, the Concession Contracts Regulations 2016 and The Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011 (the “Regulations”).

** None of the other public sector platforms (the Cabinet Office lists Contracts Finder, MOD Defence Contracts Online, Public Contracts Scotland, Sell2Wales, eSourcing NI and eTendersNI) will be affected.

Categories
Bid process

The question of clarifications

According to the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK), a clarification is: “Communication to eliminate minor irregularities or apparent clerical mistakes in a request for proposal (RFP) or in a proposal.”

In our experience, there are two extremes of clarifications on bids; at one end of the scale, those bids that are pretty self-explanatory but there may be a little more information you’d like, or the ones you read and think, “what are you talking about?!”

But when should you raise clarification questions? And what are the best types of questions to raise?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When (and how) should raise your clarifications?
If the client has provided a clarification deadline after which they will respond, always try to submit your questions at least one or two days before this if you can. Just like submitting your response on a portal at the last minute, there’s a risk that systems may not work, or every other bidder has the same idea – meaning your messages could get lost in the chaos.

Some clients don’t provide a deadline, and clarifications can be raised (and answered) throughout the procurement period. Here, you should try and raise your questions as soon as possible. Firstly, why not get the information you need as soon as you can? Secondly, it provides a further opportunity to go back to the client if things are still unclear and before it’s too late down into submission.

In either scenario, unless it is impossible for logistical reasons (or the client’s response prompts more clarifications!), you should always try to raise your clarifications in one batch. Think about how frustrating it could be for your potential client (or existing client, if a retender of course) to receive multiple questions in separate emails / messages from you. Having said that, we’ve not long worked on a bid where the client send out over 300 clarifications in individual message threads…

Clarification: Communication to eliminate minor irregularities or apparent clerical mistakes in a request for proposal (RFP) or in a proposal

APMP Body of Knowledge

What types of clarifications should you be raising?
Looking back at the BOK definition, it’s perfectly valid to clarify the date of submission, or the deadline for clarification questions, if different dates are provided across documentation. If you are submitting via an online portal, it’s rare (in our experience at least!) that the date there is incorrect – so this could be used as a deciding vote.

If the documents refer to forms or other documents to be completed, but which haven’t been provided, these should definitely be raised as a clarification. For other clerical errors, you may be able to logically work out yourself without embarrassing or annoying the client by raising them formally – such issues include incorrect page numbers or headings, spelling mistakes etc.

You should also raise clarifications if information is missing or unclear, that you consider vital to submitting your response, such as (but not limited to!):
Information required for pricing purposes, e.g., in a tender to supply contact centre services, you would need to know average call lengths and volumes to determine how many staff you need to price up for. Or in a professional/consultancy services tender, you might need to know how many hours / days’ work they require over a set period.
Information required for logistical purposes e.g., where the client needs services to be delivered from, or whether any existing work or staff would need to be transferred.
Information on current operations, such as current contract spend, areas with the highest volumes of work or areas of greatest concern to the client.
Evaluation or scoring criteria hasn’t been included, or no weightings have been provided by the client – in most cases, this information can help you shape your response accordingly.
Contractual points, e.g., are there clauses that your company cannot agree to that you would seek to negotiate at this time, or does the client reference performance indicators which aren’t defined?

You shouldn’t, however, make your (or your competitors’) lives more difficult through your clarification questions. Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to! The ones that always make us roll our eyes are those bidders who ask for word or page limits to be increased. Unless they’ve made a mistake, the client has assigned those limits on purpose – they may have a small team, who can’t read 10 submissions of five volumes each. Or, they are simply judging how you follow instructions, and present information concisely. While you might have the client who is open to extending, or removing, word limits – what does that really achieve, especially if you’ve already drafted a response, other than additional work and potential impact on your colleagues?

Think carefully about what is vital information, de-risk your questions, and always be polite – and don’t be that bidder that all the others roll their eyes at!

Categories
Procurement

Social Responsibility in Bids

An interesting article from Innovators Mag came through on our bids and tenders alert last week, which talked about Socially Responsible Public Procurement (SRPP) and measuring the social impact of public sector procurement.

The article cited a recent report by the European Commission: “Making socially responsible public procurement work: 71 good practice cases”. The report examines how procuring bodies – and, of course, suppliers – can make SRPP visible, through the promotion of a range of factors including “employment opportunities, decent work, social inclusion, accessibility, design for all, ethical trade, and compliance with social and environmental standards”.

From the supplier side, how often are you asked to show how you would promote social responsibility? In our experience, questions in this area are becoming ever-more frequent, and just some of the examples we’ve seen in the last couple of years include asking how suppliers would:

  • Increase employment opportunities in the local area
  • Create apprenticeships for young people
  • Support local charities and underprivileged groups
  • Reduce the supplier’s and awarding authority’s carbon footprint
  • Demonstrate a local presence
  • Demonstrate a commitment to gender and ethnic equality
  • Use sustainable business practices
  • Adopt family leave policies for domestic violence

What we need to do is think outside the box a little – both on the supplier, and procurement sides

The article notes that many suppliers might “find it hard to incorporate a social dimension in their bids”. This may be true, particularly for certain industries which require specialist skillsets or where your product/service may not naturally lend itself to providing social value as a direct output. Supporting charities has often been an ‘easy win’ for companies to talk about, but it is no longer enough. What we need to do is think outside the box a little – both on the supplier, and procurement sides.

Innovators Mag points to a great example of putting this into practice from The City of Helsingborg (Sweden), which hosted a market consultation exercise to share with potential suppliers its aim to create job opportunities and/or internships for the unemployed through its procurement for cleaning services. This was built into the procurement evaluation criteria. Of the six organisations that took part in the market consultation, four became suppliers, and five unemployed people were provided with jobs or internships in the contract’s first year.

The Helsingborg example also shows that it isn’t enough to simply talk about what you do in terms of social value – you have to offer proof. Many procuring organisations also expect you to continually measure and report on your social actions.

With the effects of the global pandemic ongoing throughout 2020 and no doubt into 2021, SRPP will surely only increase as we look to ‘fix’ our economies. It’s definitely time for all parties to think more creatively about how they can give back to our communities through responsible procurement.

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Bid process

Bids: The Horror Story Collection

Watching some scary films for Halloween got us thinking about our bid horror stories over the years. These are just a few examples, sure there are many more if we thought about it (although we try very hard to forget them!)

Buffy and the Scooby Gang didn’t know terror like bids… https://miro.medium.com/max/3200/1*YVFBjWOirnvpXeUk5bj7Og.jpeg
  • Being sat in a hotel room at 2am the day before submission, trying to translate our bid speak into formal contract terminology.
  • Uploading a huge multi-partner £50million bid to an online portal, all the bid team stood around watching, with the documents so large they were taking forever to upload. Finally submitted and accepted with 43 seconds to go.
  • Proof reading a global opportunity with a colleague from 4pm to midnight, then back up at 5am to finish off. The week before Christmas. Independence Day was on in the background; have not been able to watch it since. 
  • First bid for a new employer. Hard copy required – courier was late picking it up, then got lost. Sent out with a junior employee in a taxi while ringing the client to beg them to accept it… 
  • Sat in a deserted office the night before a Bank Holiday, awaiting a courier delivery of a new contract for signing the next week. 
  • Hitting roadblocks at every stage of the process when the bid sponsor wouldn’t take on board any suggestions from the rest of the team – only for them to change their minds at the last minute. Cue mass re-write…
  • The client who sent out hundreds of clarification responses one message at a time. 
  • Working with a teaming partner whose pricing put us £50k above budget, and who refused to take anything out of their model. 
  • Having a member of the team going into labour the morning of the client presentation, and prepping someone to jump in!
  • The multi-work area global bid that landed on Christmas Eve and was due on January 2nd. Why do clients do that?!
  • An e-auction that was originally booked for 30 minutes, and would extend by 10 minutes if someone placed a new bid in the last two minutes. Three hours we sat in that room…
  • The huge re-tender that was in progress for 18 months and we were incumbents – only to lose it on price, undercut by several £million. Devastated doesn’t cover it!
  • Being asked to pick up a bid started by a colleague whom our manager had been asked to remove by the lead contributor. Awkward… and a week left to turn it around. Don’t think daylight was seen that week. 

And yet, despite all the horror stories, this is still a job we love to do! Most of the time…!

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Bid process

Bid Team, Assemble!

Following on from our blog linking Disney films to the bid team and bid process, the journey through the Disney+ back catalogue has continued, and this week it is the turn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who am I kidding? Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a complete Marvel-obsessive and probably can’t believe it’s taken this long for this one to appear!

The Bid Team Avengers survey the scene post-review https://i.insider.com/5aec9ad319ee8622008b48c8?width=750&format=jpeg&auto=webp

Taking it back to basics, we’re looking at the core Avengers team – the original MCU 6 – and where we can find them in our bid teams. In no particular order (although clearly Cap is the best…):

  • Captain America – brave, loyal, disciplined, committed to the cause, and the defacto leader of the team, Cap has to reflect the Bid Manager (although with probably more bad language on the bid side). Your Captain America brings the team together, ensures everyone knows their role and responsibilities, and gives encouragement where it’s needed. Captain Bid sees the long game, and how the team’s actions during the bid can impact the submission. Not afraid to make a stand where needed, and even if it means going against a colleague.
  • And so to the “Science Bros” of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner – these are our SMEs, the technical, operational and financial experts in our bid team. Sometimes throwing ideas into the mix that you think will never work, yet somehow a few days later they have a full technical spec or working prototype. They’re the members of the bid team who look at the submission from every angle, ensuring the solution’s success. And yes, often the ones whose content you can’t understand and you just have to hope someone on the evaluation team does!
  • Black Widow – trained for years, a distinct and specialist skillset, and often operating under the radar of the main bid team, is our commercial lead. They stealthily assess the bid solution, the pricing model and client contract, taking in all known and unknown quantities before executing their attack, pinning the team down until we cut those five roles, 20 laptops and weekly team-building spa day we don’t need.
  • Hawkeye – taking a bird’s eye view of the bid, our red team reviewers. Often not as involved throughout the process as the other team members, and sometimes off doing their own thing until the end. The red team has an ability to see the full picture from afar of what is happening, then focusing in on the core win themes, any issues and risks, and what might be missing from the bid.
  • Thor – the God of the bid team is the bid sponsor, often your CEO/MD/Ops Director. Strong and up-front, they wield the power of the purse strings. They will encourage – in their own way – but may also be uneasy of being challenged in their position. Of course, they may not always think things through and take someone’s head off in a moment of madness (not literally, hopefully), but that’s the risk we take!

And finally, breaking the rules of the MCU 6 a little, but an honourable mention for the Hulk, Bruce Banner’s alter ego. The unknown quantity who suddenly enters the team, causes chaos, smashes up the solution and disappears again.  

So, Bid Team – Assemble!

Categories
Bid content

File or Flight?

How do you handle filing the bid-specific but onwardly useful information? We’re not talking about the content here, but case studies, CVs/bios, and pricing examples that you might not use every time, but provide key information next time you have a bid in the same sector.

Are you the “save everything down” team, or the “tender database” team? Having worked in both team types, there are positives for both approach.

Some firms saved the full bid after submission, in SharePoint or other online repositories. We could search basics, such as the sector, business lead, and work area (as long as they’d originally been saved correctly of course!), but could not ‘search inside’ the tenders to know if they included specific peoples’ bios, or specific case studies when you were looking for something in particular. Unless you’d worked on the tender, you were going in blind. You might be searching through tens of tenders to find the one bio you need, or relying on others in the teams to give you pointers on where to look for certain information. On the flip side, the positives were that when you opened the tenders to search for information, you might find something else that you wanted to use, or spark another idea.

In contrast, at a different organisation, we saved down all the case studies and bios in dedicated folders following every bid. The case studies were saved with the client name, sector and other tag words in the file name. Short and long versions were saved into the same file, so you always had an option depending on word limits etc. Bios were saved firstly in office location folders, then alphabetically by team member, and again with the client name, sector and date in the file name. Yes, it meant we sometimes had 50 bios for one person, but they were all slightly different – vital when you are searching for specific industry experience. With pricing, we had example fee menus saved for the various work areas which – although they were always tailored to the client and the project – gave us a starting point, rather than a blank page or hunting through hundreds of tenders to find examples.

This approach meant that the next time we had a property bid for a technology client, for example, we could quickly identify the latest, most relevant, bios for the required team members, the most relevant case studies, and ideas for pricing. All saving time in drafting and input from SMEs.

While you innately build up a knowledge base in your head over time, and will know where information is stored, new starters or those in linked teams do not have that knowledge

Whichever direction your team takes, the most important factor is to properly share how your system works/should be used, and to give training to any new starters or other teams on where to find information. As with most tools, they only work if we know how to use them. And while you innately build up a knowledge base in your head over time, and will know where information is stored, new starters or those in linked teams do not have that knowledge. Share the love!