Tender Guidance

Choosing to Bid


In some cases an enormous range of contracts may be advertised over the course of a year in one particular category. Literally hundreds may be put out to tender. If a large volume of contracts are regularly advertised in a key area the supplier needs to exercise discrimination, and only bid for those contracts that might be winnable. Every successful company that works in the public sector has to decide what to bid for and what to ignore. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of one’s company is obviously a decisive factor in making the decision to choose whether or not to pursue a tender. However, every company has to educate itself in the tendering process if it seeks to secure a significant percentage of its turnover from government bodies, and so there is little point waiting for the ‘perfect’ tender; it is better to follow through on those that offer a realistic chance of success and learn through practise. It’s not unknown for many SMEs to succeed in the tendering process on their first attempt.


Structure of Tender Documents


Tender documents are usually structured in the following way:


  • Covering Letter
  • Contents Page
  • Some Background Information
  • Instructions
  • Technical Specifications
  • Main Response Form
  • Pricing
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Award Criteria
  • Appendices


The Instructions will include the deadlines for the Expression of Interest, Submission of Documents, Presentation of Bid (if necessary), the Opening of the Documents, the Award Date, and the Communication with Suppliers (once the winner has been determined). Other information may include details of an appeal procedure – if potential suppliers wish to appeal against the final decision, having determined that the tendering process was either unfair or that they have been discriminated against. The Award Criteria should give a clear definition of the criteria by which the tender will be awarded; that is, specific weightings will be given to relevant issues (eg cost, after-sales care, delivery schedule, etc). It is normal procedure for the criteria to be given in percentages or points. The Appendices may request company information – Accounts, Health and Safety, Environmental, Equal Opportunities and other policies, as well as professional certificates and qualifications gained by the company.


The other items in the list should be self-explanatory.


Suppliers responding to the tender will thus have a precise structure in which to provide their response. But in addition to the above information bidders may need to include the following:


  • An Alternative Proposal
  • References
  • Case Studies (where applicable)
  • Biographies of Team Members


It may be necessary to ask the buyer if it is possible to present an alternative proposal. A secondary response to the contract will only arise if the supplier thinks there is a better solution for the tender than the one suggested by the purchasing authority. Should that be the case, it is important that the alternative proposal is physically separate from the main proposal, and is clearly demarcated from the official bid. If, after enquiry, a buyer will not accept an alternative proposal then of course one should not be proferred.


References and Case Studies are to be used as a means of convincing the buyer that the supplier has past experience that demonstrates their capability in fulfilling the contract put out to tender. References and Case Studies should therefore give examples of the same work for the same organisation, the same work for different organisations, the same work for private sector companies, or the same service provided for companies that may be different but have presented similar technical challenges. Considered in that light, it is possible for an outstanding reference to do nothing to further the cause of the bidder, while a less impressive one may produce a greater effect. Companies new to the public sector will naturally use private sector experience to validate their expertise. An intelligent use of a range of references can greatly enhance an organisation’s capacity to succeed in the tender process.

Next: Preparation of Tender Documents and Asking Questions