What Buyers Want

Earlier this week, I attended a Supplier Engagement event as part of Doncaster Business Month. The purpose of the event was “to provide Doncaster businesses with an opportunity to meet with procurement specialists from a whole host of Public Sector organisations.” As a bid writer, it was great to chat with the people on the other side of the fence. This was an opportunity to try and gain an edge for my clients.

The organisations I spoke with were:

  • YPO (Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation), a publicly owned procurement consortium made up of local councils in Yorkshire and the North West.
  • St Leger Homes, an ALMO (Arm’s Length Management Organisation) that operates in partnership with Doncaster Council to deliver housing, both social and private.
  • Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs several hospitals in the region.
  • Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, the local authority.

Among some excellent discussion, I asked them two specific questions that I thought would generate actionable advice, and they didn’t disappoint. Here’s what I found:

 

Assuming the bidder’s solution works, and their price is right, what do you like to see in a bid?

YPO told me they like to see genuine added value. They want to see suppliers go above and beyond what’s expected, for example through an excellent social value/CSR offering, or exceptional customer service. Crucially, this must be backed up; the supplier needs to explain the benefits of their added value, and exactly how it will be delivered.

St Leger explained a key principle of procurement that’s sometimes overlooked by bidders: they can only judge what’s there in the bid. If bidders don’t answer the questions exactly, or don’t meet the specification, they can’t expert to score highly. St Leger said they see this frequently. To me, this is basic bid writing, so perhaps more companies out there need the help I can offer!

The Trust had advice that was short and sweet. Don’t waffle. They want to see bids that are concisely written and focused entirely on the specification. Standard sales copy has no place in a formal bid.

The Council reiterated some of the advice of the other buyers: give clear answers, demonstrate added value, and respond to the specification. They also added that they like bids to be easy to read. If a bid response is complicated or, even worse, boring, it puts the assessor in a less charitable mood. Practically, use sub-headings and don’t submit any long walls of text.

 

What are the most common mistakes you see bidders make?

YPO said that incumbent suppliers are often too complacent. Bidders should treat every response as though the buyer knows nothing about them. Nothing can be assumed. There can be a tendency among incumbents to think that because they’ve been delivering a contract for three years, they’re the obvious choice for the retender. Big mistake.

St Leger frequently see bidders completely disregard the questions being asked and provide answers that don’t answer anything. It’s important to read questions carefully. Think about what the buyer wants to see. Don’t get caught up on a specific keyword or go off on tangents.

The Trust simply said that copy/pasted bids are obvious. They even said they’d received bids that reference other buyers! Nothing will make a buyer feel like second best quite as quickly as a bid that was written for somebody else.

The Council said that they regularly had compatibility issues. For example, if the tender instructions state that bid documents should be in the PDF file format, they don’t want to receive Word files. The Council explained that there are good reasons for instructions like this, and it can result in bids being rejected without even being read.

 

None of this advice is ground-breaking. In fact, this is exactly the sort of thing I help my clients with. As we can see, there are simple things we can do to make bids have a far higher chance of success. Even though this information isn’t new to me, it’s great to hear it from “the other side.”

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