How you can maximise results from the tender process

By Century One Publishing, August 2020

Century One Publishing Limited [COP], like many other businesses, receives several formal tenders throughout a year. The approach and processes vary widely This article serves to provide a view on what works well in this process for membership organisations and charities when initiating tenders. 

The sponsors and supporters involved in chase live are taking part to share their knowledge, raise their profile and market their skills to the valued institutions and organisations attending this virtual conference. 

Do you need a tender process? 

At the heart of this exercise suppliers wish to generate more business. In an ideal world new business would simply walk in through the door.  For example, a charity may have a specific need and the requirements are met through a specific company. Prior to that a good rapport was developed and hey presto, both parties agree terms and they move forward into a collaborative style relationship which works for years to come.  It works well because they are able to discuss and resolve hiccups which occur along the way.  

The parties work together to continuously improve each other.  They are consistently revisiting and reassessing performance to ascertain what can be improved and changed, if at all.  This is the ideal supplier/client relationship. 

In my experience these are the relationships which are the most fruitful for the client because they get the best out of us and vice versa.  It’s winwin all round. 

Having said that, there is often a requirement for charities and institutions to put a tendering process in place. This may be for a number of reasons:  things might be feeling a bit stale with the current supplier; there may be concerns around value; perhaps a new service or software package is being implemented that requires a new partner 

In such situations it is good governance to put the requirement out to tender. 

COP receive many invitations to tender each year.  This process takes a great deal of investment from both the client and the potential suppliers – investment in time, investment in staff resource, and sometimes monetary investment.  That the process is handled well is important to both client and supplier alike. 

Getting the best out of the tender process 

The tenders we receive vary hugely in approach.  There is no set way to provide a tender, nor should there be – requirements vary. However, given we have had sight of so many over the years there are some points worth laying out.  Sometimes, what should be the most obvious objectives become lost in the complexities of setting out a tender process. 

The tender documentation 

This should include: 

  • Laying out the organisations role.  These are always well done and provide context. 
  • Providing strategic objectivesBy this I mean the strategic objectives for the organisation itselffor example over the next five years. These provide context and can influence the relevant response. More often than not these are neither included nor apparent from the organisation’s website. 
  • Clear goals you wish to obtain from the tender.  
    • Avoid the kitchen sink approach which we see often, i.e. the organisation requires the following but maybe x, y and z too.  This can cloud clarity on what is actually required. 
    • If there are multiple goals, state them clearly and separate them out. Additionally, specify clearly how the different goals will be evaluated.   
  • Avoid contradictions.  At least half on the tenders we receive contain contradictory points which require time to decipher and evaluate what the real requirements are and run the risk of confusion.  Be consistent. 

Chemistry and governance 

  • Increasingly, tender documents are sent out following a ‘chemistry meeting’This is hugely beneficial.  It may take time to do this but is likely to save time in the process overall because: 
    • It should help you to eliminate some of the contenders earlier in the process. Sending fewer tenders out will save both your panels time and that of the suppliers.   
    • These meetings may also help fine tune your tender documentation. Having two-way conversations improves both sides learning on possible requirements. 
    • It avoids the pointless ‘beauty parade.’  Allowing those with whom you don’t wish to work to be discarded early on. This is better for you and the supplier concerned who will respect you for it. 
  • A pillar of good governance is effectiveness and efficiency.  Encourage questions and dialogue.  You will get to know the possible different suppliers more and you will start to form views.  
  • Early involvement of the decision makers.  Sometimes the tender process may be run and organised by those further down the ladder in your organisation and the governing body comes in towards the end to make the decision.  If the top team is making the decision – ensure their early involvement and collaboration in the project.  Take ownershipHowever keep in mind those who will be working with the supplieras to get the best out of them, their opinion should matter. 
  • Circulating questions and answer to participants.  The questions asked are an indicator of the potential supplier’s ability. Circulating them to all other suppliers does not always seem entirely fair and suppliers don’t like it.  Indeed, it may steer suppliers away from asking inciteful questions, as they will be circulated to other companies involved.  Use the process to test chemistry and approach rather than publicising ability and ideas to competitors. 
  • Avoid beauty parades. If you know who your shortlist is because the groundwork has been done before the tendering process, save everyones time and avoid approaching suppliers you have no intention of using. This will protect those relationships for the future. 

The Select and Test Option 

Tendering can be a complex and intricate affair and sometimes can take on a life of its own. Lots of processes are followed and it can be easy to lose focus on what the goals of the tender are. Those involved can become bogged down going through check listsrather than focusing on what is really important, such as your actual requirements. 

Why not cut through this and use a potential supplier for a bespoke one-off project and assess how well it works?  This in itself will mean some sort of a relationship will be built during the exercise.  If it goes well, you will have picked up lots of information and have a good understanding of the supplier – their culture, their ideas and abilities and the level of service that they provide 

Getting a supplier to actually undertake an exercise for you goes a long way to testing them in real terms which is sometimes more effective than an extensive and protracted tendering process.  Throughout life, we sit exams to demonstrate knowledge and ability.  Taking ‘the exam’ through a real-life situation, may be more effective than a full tender. 

Summary 

Tendering is, for the best part, a necessary part of running your organisation well.  Ensure it is approached comprehensively: – 

  • Do not lose sight of goals.  What do you really want to achieve? 
  • Get to know the possible winners.  Avoid the arm’s length tender approach by encouraging dialogue in the lead up to tender submissions. This will allow you to test the culture and chemistry. 
  • Involve all interested parties from your organisation in the creation of the tender documents. 
  • Do you really need to tender?  Could you adopt a test and select approach? 

Once your selection process is complete and your new partnership is underway, work together in the spirit of continuous improvement on both sides. 

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this blog in detail, please contact Sarah directly on sarah@centuryonepuiblishing.uk. Furthermore, if you would like to discuss our content, design or sales services the senior management team will be available at the Chase Live event.  

Sarah Simpson, Managing Director sarah@centuryonepublishing.uk  

Stewart Dymock, Publishing Director stewart@centuryonepublishing.uk 

Peter Davies, Creative Director Peter@centuryonepublishing.uk