There are many myths surrounding public sector tendering; not being able to ask questions when writing a tender response is one of them.
As the public sector is responsible for a vast spectrum of procurement, from care services to education and from national security to health, tender specifications are often very general, which means that some often miss information that suppliers see to be important.
If you would like to find out more about the questions you should be asking procurers before writing a tender response, read on below.
Remember you are the expert
Whether you are reading the questions posed within the standardised Selection Questionnaire (SQ), the tender specification itself or any other material provided by the buyer, remember that you know your product/service better than anyone else and your experience and knowledge of the market may be more advanced than the procurer’s.
Procurement officers are responsible for buying a wide and diverse range of goods, works and services, often without being specialists in any one market sector or product area. Your bid submission is the place where you can display your market knowledge and expertise. In most cases, public sector procurers will not be as knowledgeable as you or other contractors bidding for their tenders.
By harnessing your knowledge and experience, you can often positively influence the outcome of a procurement exercise, particularly if the buyer has chosen to undertake early market engagement before the notice is even published; importantly, this can help improve your chances of winning the tender.
Before asking any questions
Before asking the buying authority any questions, carefully read and consider all the questions posed in the tender document; only then, where necessary, seek clarification on any points that confuse or restrict your ability to respond suitably.
A good specification asks questions of you, seeking to understand your solution and methodology; however, during this period you should be asking questions of the public sector too.
The best questions to ask when tendering with the public sector
Try to ask questions that remove assumptions from the bid writing process; this will allow you to focus on what is required and give the buyer exactly the answers they are seeking.
PASS Principal Procurement Consultant Eddie Regan is a procurement specialist who offers bid support to businesses across the UK. He says that “questions can be on any topic relevant to the tender exercise”.
Procurers sometimes tightly define the solution they are seeking in their tender documents, using an input specification. Many questions may need to be asked, to help you fully understand the potential flexibility of the requirement.
If the procurer opts for an output-based specification, asking only that the solution meets certain outcomes, it is far easier for you to use your knowledge and experience to offer the best solution; however, it is still important to ask the right questions, to ensure you meet the client’s needs.
Why is it important to ask questions?
Some suppliers notice elements in the specification that are no longer pertinent to the tender and could be removed. If you are unsure about the relevance of any element, ask: you could be saving the contracting authority unnecessary cost.
An example Eddie Regan uses is: “Why is there a requirement for an excessive amount of Professional Indemnity Insurance, when, in your experience, the size and nature of the contract that you are bidding for would normally only require a lower level?”
What happens after you ask buyers questions?
Once your question has been submitted, it will be anonymised.
Remember, there are no silly questions when it comes to working with the public sector. By law, the buyer must provide an answer to your question. The answer will be circulated to all the participants, to ensure that there is a level playing field in terms of knowledge.
The advantage of this is that your business will gain sight of the questions your competitors are asking – this could be of benefit to you in the long term.
Learn more about bid writing
PASS provides a range of training events specifically tailored to suit suppliers and assist them through the procurement journey.
We offer training that takes into account all skill levels, from new starts to skilled bidders.
Our training events are delivered interactively to ensure that delegates not only learn the rules but gain practical tips and a basic legal understanding of the reasoning behind many of the rules they will need to apply in their roles.