The challenges of scaling up and winning bigger business – and how Proactis can help

Winning new business is difficult. Often it’s most difficult for new and emerging companies to challenge the established order, especially if they’re doing things in a different way. As businesses expand and develop, they begin to examine different avenues, moving away from ad-hoc smaller pieces of work to looking at more formal access routes to substantial contracts. 

Here we arrive at the wonderful world of bidding, proposals and tendering (you’ll see these terms being used interchangeably, but don’t worry they all mean the same). As potential contract sizes get larger, the demands placed on prospective bidders become ever more arduous and detailed, formal submissions are required for public and private sector buyers alike. 

As you might expect, larger companies have more resources to dedicate to business development and specifically to bidding for work. A recent survey of bid professionals showed just 20% worked in organisations of less than 100 employees and only 12% were the sole responsible resource in the organisation*. 

Unfortunately for smaller organisations, research has repeatedly shown a direct correlation between the level of resource employed in preparing proposals and success rates. The good news for developing organisations is that there are some relatively easy steps to take to improve proposals. A recent industry study shows that nearly half of all procurement professionals believe suppliers are letting themselves down with their proposals and that they are of poor quality. With the general standard being low, smart thinking and some effort can make a big difference.

If you are at the stage where you are or soon will be submitting proposals as part of your business development strategy then we can support you. We offer a range of support from analysis of current bid strategy and support with a live bid to a review of a past proposal.

To discuss, contact Andrew Watson, Bid Consultancy and Training Manager at Proactis Tenders Limited – Andrew.Watson@proactis.com

*APMP UK Compensation Report 2019

A round up of 2019

Another year has passed and we’ve had a busy year at Tenders Direct! We’ve reviewed approximately 68,000 notices and have categorised and published over 40,000 and trained over 150 delegates on our public sector bid writing courses.

Alongside these, we value the feedback we get from our customers, and use this to make continuous improvements to the services that we provide. Key highlights this year have been: 

Opportunity Manager – We’ve upgraded our bid management tool to make planning, preparing and coordinating your day-to-day bidding activity simple from a single pipeline view. You can allocate tasks, set reminders and attach notes for all your bids and create an audit trail of every action.

Competitor Tracking Alerts – A new feature developed to allow you to track the successes of your rivals providing market intelligence on their bid strategy and capabilities, so that you can inform your own public sector strategy. These alerts notify you when any organisation you choose to track are announced as winners of above threshold public contracts.

CPD accreditation – We’re proud to announce that our courses are now CPD accredited. If you’re a member of a professional body, completing one of our one day public sector tendering courses in London, Manchester or Birmingham will count towards your CPD training hours.

Opportunities

Looking back over the last year we’ve seen several articles pointing towards the positivity in the public sector, but one that really stood out to us was a report the Education Technology framework in which it was highlighted that 78% of the 40 suppliers are SMEs. We’ve seen new opportunities in all sectors, from ICT frameworks for education to Green City deals and places on frameworks for niche products that aren’t catered for in traditional commercial agreements. There are opportunities in the public sector for businesses in all industries and sizes and we’ll continue to help you find these quickly and easily.

Brexit

Brexit has, of course, been at the forefront for much of 2019. For the most part the legal framework for public procurement and the different procedures available to contracting authorities will remain the same. Should we result in a no-deal Brexit, one key difference for contracting authorities will be the need to send notices to a new UK e-notification service instead of the current EU Publications Office. Head to Gov.uk for more information, and to keep up to date with information in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, whilst there is much uncertainty about what will happen with a confirmed Brexit delay until 31st January 2020, for now, we still remain part of the EU and therefore the new thresholds published by the European Commission will still apply. Read the new thresholds for 2020/2021 here.

As always, if you’ve got any questions related to finding and winning business in the public sector get in touch via our website, or call 0800 222 9009.

New Public Procurement thresholds 2020/2021

New Thresholds

The European Commission published the updated procurement thresholds for 2020/2021 on the 31st of October 2019.

There is still much uncertainty about what will happen next with a confirmed Brexit delay until 31st of January. Much will depend of the results of the upcoming election on the 12th of December 2019.

For now, United Kingdom remains a part of European Union and the new thresholds will therefore apply from 1st of January 2020.

Regulation

The Regulations set out detailed procedures for the award of contracts whose value equals or exceeds the procurement thresholds. Details of the Regulations are given below.

England, Wales and Northern IrelandScotland
The Public Contracts Regulations 2015The Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015
The Utilities Contracts Regulations 2016The Utilities Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2016
The Concession Contracts Regulations 2016The Concession Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2016
The Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011

Social and other specific services are subject to the ‘light touch regime’ as described in a previous blog.

Public Contracts

Thresholds are exclusive of VAT.

 Supply, Services and Design ContractsWorks ContractsSocial and other specific services
Central Government

£122,976

€139,000

£4,733,252

€5,350,000

£663,540

€750,000

Other Contracting Authorities

£189,330

€214,000

£4,733,252

€5,350,000

£663,540

€750,000

Small Lots

£70,778

€80,000

£884,720

€1,000,000

n/a

Small lot is a contract, or part of a contract, that is exempt from the public procurement rules. You can read more about it here.

Utility Contracts

Thresholds are exclusive of VAT.

 Supply, Services and Design ContractsWorks ContractsSocial and other specific services
Utility Authorities

£378,660

€428,000

£4,733,252

€5,350,000

£884,720

€1,000,000

Concession Contracts

Thresholds are exclusive of VAT.

 Concession Contracts
Authorities

£4,733,252

€5,350,000

Defence and Security Contracts

Thresholds are exclusive of VAT.

 Supply, Services and Design ContractsWorks ContractsSocial and other specific services
Defence and Security Authorities

£378,660

€428,000

£4,733,252

€5,350,000

n/a

 

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Public Contracts Roundup

roundupblog

Some recent hot topics and interesting opportunities from the world of public procurement…

High Spend 2

The BBC has acquired some illuminating documents relating to the High Speed 2 project that are a tad problematic for some ministers. A letter sent by the Transport Secretary to the Chancellor in 2016 shows that ministers were aware of a major cost overrun even before phase 2 of the project was signed off.

This follows regular – and recent – assurances from the Department for Transport that all was progressing according to plan. The second phase of HS2 is now under review… via BBC News

Transatlantic Trade-off

Chlorinated chicken is in the news again as the government ramps up efforts to secure trade deals outside of Europe in expectation of a no-deal Brexit. Opposition to the concept is strong, as it was with the EU/USA Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which was ultimately abandoned in 2016.

Concerns centre around hygiene standards in the US food supply chain – the reason behind the infamous chlorine-washing process for meat products – and increased access to UK public contracts for US businesses. Fears that UK public services could be commercialised will be a key point of contention domestically if and when negotiations commence. via The Independent

Tunnel Trouble

Whether it be ferries or railways, those responsible for managing the UK’s transport infrastructure can’t seem to catch a break. Now it’s the roads: Transport for London has been forced to postpone the award of the Silvertown Tunnel contract – valued at £1 billion – following a legal challenge from the German / Spanish joint venture Silver Thames Connect (STC).

The project aims to relieve congestion in the heavily used Blackwall Tunnel, but the current completion date in 2025 will undoubtedly be pushed back substantially: the light at the end of the tunnel just got further away for frustrated commuters! via building.co.uk


Other recent stories…

HMRC is contacting businesses about no-deal Brexit → via Public  Technology

New funding to assist struggling high streets → via The Guardian

More investment in innovative green transport technology →  via gov.co.uk

Tees Valley Combined Authority announces transport plan → via Public Sector Executive


Top Tenders

Prior Information Notice for the Tipner West Industry Day – Portsmouth City Council are engaging with potential suppliers for the £1.3 billion Tipner Peninsula regeneration project.

Framework Agreement for furniture supply – The Department for Education is looking for the supply and installation of furniture with a projected value of £140 million.

Dynamic Purchasing System for construction consultants – Swan Housing Association has a need for a range of professional services up to a value of £175 million.

 

Follow our channels for the latest public sector news and contract opportunities!

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Public Contracts Roundup

Roundup

What’s new and noteworthy over the last few weeks in the world of public procurement?

No signal

The bane of waste in public procurement – the National Audit Office (NAO) – has again uncovered substantial cost overruns and delays in a large-scale project: the Emergency Services Network. Already expected to cost £9.3 billion – almost 50% over budget – the NAO expressed concern that further delays to the network’s completion are possible.

The network was originally intended to go live this year although this was after an earlier delay that resulted in the whole project being reappraised in 2017, at which point various remedial measures were enacted such as contracts being renegotiated and changes made to it’s management.

The existing radio network – Airwave – will now have to be in place until the revised completion date of the project in 2022, at an additional cost of £1.4 billion.

Read more from ComputerWeekly.com


No Need for Speed

More criticism has been directed at the government on the subject of High Speed 2, this time by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. Their new report on the largest infrastructure project in Europe has questioned government assurances that the project is on budget and on schedule.

In January the former chairman of HS2 Ltd indicated to the Committee that costs were spiralling out of control, but the Department for Transport denies that this is the case. The report highlighted the risk that any significant cost overruns on Phase 1 of the project (connecting London with Birmingham by 2027) could result in Phase 2 (completing the route to Manchester and Leeds by 2033) being scaled back or even cancelled completely.

One potential solution to the danger of spiralling budgets put forward in the report is to lower the speed of the trains – currently planned to be over 200 miles per hour at maximum velocity – which would help to simplify the construction phase.

Read more from The Independent

Read the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report


No Nationalised Grid

The Labour Party has proposed the nationalisation of National Grid with the stated aim of starting a “Green Industrial Revolution” that would simultaneously lower fuel bills, stimulate economic activity, and combat climate change.

Against the backdrop of global climate protests, they are also proposing a large-scale solar panel installation programme for social housing stock. However, National Grid itself doesn’t seem too keen on the plan, with chief executive John Pettigrew saying that it would “delay the huge amount of progress” being made in the shift towards sustainable power generation and that the policy is not “in the interests” of customers.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives aren’t keen on nationalisation either, with Chris Philp MP saying that Labour has no credible plan as to how to pay for their policy and that “more borrowing and tax hikes would be inevitable”. But will either of these parties have enough seats to have a say either way come the next general election? It may be up to Nigel…

Read more from BBC News


Top tenders

Prior Information Notice from NHS Supply Chain for Cardiology, Radiology, Vascular and Endoscopy Products worth between £400 – £800 million

Framework Agreement from LGSS / Cambridgeshire County Council for Archaeological Fieldworks worth between £4 – £6 million

Dynamic Purchasing System from the Construction Industry Training Board for endpoint assessment services worth £12 million

 

 Thoughts or questions? Leave a comment!

Social Value Update

Social Value Update

Social value has gained more and more prominence in public procurement in recent years and moves are now underway to further prioritise and standardise these requirements.

Following the government’s decision to obligate central government organisations to take account of social value in procurement as of this summer, the Cabinet Office is holding a consultation on proposals for a new evaluation model that finishes on the 10th June.

It is open to interested suppliers, public sector buyers, and any other stakeholders in public procurement. Follow the link above to have your say.

What is changing?

Central government departments will be required to take account of social value in the award criteria of above-threshold contracts, with the proposed evaluation model providing for a minimum weighting of 10%.

A variety of themes and policy outcomes are outlined in the new model but purchasing organisations will retain freedom over how and when to apply them based on the subject matter of any given procurement and their own commissioning priorities.

There will be a standard set of questions and evaluation criteria for each of the policy areas outlined in the new model, along with a scoring methodology similar to that already used to gauge quality in tender submissions.

Why the consultation?

Sub-central and third sector bodies and their suppliers have been the main drivers of innovation in terms of social value up to this point, so input from experienced stakeholders will help to determine if the proposed model is workable.

Improving SME access to public contracts is also a major policy area and some of the key feedback requested in the consultation is focused on whether or not the new model helps or hinders the government’s objective of “levelling the playing field” for suppliers.

The questions posed in the consultation are:

  • Do you agree with the proposed policy metrics in the model in the attached annex? Do you have examples of such metrics being successfully used in public procurement?
  • Do you agree that the proposed minimum 10% weighting for evaluating social value in the bid is appropriate?
  • Does the proposed approach risk creating any barriers to particular sizes or types of bidders, including SMEs or VCSEs? How might these risks be mitigated?
  • How can we ensure government’s existing procurement policy mandates (for example on levelling the playing field for SMEs) take precedence in designing the procurement?

Want to know more?

If you’re a supplier in need of advice on how best to approach the social value aspects of your public sector bids  – or a buyer looking for guidance on how to evaluate social value in procurement exercises – we’re ready to help. Visit our consultancy page or call 0800 222 9009.

Questions? Leave a comment! 

Public Contracts Roundup

Contracts Roundup

What’s new and noteworthy over the last couple of weeks in the exciting world of public procurement?

Simply the best

There’s some pleasing news for the UK civil service in a new report from Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. The International Civil Service Effectiveness Index ranks countries based on a variety of functions such as policymaking, financial management and transparency.

Out of the 38 countries included in the rankings the UK has taken the top spot overall, with New Zealand, Canada, Finland, and Australia completing the top 5. The UK came out on top in the policymaking as well as financial and HR management categories and third in terms of procurement effectiveness after New Zealand and Denmark.

Procurement as a standalone indicator was introduced in this year’s survey and New Zealand scored highest in the category primarily due to e-procurement effectiveness and SME access to public contracts. One area where the UK didn’t do so well was in the digital services category, ranking in the bottom third. Read more from Civil Service World.

Rough seas

Some bad news for the public purse – and ammunition for critics of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – as the infamous Brexit ferry saga took another unfortunate twist.

Following the cancellation of the contract signed with Seaborne Freight, the remaining contracts with Brittany Ferries and DFDS have been terminated at an expected cost of over £50 million now that the threat of a no-deal Brexit has receded.

This comes after the government paid out £33 million to Eurotunnel following a challenge to the procurement process. Now shipping giant P&O is taking legal action over this payment, arguing that it constitutes illegal state aid and gives their competitor an unfair advantage.

Mr Grayling insisted that these contracts were a necessary insurance policy and highlighted that they were only a small fraction of overall no-deal Brexit preparations. Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald was a little less relaxed about it, saying “Chris Grayling and the ferry contracts will for evermore be a case study in Ministerial incompetence”.

Chinese whispers

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been fired by Theresa May for allegedly being the source of a leak about the involvement of the Chinese telecoms provider Huawei in the development of the UK’s 5G mobile network. Following a showdown in the Prime Minister’s office Mr Williamson protested his innocence and likened his sacking to a “kangaroo court”.

The concerns over Huawei relate to its’s ties with the Chinese government and the possibility that new network infrastructure could be exploited for the purposes of espionage or cyberwarfare.

Many in the defence and intelligence community have warned of the risks and the potential damage to the intelligence-sharing agreement between the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand known as the “Five Eyes”.

The development of 5G is an international effort driven by a mix of direct public funding, private investment, and Public Private Partnerships. The level of opportunity for ICT businesses over the next few years will be huge, whether it be formal contract work or access to targeted funding opportunities such as this current competition.

Top tenders

The months following the turn of the financial year are always the busiest for public sector purchasing as new budgets come into play and annual plans are implemented. Some notable recent notices:

Framework Agreement from NHS Shared Business Services worth £100 million for design services, furniture and appliances

Dynamic Purchasing System from Bolton Council worth over £1million for a variety of event supplies and services

Prior Information Notice from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime worth £1.7 million for services to support young victims of violent crime in London’s A&Es.

 Thoughts or questions? Leave a comment!

The engine room of Tenders Direct

Reviewers

Meet our Review Team: (from left to right) Carol Davidson, Kirsty Macdonald-Ross, Ewan MacAskill and Cameron Masson.

They provide something truly unique in our market: they read, analyse and categorise every english-language contract published in the Official Journal of the European Union as well as every below-threshold notice from across the UK and Ireland.

Their efforts serve to simplify the convoluted public sector marketplace, giving suppliers fast and easy access to suitable contracts and peace of mind that opportunities won’t pass them by.

Why do our keyword categories and review process matter?

Ewan

“We use our own unique category system to classify every tender that we send to our customers. This provides a greater level of accuracy than the standard CPV codes. It is the review team’s responsibility to apply the most appropriate categories to each tender.

“We do this for two main reasons: Firstly, to reduce the amount of tenders customers might receive that are not relevant to their business. More importantly, to ensure that customers do not miss out on potential tender opportunities.”

Kirsty

“Our bespoke category system and review process are the backbone of our service – they differentiate us from our competitors who use CPV codes and individual keywords.

“So for every notice that we read and review each day, we know that we’re providing the best possible service for our customers by helping them to quickly find what they need without wading through irrelevant information.”

Cameron

“We review hundreds of tenders each day, saving time and money for customers who may spend hours every week trawling through lists of tender notices that are not relevant to their business.

“We’re always looking for ways to stay up to date with advancements in technology and sector terminology. We continuously update our category system to ensure it stays relevant to today’s market and generates accurate alerts for our customer base.”

Carol

“Between us we read through hundreds of notices each day to make sure they are correctly categorised – this is a time-consuming and difficult task but thousands of companies appreciate what we do!

“Many of the contracts we see have unusual or vague descriptions. It is vital that we investigate these further to understand exactly what the contracts entail so our customers don’t miss opportunities.”

Queries? Leave a comment or find out more about our solutions for suppliers here.

 

What skills do you need in your bid team?

bid team

Whether you’re a solo bid writer or part of a broader business development team, there are many skills required to secure the award of a contract and bid writing ability itself is just one of them. So, if you’re building a team or developing your own skillset, what other key capabilities are required?

Project management

With a limited window of opportunity between publication and deadline staying on schedule is paramount: even if you’ve seen the contract coming and have a bank of bid documentation ready, copy and paste jobs won’t cut it and rogue questions may force you to gather last minute information.

You need a standard but adaptable project plan where the deadline for submission is only one of several key milestones. Completing documents that require the input of multiple employees can easily become a quagmire of out-of-offices and a burden on people’s time, so the ability to plan your timings back from the deadline and build in tolerances for administrative delays is crucial.

Even if you work well under pressure, you need to avoid sitting in the office all evening like a student binge-writing their dissertation the night before the due date – quality will suffer and consequently so will your score and chances of success.

Business development

Identifying new markets and partnerships and the process of generating, nurturing and converting leads is somewhat different when your selling to the public rather than private sector, but the fundamentals remain the same.

The most switched-on bid teams think several moves ahead and lay the groundwork for future bids by conducting early and account management-style engagement with buyers in order to gain intelligence on the timing and nature of planned procurements and gain breathing space to prepare.

Any experience or ability in building B2B sales pipelines is perfect for implementing this kind of bid strategy. Most businesses already have these skills in-house – could there be a cross-team synergy? For small teams or individual bid writers in particular, a strategic and selective approach is likely to bear more fruit and be less burdensome than constantly committing to speculative bids.

Technical authoring

Novelists aren’t required, but clear and concise communicators are. This is not to say there’s no room for a bit of flair in your bid writing, but there’s a fine balance to achieve between efficiently stating your capabilities and making your submission stand out. Engaging with specialist consultants can help you find the right mix of substance and style for the public sector market.

Aside from a technical focus, a keen eye is necessary when creating and editing complex documents: losing focus on the question is all too easy and an otherwise excellent bid can crash and burn due to small, avoidable errors.

Don’t throw away many hours of work just because you couldn’t bear to read through your documents one final time!

Marketing savvy

Much like the distinction between bids and bestsellers, tender documents may not be brochures but a sprinkling of marketing magic always stands you in good stead.

While you’re not scored on how eye catching or smooth your content is, readability is important and the best bid writers will intersperse a submission with evidence of their unique suitability such as awards and certificates where appropriate.

The challenge is to answer the questions directly and comprehensively while also standing out from the crowd. Procurement teams are human too – with the right approach and enough care your bid can be the one out of a stack of ten that catches their eye.

Looking for some expert tendering advice? Explore our consultancy services.

Is your bid strategy working?

Bid Strategy

The key to a successful long term bid strategy is two-fold: identifying ambitious long term objectives and consistently working towards them, while also retaining the flexibility and freedom to exploit openings in the market.

What happens when an organisation doesn’t have a long term strategy? Well, it drifts. It doesn’t move from point A to point B in a planned and orderly fashion. Instead, it flails around at the mercy of the market and is constantly reacting to new opportunities as they appear.

Not everything can be planned out in detail years in advance, but there are certain principles that suppliers can stick to in order to create a stable flow of new business in the long term: think before you act, plan ahead, prepare thoroughly, but be ready to react quickly to events and change course if necessary.

Early engagement

Without the ability to think several moves ahead you’ll forever be condemned to running around breathlessly trying to meet deadlines. Bids formulated entirely within a short timeframe will be lacking the care, attention to detail, and resultant quality that it is necessary to prevail in the crowded marketplace that is the public sector.

By keeping your ear to the ground and actively engaging with buyers – and thereby gaining intelligence about their procurement strategies and schedules – you can spot contracts coming and literally add months to the window of opportunity rather than racing around and throwing together a sub-standard submission.

Go / no go assessment

Don’t mistake the go / no go assessment as an exercise in determining whether or not you stand a chance of success. The key question is: do you want to bid for this?

Many companies testing the waters of public sector tendering for the first time make a big mistake: they dive in too fast. They embark on a frenzy of bidding once they’ve achieved basic eligibility only to become disillusioned in the absence of success.

It’s not just newbies that make this error; even seasoned suppliers can be tempted into pursuing opportunities without considering the long term consequences. All too often businesses of all sizes are tempted to bite off more than they can chew when faced with a particularly tasty tender and the prospect of fat profit margins.

A manageable pipeline

The problem is – and this applies to all but the most titanic operators – committing to a sizeable contract today may limit your freedom of action in the coming years by using up your capacity. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes.

Avoiding huge bids in favour of widening your focus and spreading your efforts more evenly across multiple smaller projects can often be a more profitable, stable, and flexible approach. Below threshold contracts – often eclipsed by more lucrative prospects and ignored by larger operators – can offer the best route to a varied portfolio and steady growth.

With some effective early engagement and go / no go assessment processes in place, you can build a pipeline of winnable contracts while remaining nimble and capable of capitalising on unexpected opportunities.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below or call 0800 222 9009 with any questions.

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