The Top 8 Tendering Mistakes

Help - The top 8 tendering mistakesAround 70% of procurement exercises begin with a Pre Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ). Because of the ‘triple dip’ recession, buying authorities have seen significant increases – up to four-fold – in the amount of potential suppliers bidding for contracts.

Consequently, putting together the perfect PQQ response is the only way to win a contract. With the aim of procurement teams being to find reasons to exclude you, in this article we cover the most common mistakes so you don’t fall over at the first hurdle.

  1. The scatter-gun approach

With the above in mind, bidding for every tender which vaguely fits under your portfolio could prove a huge waste of time.

If you’re bidding against 20 other competitors it’s important to meet all of the criteria, not just some of it! Remember, the procurement teams reviewing PQQ responses are actively looking for reasons to exclude you.

“Don’t forget that a PQQ is designed to exclude you. For example, if ten companies submit a PQQ for a service and all but two have ISO 9001:2008, then the two without will be excluded.”

Neil Capstick,
Executive Compass

On a more positive note, you can save considerable time dealing with tenders by creating a document library full of the generic information that is asked within every PQQ. Financial figures, insurance certificates and policies (quality, environment, health & safety etc.) can all be stored here. Also keep your client testimonials up-to-date, so you have a varied batch to choose from.

  1. Putting it off

After a tender is posted, there is normally a 3 or 4 week window to return a completed PQQ. The classic mistake here is falling into the trap of thinking you have lots of time; before you know it, there are just a few days left!

Instead, be disciplined in your approach and start taking action immediately. Not only it will allow you to tackle any unforeseen issues earlier, but it takes the pressure off. Create an action plan, and start booking internal review meetings so there is some shared responsibility and no excuse for not taking action.

Your responses don’t have to be perfect from the get-go; the key here is to write something, anything! It can then be reviewed by colleagues and tweaked so that, well before the deadline, you’re happy that all of your responses are as good as they can be.

  1. Basic errors

Whilst you may think you’d never overlook them, missing out questions, forgetting supporting documents and submitting the PQQ response late are cited as the most common mistakes by councils over the UK.

To back up the phrase “it’s the little things that count”, Staffordshire County Council commented in their guidance document that “Procurement Officers often judge Providers’ submissions as a ‘measure’ of the company’s capabilities and will not be impressed by poorly presented text.” Your responses need to be both clear and comprehensive, avoiding referring the procurement team to other documents which takes up time they don’t have.

Ultimately, you should never check your own work. Ideally you’ll have a team working on the tender, but if you’re solely responsible, ensure you get someone else to go through your submission. Don’t put you hard work to waste by failing on a basic mistake!

  1. Cutting corners

We’ve mentioned you can save valuable time by having a library of regularly used documentation. What this shouldn’t do is encourage a lazy approach; using the exact same formula for your responses could lead you to missing the point of a question.

It may seem like obvious advice, but many businesses are guilty of doing this, with it being an often cited mistake. Not only do businesses miss the question’s point, but instead fill their responses with irrelevant information. Just because you have filled the suggested word count quota, doesn’t mean you’ve come up with a great response!

  1. Forgetting to sell the benefits

It’s not what you do that counts, but what it will bring to your customer. Just remember that you don’t have a huge amount of space to convey why you should be picked, so make it count! Don’t go into exhaustive detail about how clever/pretty your solution is, focus on the benefits – how will you exceed what the buying authority wants?

An example of this could be a plumber bidding to fix broken pipework for a local council department. The benefits, could range from how preventative maintenance could save the council ongoing costs, to new technology that reduces save water use, with resulting cost and environmental impact reductions.

  1. Missing the big picture

Something we covered in a previous tender tip article was to go beyond the tender and take a look at the big picture. Your PQQ is likely to be just a jigsaw piece in the buying authorities overall plans.

As tender consultant Eddie Regan explained,

“Suppliers can often make assumptions without any comprehension of how the contract will interact with any other relevant services. They do not read the contracting authority’s website therefore fail to understand what the key drivers for the organisation are.”

As such, you can stand out by referencing the overall aims of the organisation in your responses.

  1. No ‘wow factor’

Standing out in a tender situation in the current market involves over-delivering in every category. There is obvious room for improvement when it comes to the Quality, Environment (or Sustainability), Equality and Health & Safety sections. Most PQQs will ask for policies, but what procurement teams want is evidence that your claimed credentials are verified. This is where ISO certification comes in, where a Certification Body assesses you against related standards. Your certificate is evidence that you can be trusted to deliver a consistent, high level of service.

“We are able to get through pre-tenders and as a result we are able to get work. Having ISO in place is critical for our business.”

Catherine Convery,
Explosive Learning Solutions Limited

What standard you choose depends on what you do and what the PQQ is for. The British Assessment Bureau have put together some guidance in their article on ISO standards and tendering.

Whilst many will struggle to justify making investments for the sake of just one PQQ, you can still make a positive impression by demonstrating awareness of the requirements. Illustrate your business’ plans to achieve an accreditation or award, especially if it something related to the services required, or is what the buying authority holds themselves.

  1. Failing to make a margin

Not quite a direct failure when it comes to PQQs, but this is a point still very much worth covering. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the opportunity without stepping back to consider the reality of delivery.

Many businesses are conscious that quoting cheap is the way to win a tender. In fairness, most PQQs will openly state that is the major factor in the decision making process. But, remember, it is also not the only factor. As we’ve already mentioned, PQQs are about ticking every box, not just a few, so don’t feel compelled to erase your margin entirely. Instead, back up your prices by demonstrating value throughout your responses.


This article was written by our business expert Robert Fenn of the British Assessment Bureau .

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