This guide to the tender process and procurement draws together many previous posts to provide a full understanding of the tendering process. Hopefully, it will help you to be more successful with your tender bids!
The Stages of the Tender Process
The chart below shows the various steps that form a typical tendering process for a large contract. Smaller value contracts may be simpler.
Form Procurement Team
The procurement team will typically involve:
- The budget holder
- Others involved in managing the contract
- Possibly representatives from health and safety, human resources, quality management etc.
TIP: The higher the value of the contract, the bigger the procurement team – often involving senior management. Also, the tendering process becomes more drawn out. The same applies to high-profile purchases.
For example, a very high-value contract, or one that involves contracting out for the first time, will often involve a large team (including directors). And it will have a full tender process (as shown in the chart). Conversely, smaller contracts may have a much simpler tender procurement process. You see this in the public sector. Higher value contracts must be advertised. Smaller jobs can be let via a mini-tender.
Develop Tender & Evaluation Criteria
The procurement team then agree what the tender will involve eg:
- Specification or general requirement
- Supplier requirements and mandatory requirements (eg ISO standards)
- Tender rules or instructions
- Evaluation criteria (how it will be scored e.g. 60% quality / 40% price)
- Contract (e.g. one-off, term or framework)
- The tender procurement process (e.g. PQQ or not)
Pre Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) or Tender Long-List
This is an initial selection process to help sift potential suppliers for suitability. It is used to draw a long-list of bidders to be invited to tender. This stage of the tender process might be by invitation or open to everyone (e.g. public sector tenders tenders).
The qualification stage might take the form of an approved supplier list, an initial screening interview or a formal PQQ (questionnaire to assess against minimum requirements). Some tenders incorporate aspects of the PQQ within the tender therefore eliminating this stage.
UK public sector tenders no longer use a PQQ unless the contract value is very high. It has been replaced by a Supplier Questionnaire (SQ). SQs are simpler and are included within the tender documents.
The invitation to tender (ITT) is issued to the long-list of selected bidders. The ITT can involve a set of questions to answer along with a pricing matrix. Alternatively it could be less formal – simply asking the bidder to submit a proposal and a price.
Public sector and corporates tend to use formal ITTs, especially for higher-value tenders.
e-tenders are now the most common way of tendering.
Tender Briefing Meeting
It is not uncommon for the tender procurement panel to hold supplier briefing meetings (pre-tender meetings). They help clarify the tender and answer any bidders’ questions.
The tender panel marks each bid against the agreed evaluation matrix. This results in a league table of the highest and lowest bidders’ scores.
The evaluation is used to select a short-list of potential suppliers. The number of bidders in a short-list will depend on the nature of the contract. For example, a framework agreement has several suppliers. Another tender might only have one winner.
Presentations, Interviews & Visits
Short-listed bidders are sometimes subject to further evaluation. This can be a tender short-list presentation or a question and answer session. And possibly a visit to supplier’s premises and/or meeting some of their customers.
Again, the tender panel will assess this against their pre-determined evaluation criteria.
Whatever the tender procurement process, the tender panel will arrive at its final scores. These are used to select the best performers and award contract(s).
The limit of tender negotiations depend on the nature of each individual tender procurement process. A formal tender may not offer any scope for negotiation.
Others will allow small negotiations. This can include:
- Some aspects of price (e.g. additional items)
- Contract wording and specification (e.g. items that don’t affect the overall service)
It is unlikely that there will be opportunity for any major negotiation. Certainly not on the overall price.
TIP: Be sure that you know what is negotiable before finalising your tender submission. Always ask Tender Clarification Questions. Otherwise you can find yourself in a sticky situation!
Once everything in the tender procurement process is finalised, contract(s) are awarded.
High-value EU tenders have a minimum 10-day standstill period (Alcatel). This is to allow unsuccessful bidders to challenge the tender procurement process if they feel it was flawed. Contracts are not be issued until this has been completed.
Unsuccessful bidders should have a chance to get feedback on tenders. This helps to gain a better understanding on how to improve future bids.
If you want help with the tendering process, contact us for an informal discussion about our tender writing and training services.
Is the Tender Process Always the Same?
Yes and no!
The private sector can run things as they want. So you find a wide variety of tenders and processes.
Public sector is subject to regulations. So, they all follow the same process. However, tenders are not the same. The content of tenders can vary greatly. The price / quality criteria (e.g. 70/30 or 60/40 split) can differ widely.
Furthermore, you will find that different authorities can take different approaches to questions asked and their marking. Sometimes tenders have clumsy mistakes e.g. questions obviously copied and pasted from another non-related ITT. Other variables include briefing meetings and interviews / presentations.
Therefore you will find that tenders do differ.
Nevertheless, your approach to responding to tenders remains the same. Treat each one individually. You will find some commonality. So, do build up a file of good responses and re-use and individualise them as appropriate. But avoid templates.
And do follow the general guidelines and hints shown in Bid Management.
Tender Process – Summary
Understanding the procurement tender process will help you improve your tender success. Knowing who is involved and what is being scored aids better bid writing.
Also, understanding timescales and the stages of tendering helps better planning.
You may also find these useful in understanding the tender procurement process:
- Top Tendering Tips for a Successful Tender
- Tender Terminology / Tendering Glossary
- Tender Checklist – Fit to Tender?
- Challenging Tender Award Decisions
The UK tendering process is continually evolving. Especially in the public sector. Please do add your ideas and comments below to help improve this and make it an even more useful resource.