How to get the top score for your bid answers – before you even see the questions

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There are four common things customers look for in evaluating  bid answers. And as a bidder, you can prepare for all of them prior to knowing what the exact question will be. Here’s how.

When we are working with clients writing or reviewing answers to PQQ or ITT questions, we always look carefully at what their customer has said will elicit the best scores for answers. Usually we find this in the Instructions to Tenderers document, or perhaps elsewhere in the ITT documentation. The marking regime will typically have 4 or 5 possible scores, ranging from 0 (didn’t answer the question) up to 5 as the best score. Although we’ve seen scoring regimes with up to 11 possible ‘grades’ for an answer’s scoring.

Typically as well, the customer will describe what they expect to see in an answer to get the different scores. The detail might vary from very little (‘Exceeds requirements’) to a very detailed explanation on a question by question basis of what is expected.

We always work on the basis that this is what the evaluators scoring the answers will use to decide on the score to award (and procurers we talk to assure us that is exactly what they do).

Over time however, we recognised that there are a number of common elements in customers’ descriptions of what would elicit a good score for an answer. To confirm our direct experience we did a bit of research. We added to the marking regimes we have worked on by using Freedom of Information requests to get over 100 sets of evaluation criteria from a range of Local Authorities, NHS commissioning groups and Central Government departments in the UK.

Results of our research

What we found supported our initial thinking. That there are four common things customers look for in evaluating answers. And as a bidder, you can prepare for all of them prior to knowing what the exact question will be.

The four common elements are shown in the table below. Together with an overview of what customers expect to see in order to get the different levels of scoring for an answer.

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Lets look quickly at each of these four elements in turn. Then look at how you can prepare to get the best scores for each area.

Confidence

Customers want your answer to give them confidence that you will deliver their needs. Some quotes from evaluation criteria (for the highest scores) include, “High confidence in ability to deliver”, “Offers full confidence that the Tenderer will deliver the service in full”, “Gives the Council a very high level of confidence”. For lower scores, the description of what the answer contains would involve less confidence – and some concern about the solution presenting risks to the customer.

Understanding

Customers want you to show that you clearly understand their requirements. Quotes from evaluation criteria for the highest scores include, “Evaluator has been able to identify that the potential provider has an excellent understanding of the requirements”, “Demonstrates a thorough understanding of what is being asked for”, “Indicates a full understanding of the requirement”

Evidence

Customers want you to provide evidence to back up your assertions in your answers. To get the highest scores here they will ask for: “Excellent evidence that demonstrates how targets will be achieved”, “Supported by very strong evidence”, “Provides evidence of how that understanding can be applied in practice”

Added Value

To get the highest scores, customers expect your answer to give them more than they have asked for. For example: “Has exceeded all requirements and gives confidence the provider will add real value”, “Offers an innovative solution that includes desirable value add”, “includes details of ways that could assist the council in providing a better or more efficient solution beyond what was documented”

Not all scoring regimes will include all four of these elements. But they are by far the most common we found. A typical scoring matrix may include for instance (for the highest score) something like this real example:

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Take a look at some of your past or existing bids’ documentation to see how often you see these elements repeated.

Preparing to get the highest scores in your bid answers

Demonstrating understanding, giving confidence, providing evidence and delivering an added value solution don’t just come from how you write your answers. You need to prepare beforehand to give yourself the ammunition to use. This applies to new bidders as well. But for our purposes we will focus on incumbent bidders. Incumbents have advantages in the ammunition available for some of these four areas (if they proactively prepare and gather what is required). But they face dangers in others.

Even though you may not know the precise questions you will be asked in the ITT, you should be able to make a good guess at the areas the customer will be asking about. Look at:

  • The main areas of work you are delivering
  • The customer’s key needs
  • The original ITT you completed to win the contract in the first place
  • Other procurements your customer has made recently (you can use Freedom of Information requests in the same way we did)
  • The types of question other customers of yours are asking for similar types of contract
  • The areas likely to change in the new contract – particularly new areas of scope, or changes to specification

Together these should give you enough to be able to anticipate the subjects you will be asked question about. And remember you are not trying to write the answer now. You are preparing the background information that will enable you to write a high scoring answer.

Providing confidence

As the incumbent you should be in the best position to provide the customer with confidence that you can deliver a low risk solution that meets all their needs. But you do need to prepare in order to do so.

Your bid writers need to have a clear understanding of the levels of performance you have achieved on the contract to date. And ideally have these in clear and informative graphics, charts or tables to be able to use in the bid. They need to understand the risks involved in the contract. And how you have mitigated them, so you can demonstrate a low risk if the customer chooses you.

These things, and this knowledge doesn’t just happen. You need to spend time analysing your contract over the whole of its life to date. Ideally you want to be able to show an improvement in performance. In particular you want to show the initiatives you have put in place to deliver that improvement (and therefore will be able to / have an improvement mind-set to do so again in the future contract). This type of analysis take time. And is best done well before the rebid itself. When the ITT arrives you will have less time as you will be focusing on writing answers.

Showing understanding

As the incumbent you should have the best understanding of your customer and their requirements of all bidders. But do you? More specifically do your solution developers and your bid writers?

On a detailed level do you understand the specifics of demand from the customer on the contract? For instance are requirements higher on a Monday than a Tuesday? And if so, why? Do you understand what aspects of your service’s end users particularly appreciate? Or those they think could be improved, and what benefits these bring them?

On a strategic level do you understand the main drivers, worries, plans and changes the customer at a strategic level faces, and how your contract may help them with these? Looking back at your existing contract and understanding the benefits you have delivered that made a real difference to the customer (rather than just something extra you did) will show how well you really understand them. And hopefully how you have used that understanding to make a positive difference.

But again, this sort of investigation and analysis isn’t something you should be trying to fit in whilst you are writing your answers. And it isn’t something you need to wait to see the specific questions the customer is going to ask in order to be able to do. Taking time to prepare beforehand will ensure you have a deep understanding of the customer and their needs that you can demonstrate in your submission.

Understanding the future as well as the past

Another area of understanding, one that incumbents can fail on, is understanding the changes in the customer’s requirements for the new contract. Incumbents are often accused by procurers of failing to properly take on board changes in scope, specification etc in rebids. Instead they offer ‘more of the same’. Not making sufficient changes to their solutions to meet future customer needs (or those expressed in the customer’s rebid documentation). Or more subtly, failing to take a ‘ground up’ approach designing a new solution that best meets the changed needs of the new contract. Instead starting with what they have been delivering to date as their model (both from an operational and cost perspective) and adapting that to try and fit what might be very different future requirements.

If as incumbent you have to wait to see the ITT to know what changes the customer is looking for it doesn’t really say anything positive about the relationships you have built up with the customer over the period of the existing contract. Or perhaps you have had the relationships, but not taken the time and effort to use them to find out what the customer wants to change.

Taking the time to use all the contacts you have (and making more if needed) to understand what is likely to change in the rebid, and what the customer’s future needs are will pay dividends. Do so taking the approach that things will change, rather than as some incumbents do starting from the position that little will change. Even if your customer has been happy with what you delivered in the past it doesn’t follow that they will need exactly the same for the next few years. And even if needs aren’t changing fast, best practices in your market, and your competitor’s offerings probably are. If you don’t make improvements you risk someone else getting the opportunity to.

Taking time to understand what needs to change, and putting together a solution that will deliver that change before you see the ITT questions will save you having to write and solution develop at the same time. Or as we’ve seen happen more than once in the past it will avoid having your bid writers effectively designing your solution through what they write in their answers.

Showing this understanding of the future and the changes you are putting in place to address this is particularly important for incumbents. Customers sometimes expect a ‘safe’ ‘more of the same’ solution from their incumbents. They will probably give you the ‘adequate’ level of marks for it (3, perhaps 4 out of a possible 5). Giving them an innovative solution fitted to their business through your demonstrated understanding of their past and future needs is much more likely to get higher scores and win.

Supporting your answer with Evidence

Again, as the incumbent you should have plenty of evidence to support your solution and answers. Your competitors can talk about similar work with other customers. But only you have the direct evidence of your existing delivery with this customer. But this is another area where we see incumbents fail to make the most of their inbuilt advantages. And many that fail to use the time before the bid period to collect, analyse and work out how best to use the evidence from their contract delivery.

Others assume the customer will make the leap between the generality of their incumbency and the specific benefits this brings. They use terms such as ‘as the incumbent’ or ‘we have 5 years’ experience of delivering this service’. This isn’t evidence. It is assertion. And it will not get you the marks you desire for your answers. Real evidence is statistics, for example about performance. Or end user quotes (properly attributed) about the benefits they have gained from the service. Or real detail about how you delivered the service ‘as the incumbent’ and the specific benefits this bought the customer.

Spending time before your bid to gather evidence about your contract and your delivery will give you this detail, ready to back up your answers. Remembering that the focus in your answers should be using this evidence to show how you will deliver in the future – not just that you have been great in the past.

Adding value

This area is perhaps the most difficult for incumbents. To be clear – your past performance, and your existing solution is not added value. It is a benchmark you need to exceed for the new contract if you are to obtain the highest scores in your submission. Some incumbents work on the basis that describing their existing delivery in detail will get them higher marks for their answers. While this will help with showing understanding and giving confidence, it shouldn’t be mistaken as a way to gain marks for added value. Even describing added value you have delivered on the existing contract will only serve as evidence to show you have the capability and approach to deliver added value to back up specific added value offerings for the future solution. If you don’t have new innovative value adding offerings in your new solution, this evidence is of limited value.

Spend time prior to the bid understanding your existing contract and the customer’s future needs. And work out how you can offer something above the core requirements to deliver something innovative and value adding. Then describing this in your answers and the benefits it will bring will be much more likely to get you the marks for added value.

Summary

Our research shows there are 4 common elements customers look for in their evaluation criteria and marking regimes. While they aren’t all in every scoring matrix, you will usually find some of them. All four elements are things you can prepare a range of back up information for well before you start writing your answers. Even before you see the specific questions the customer is going to ask in the PQQ or ITT. Indeed, if you want to get the highest scores from the customer in their evaluation, we believe you need to spend time preparing before the bid starts. Trying to find, collate, analyse and convert this information into usable form while trying to write your answers is distracting. And unlikely to deliver as strong a bid as good preparation would do.

Incumbents have natural advantages in the areas of giving confidence, showing understanding and providing evidence. If they have done the work beforehand. Added value is often an area where incumbent fall down by repeating too much of what they are already delivering. Again, preparation is the key to avoiding this mistake. And as with all bids, incumbents must remember that their answers should be focused on the next contract. All the above simply adds credibility to a new, better solution for the future needs of their customer. A repeat of what they are already delivering, no matter how good it may be will not get the scores needed to retain the contract.

See how we could help you win your next bid submission here