Buying Complex Services – the Supplier’s View

To finish off our month looking at Buying Complex Services as our hot topic, today we have the view from the supplier side. Following on from our features on the use of frameworks and preferred supplier lists, we asked our informant (who wanted to remain anonymous) to give us their perspective. Even better, they quoted a bit of feedback they provided to a buyer recently to explain why they weren’t going to bid on a particular requirement.

“With around 20 potential suppliers on the framework,  resulting in a 5% chance of winning,  we have to think very carefully about which ITTs to respond to.  To make this decision we put opportunities through a rigorous qualification process.  In this case, whilst we have the capability to carry out reviews of this kind, we felt that, from the information provided, we could not demonstrate enough understanding of the requirement or familiarity with the current systems or processes to develop a compelling bid.

In our view, any competitor with more insight than us, any incumbent supplier or any consultancy supporting other work streams would have a distinct advantage.  We do not believe that the clarification question process would have been helpful as our experience of the answers to specification questions is poor.  The most common answers are “This is outlined in the specification [or Appendix B]” and “This information will be provided to the winning contractor” (or words to that effect).

In addition,  the potential size of the contract (something below £100,000) was too small to justify the bid costs and the timing of the project (in the holiday period of July and August) carried too much risk in relation to the access to key client staff, data and information. We would be more than happy to meet with you to explain our qualification process if required.”

I thought that was a fascinating response. So for buyers, think hard about what you’re asking suppliers to do, and don’t assume they will always jump at the chance of working with you. Our consultant had more to say too.

“Buyers should also be aware of timing.  We tend to qualify out more if the ITTs require  work over Christmas and in the first two weeks of August when our staff, who have children too, take holidays.  I had one that came in on 31 July this year and was required by 14 August.  I was about the only Partner around as I had been away earlier – during the Scottish school holidays.  Needless to say we didn’t bid”!

Now of course, you may be very happy as the buyer if you don’t get too many responses. but if you are looking to maximise your competitive responses, then consider what makes your tender an attractive one to respond to. Issuing it on December 23rd and asking for a response by January 3rd probably l won’t do that!

Anyway, that concludes our hot topic for October. Next month, we will be looking in some depth at procurement in the NHS – and maybe beyond to wider health markets.

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