Tendering Tips – getting the evaluation questions right

Here’s another in our series of “tendering tips”, and apologies if this seems a little basic to our more experienced readers, but, as we said last time, personal experience suggests many tenders issued by organisations (in both public and private sectors) aren’t frankly very good.

Often (in my experience) this is because users quite rightly have a lot of input into tendering documents. So, much of the work may be done by the budget holder or perhaps the technical expert (the HR,  IT or Fleet manager who has some ownership over the spend area). Procurement may not always have the time, resource or indeed experience to go through and make sure the stakeholders have constructed a good tender document, including evaluation questions and processes.

Anyway, today’s tip is around evaluation questions.  I’m talking here about questions that you intend to use in some way to evaluate the bid – so that generally means the responses from the suppliers will be marked and scored in some fashion.

So here are three related points to note:

1.  Make it absolutely clear to the supplier what it is you are looking for in their answer.  If there’s any doubt, you need to clarify or amplify your question or accompanying information. You aren’t selecting the supplier who is best at solving puzzles.  I’ve sat supply side too often with a bidding firm, tender in front of us, and their account manager saying, “what the heck do they want from us here – I just don’t know what they’re getting at”?

2.  Be clear yourself what a good response would look like.  If you’re not , then it isn’t a good question.  I saw an example recently, where an organisation had asked, “please explain how you will invoice for your services”?  But no-one could tell me what the “right” answer might be that would gain a top score.  (Other than perhaps, “accurately”)!

3.  And expanding on that, make sure you know how you can differentiate between a good response answer and a less good example.  Again, if you’re struggling to recognise the difference, then it is not a suitable question for marking.  I have seen questions like this -  “tell me how this contract would fit into your corporate strategy”?  Is it better if the supplier says this is part of core business, or an exciting new opportunity area? How do I differentiate between an “OK” answer to that and an excellent one?

On that last point, if you want to ask questions just for background information, and to help understand the firms you may end up doing business with, then, in moderation, that is fine. But for any questions that are going to be scored and used for assessment, you should have a pretty clear “ideal” response in mind, and a clear sense of how you can differentiate between responses.

And it goes without saying, you need to put some time into getting this right, before you issue the tender. It’s hard to go back later and correct problems in this area.

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