One good thing about public sector tenders is the depth and quality of the feedback that you receive – and detailed feedback such as that provided by the CCS is a great (and sometimes painful) way of learning how tenders are scored.
The CCS’s marking scheme on their recent Permanent Recruitment Framework really showcases the importance of answering the question that has been asked – not the question you wish you had been asked – nor indeed the question that you were asked in another tender on a similar topic!
With the CCS Health Sector Resourcing Framework coming up, many of us need to understand their scoring model. Above all, scoring in tenders has to be transparent and measurable, and in the CCS’s Permanent Recruitment tender this means that each qualitative question was broken into 4 parts, with the opportunity to score 25 points for each part. What I mean here is that if you answered every single element of the question and covered everything in the specification relating to that question, you would get 25 marks. If you missed even one tiny element you scored zero. Nil. Zilch. All or nothing.
I understand why they did this – it takes the subjectivity that plagues scoring tenders out of the equation. Tenders have to be scored fairly and objectively. Dealing with challenges (from agencies not being selected) is time consuming, expensive and holds up the award process, so finding a truly objective way of scoring is critical.
The other consideration is that your responses are likely to be subject to a restrictive character count, so you need to cover everything (so that you score maximum points) in a really concise manner (so you can fit your answer into the requisite field on the portal).
So, how do we score 100%?
Here’s the rub. You have to be ruthlessly meticulous when you write your answer, cross referencing your response with every element of the question, the specification and any other supporting documentation.
There are no short cuts. No templates. No opportunities to just copy and paste from your tender library.
You need to read ALL the documents and craft each answer individually.
How do you do this?
We’ve pulled together a 10-point approach that we now use to answer all tender questions:
- If you are working on a portal, copy and paste the qualitative questions into Microsoft Word. This “working document” provides a much more flexible format to work in (of course the final answer needs to be pasted back into the portal once you’ve finished).
- Go to the specification and any other supporting documentation provided by the client, and find the sections referred to in the question. Copy and paste these into your working document below the question and highlight them in a different colour. This is just for reference and will be deleted at the end.
- Go to the question and highlight or underline each element of the question to ensure you focus on every single part.
- Use the highlighted/underlined text as headings/sub headings and then write your response in full under each heading. Be specific, for example if the question states “detail your methods and frequency….”, then you need to breakdown all the different methods you use and then specify the frequency for each. Avoid terms like “regularly” – this is insufficiently specific and is enough to constitute not answering the question.
- Don’t worry about word or character counts at this stage. Simply brain dump everything that you need to cover and write it up in as much detail as possible to ensure that everything is covered. Your first draft might be 4 or 5 times longer than the final draft – and this is fine!
- Double check your answer against every element of the question. Have you covered everything that has been asked? Is there anything you can add?
- Cross reference your draft answer with the text you have copied from the specification/supporting documents at the top of your answer. Have you covered everything here too?
- It’s now time to start refining your text to fit it into the word/character count. You may want to remove the headings – this is fine – they were only there to help you structure your response and they use up words/characters. Look at ways that you can say the same thing but in fewer words/characters (being careful not to lose the context). You may land up with many versions, reducing the text each time before you get it into the requisite length.
- Once you have the final version within word count, proof read your answer and cross reference back to the question, specification and supporting documents once again to ensure you have covered every single element of the requirement.
- Paste your final response into the portal. Scroll down to the bottom of the field to ensure that the whole response is there and that the last few words/characters have not been cut off. Portals work on a “plain text” editor and therefore character counts can be slightly different to MS Word.
Let’s use an example from a recent tender to show this process:
Demonstrate how you will structure your Account Management team, describing the end-to-end Account Management process that you will adopt for Customers when delivering the Framework services, including but not limited to:
- how you will align your approach to a wide variety of Customer needs; and
- how it will be tailored to meet the different geographical and skillset requirements of Customers as detailed in paragraph XXX of the specification.
Stage 1 – Copy and paste the full question from the portal into a Microsoft Word format. Put the question in bold so you can differentiate it from your answer.
Stage 2 – Go to the specification and copy and paste paragraph XXX from the specification into your answer. Put this into a different colour below the question in your working document.
Stage 3 – Underline or highlight each element of the question (shown underlined above).
Stage 4 – Use the highlighted elements as headings:
- Structure of the Account Management Team
- End to end account management process for customers
- Alignment of approach to a wide variety of customer needs
- How we tailor our process to meet geographical and skillset requirements
Stage 5 – Write your response under each of these headings – don’t worry about word/character count at this stage. Just make sure you cover ALL the detail. Let’s look at the first bullet point:
Breakdown your team e.g. Account Director, National Account Manager, Account Managers, Recruitment Consultants, Compliance and Admin Team etc. Give details of where these people will be based, what they do, specialisms the consultants cover (aligning them with the needs of the contract) and how you will flex resource to meet the needs of the contract including peaks and troughs in requirement. You may also want to demonstrate that this model has been used successfully on previous contracts (naming them).
Now cross reference your response with all of the documentation provided – have you responded to every single element? Fill in any gaps.
Stage 6 – Now you need to shorten your response to fit the word/character count. Look at each sentence – what can you cut out without losing the sense and impact of the content?
See our recent article on word counts/character counts for techniques to cut down text.
Stage 7 – This is the time for double checking – proof read for accuracy, spelling, grammar, punctuation. Cross reference once again with the coloured text detailed in Stage 2. Have you covered everything? If so, delete this text!
One final piece of advice: do not underestimate the time it will take you to do this well. Set aside plenty of time early in the process and find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed to complete this work.
It’s only worth filing in a tender if you’re going to win it…..so put aside the time, sharpen your proverbial pencil and get started!
If you need further help, then just email firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 01688 400319.