Contracts and SQQ’s are like buses. You wait interminably for your number to come along and then all of a sudden, several arrive at once. So how do you go about managing bid resources? An example. One morning last week, Prior Information Notices for ten new offender healthcare contracts were issued by NHS England. This happens to be a core area for one of our clients.
Even if some SQQs are delayed, this is still likely to represent a severe stretching of bid resource at some stage over the next few months. And that’s just one area of activity.
This is a real issue. If you resource for the peak periods then when things slacken off you’ll have staff twiddling their thumbs. However, run with a skeleton crew and when things are busy your staff will be under real pressure and bid quality may suffer.
Of course, one option is to bring in external bid resource to help in peak periods, but before considering this, here are a few simple practices which may help you to manage bid resources;
- Be prepared. Identify and agree qualification criteria with all internal stakeholders in advance. Start with something simple like “service”, “geography” and “contract size”. Contracts which meet the criteria are highlighted by the commercial team for consideration, those which fail can safely be jettisoned without the need for round-robin e-mails inviting views on whether to bid.
- Keep an ear to the ground for early warning of interesting contracts. In particular, keep close to commissioners! Internal teams will be forewarned of plans to re-tender services you already supply, but you may also learn about upcoming contracts for new services. Remember to ensure that whoever is responsible for monitoring contract databases (you have assigned someone, right?!) is fully up to speed on your qualification criteria.
- Identify the internal resources who will contribute to bid projects. Resources should be identified from every area – HR, IT, Finance, Operations, Clinical. This is key. Most staff don’t particularly want to write bids. They see it as a distraction. Often this is partly down to bad experiences i.e. a poor win ratio. Whatever the reasons, staff won’t readily volunteer for bid writing, so organise resource in advance. As soon as a (qualified) new tender goes live, each member of the team should be asked to diarise time to work on the bid. Without this pre-planning then it is a sure bet that when the tender comes around, most of the team will be too busy with their day jobs to lend any quality time to your project.
Sometimes, these practices won’t be enough to manage demand, such as in the offender healthcare example above. When you are faced with working on multiple, qualified tenders, all of which require pressing responses – this is the time to bring in external resources. Even here, however, you will hopefully have done some forward planning and will have identified – and indeed already worked with – one or more external providers. The eleventh hour on a collection of critical bids is not the ideal time to be sounding out untested external partners.
Long before it gets to this stage, engage with a likely provider on a small, non-critical project as a test. See how the provider works, assess the quality of their output and give them some feel for your own organisation. If you like what you see, then you have a relationship you can build on.
In addition to sheer volume of work there is another occasion when you should consider bringing in an external provider. If you believe you have a strong service offering, but your win ratio is very low, then you may want to ask an external company for an objective review of your next bid, before you submit.
A common mistake in bid responses is not answering “the exam question”. Even where you are very familiar with your service – indeed perhaps because you are so familiar with a service – it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone understands what you do while you haven’t actually addressed the specifics in a question. Always assume that the ‘reader’ knows nothing about your service.
In summary, whether or not you use external bid resources, you can save a lot of time and effort by following the simple practises outlined above. By testing external providers in advance, you can be confident of having the right resources to rely upon when you most need them. In the next blog, we’ll talk about how to get the best from your relationship with an external bid provider, once you’ve made a decision to engage.
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