If a business requires goods or services from another supplier they will typically go through a procurement process to identify a suitable partner. As part of this process, they will develop and issue an invitation to tender.
But what does this mean, and how do you respond to it? Read on for answers to common questions and our expert tips to help you successfully respond and secure the tender contract.
What is an invitation to tender?
An invitation to tender, also known as an ITT, is a formal procurement document that is issued by the buyer, inviting suppliers to bid for the contract of works they are looking to fulfil. This could be for the supply of either goods, services or works that the procurement authority (the buyer) requires.
In line with the tender process, it is common that before an ITT is released, the step beforehand would be to issue a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ). This helps the buyer narrow down the potential suppliers, pushing the invitation to tender out to the selected businesses that have been successful in the previous round. This process is particularly standard in public sector procurement.
You can receive an invitation to tender notification either via email, an online portal or via a traditional letter (though we don’t see many of those anymore). If it’s through an online method, you can usually express an interest and download the documents and instructions which tell you everything you need to know. This will allow you to decide whether it is right for your business.
Some tenders still require a hard copy submission, but again this will be detailed in the documents. Some buyers are specific with the design, layout, font, word or page count and submission process so ensure you read the instructions thoroughly.
What does ITT stand for?
ITT stands for invitation to tender and is commonly abbreviated across the bid and procurement industry.
The document can be issued across a range of sectors as buyers look to find suppliers for specific specialism from construction companies to marketing agencies.
If you are invited to tender, once you have passed the pre-qualification stage (PQQ) (if applicable), you are shortlisted to continue to bid and submit why your business should win the contract, often through responding to a formal set of questions, and your price, which could be a one-off project or a framework agreement.
This will then involve you providing more information to the buyer, developing a strong bid submission, giving in-depth answers to their questions and evidencing your businesses capabilities.
As bid writing experts this is where our knowledge and experience can truly help your business secure the contract and grow your business. If you need help to develop a winning bid, contact our team today.
What would an invitation to tender include?
The specific information included in the invitation to tender documents can vary depending on the industry and buyers’ requirements. However, they broadly include more detailed information about the goods or services they need to procure, along with specific considerations they wish you to explore and evidence in order to choose the most suitable candidate.
You can typically expect the following within an invitation to tender;
A letter of invitation to tender
This can be in two versions, either a ‘closed tender’ or ‘open tender’. A closed tender means that a PQQ stage has been carried out and it is now closed to those that have been selected to continue to ITT stage. Alternatively, an open tender is when the buyer begins the tender process with an ITT, opening the opportunity to anyone at this stage. It is important to understand this and be clear about whether you are in an open or closed tendering position.
Scope of works
If you have gone through a PQQ stage already, you may have an overview of the works involved however, as part of the ITT a detailed scope of works will be provided to ensure suitability is correct for both parties. This can include timescales, expectations, concerns and any technical aspects. For construction tenders this can also include surveys, drawings, designs, pre-construction information, schedules, supply chains and costs.
Explanation of the tender process & instructions
The buyer will provide more information about themselves, along with instructions on how to submit your tender and how they are going to work the tender process effectively and efficiently. This will include the critical information for the supplier, deadline date!
Another very important part of the tender for any supplier is to understand the criteria of the buyer. This lays out what their expectations are so any supplier that wishes to tender should go through this with a fine-tooth comb, highlighting where they can add the added value or unique selling point, particularly in comparison to other competitors.
How they will assess and measure against their criteria
The buyer will outline how they will evaluate and assess the tender responses in-line with their criteria. These should be highlighted in the response and overcome, for example if the cost is a key factor that will be measured then you need to discuss value for money and outline how and why you have come to this price.
As discussed above, this list is not exhaustive, it can include much more than this depending on the services or goods required to procure. It can also vary in length and detail, as this is the buyer's discretion and responsibility.
How do you respond to an invitation to tender? Our top tips...
The response can be specified by the buyer, for example they may request that the submission should be uploaded to an online portal, with a maximum page or word count, with limited design. Therefore, our first tip would be to ensure you read over the invitation to tender, and all documents, and then again!
We suggest highlighting key information which can be flagged as important, such as key elements of the specification or instructions, which could influence your quality or commercial response. This will also include of course the deadline for submission and clarification questions, to confirm anything which isn’t clear in the tender.
Additionally, our top tips to ensure you respond effectively are;
1. Work as a team
Once you understand the documents and have decided to bid, you may then want to assign specific areas of the response to multiple team members. Writing a submission can be a huge task for one person and if you have employees that are specialists in a range of departments you may want to lean on their expertise.
For example; a question that refers to health & safety may be best to consult or seek the help of a health & safety manager.
Another note on this, if you proceed with this approach, ensure all of the team members are very clear on what it is you expect from them, the approach, format, writing style and the deadline. You should then give yourself enough time to review their response, make changes to it and ensure it has a single voice across the bid, as well as asking any other questions you may need in advance of the bid submission deadline.
2. Ask the buyer additional questions
If you still have questions after reading the documents then don’t be afraid to ask the buyer using their clarification function. It may be a really important question that they have accidentally missed from the documents, and other competitors may also be struggling too. This tells the buyer that you are interested, capable and willing to communicate effectively with them to seek clarification.
3. Work to the criteria
It sounds obvious, but many businesses lose track of what the buyer actually wants from you when developing your bid submission. The criteria has been made to help and guide you, so make sure you use it! Keep referring back to it and ensure you have covered every aspect of their requirements.
Buyers will look for your technical solution/ your offer. Essentially, understanding how you will meet their requirements. This could be technical compliance with a product specification, your programme of works or simply how you will mobilise and manage the contract.
They will want to know about the team which will manage the contract, their experience, roles and achievements.
Your specific sector may also have specific accreditations, such as SIA in the security services sector. Or they may require ISO accreditation such as ISO9001 (Quality), 14001 (Environment), 18000 (Health & Safety) or 27001 (Information Security Management), though having systems in line with the requirements rather than accredited too, will often suffice, again depending on the industry and competition.
4. Win themes
Further to meeting the criteria, how can you showcase your capabilities and put yourself in prime position above competitors. We call these win themes, as they should be key discriminators, which are aligned to the buyers’ requirements, and what make you stand out from the other suppliers.
5. Write, review and feedback
Writing your bid can be a lengthy process, and this should involve reviewing and improving it frequently as you go along. Seek feedback from other members of the team where you can, keep developing the content and make it the best it can possibly be. Put yourself in the buyer's shoes and don’t forget to cover ALL of their questions, which includes the sub-questions. Use their structure to form your subheadings, this also quickly demonstrates to the buyer you have answered all elements.
6. Review and proofread, seek another pair of eyes
If you have done the above then your final version should be in a good state, but another pair of eyes is always a must. If there is someone who hasn’t been involved or read any of the content already then use them to proofread the final version. They should be checking spelling mistakes, punctuation, formatting, word counts and terminology. Don’t use technical jargon where it isn’t relevant or required. Consider if the buyer has used this language in their documentation or not, as often the awarding panel are not subject experts themselves. It is possible that they won’t understand what you are saying or referring to if your bid uses unexplained jargon. Ask us for more information about our critical review service for our clients where we assess their responses against the specification, and evaluation criteria and ensure they are answering the question.
7. Submit, and evaluate
Breathe, it has been submitted and you can now sit back and relax now, right? Wrong, yes take some time to relax but ensure you, and the team involved, come together soon after the submission to reflect, evaluate and plan for the future. What could you do better, or differently next time round?
Also, if you are or aren’t successful, hopefully you are though with thanks to our tips above, you will receive feedback from the buyer. This is valuable and should be looked at in detail to ensure you keep growing your tender writing skills.
Not quite got it right? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. We offer a range of services to manage or support your bid writing functionality, from consultancy, bid writing support, to training and resources.
Get in touch with our bid experts today to see how we can help you win more contracts.