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Tender References


Written by Chris Turner


Nov 15, 2012

Tender references when bidding for contracts

Bid writing and winning tenders is about building trust, showing your business is a proven and low risk option, to those evaluating the bid. One part of this complex mix is your tender references. Typically 3 references are required when bidding for public sector or private tenders.

Public sector tender reference requirements

References are sought during the selection questionnaire (SQ) or PQQ stage. In the most recent update (PPN 03/2023) to the SQ template, which public sector procurement use, it requires the following with regards to tender references:

Technical and Professional Ability - Past Performance

When assessing a potential supplier's technical and professional ability, evaluating their past performance is important. This involves examining examples of past contracts and seeking suitable references to gauge their experience and capabilities. The selection process should be fair and proportionate, with relevant and proportionate requests for contract examples or references from both public and private sectors.

Contracts should typically be within the past three to five years, although older examples may be considered if necessary for competition. The evaluation criteria should not unfairly favour larger businesses, ensuring a level playing field for all suppliers.

To assess a supplier's technical and professional ability effectively, use relevant selection questions in addition to references. These questions should ask information that enables an assessment against the selection criteria. Suppliers should provide contract details where customer contacts can confirm the accuracy of the information provided. Customer references in tenders should be factual, and supporting documentary evidence should be requested for verification.

Additionally, when evaluating consortiums or newly formed entities, consider examples where group members have delivered similar requirements. If unavailable, up to three separate examples from principal group members can suffice. This approach helps ensure that even new entities demonstrate the necessary level of experience.

Experience and References including a description of past projects or contracts of a similar nature, client references or testimonials and details of any relevant certifications, accreditations, or industry memberships.

Required reference details for Government tenders

For each contract please provide the following information

  • Name of customer organisation who signed the contract
  • Name of supplier who signed the contract
  • Point of contact of the customer
  • Position in the customer’s organisation
  • E-mail address
  • Description of contract
  • Contract Start date
  • Contract completion date
  • Estimated contract value.

Tender reference requirements for new businesses

Within the SQ guidance it notes, "if you cannot provide at least one example of previous contracts that are relevant to our requirement, in no more than 500 words please provide an explanation for this and how you meet the selection criteria relating to technical and professional ability e.g. your organisation is a new start-up or you have provided services in the past but not under a contract."

It is important to look at this in context. If the wider procurement documents, tender questions and evaluation criteria make it very they require a business with track record of success, then it is worth considering your likely competitors and if you can compete effectively.

Tender references - bid writing top tips

As part of your bid strategy you want to ensure if you are bidding for a tender that you stand a good chance of winning. As a result, references and wider relevant experience is a very important consideration.

What we look for, as bid writing consultants, is how close the live tender is to your existing contracts. This in terms of buyer type, e.g. within the housing sector or University or NHS. Location, value or size and scope of works. If you want to take a low risk approach to bidding for tenders, therefore maximising your win rates, then if you are not the incumbent (and performing well), then the next best position is that you are already delivering exactly the same service but for a neighbouring contract. You are therefore already known locally, have an existing infrastructure and will likely have common stakeholders involved in the process. Evidencing your ability should therefore be easy, if you have bid writing capacity and skills.

In practice, you won't always be in this position. You will want to push for growth and bid for new tender opportunities. This is defined by what questions you ask yourself before deciding whether to bid or not.

With each reference you provide during a tender process it is important to ensure you spend time demonstrating or justifying why it is a good fit (within the description section). This will also then help your bid writing when using the client reference as evidence in the quality submission of the tender response. The more a reference moves away from an exact replication of the live tender - 'buyer type', 'location', 'size' and 'scope' - it is important to reassess and where required, develop the reference details, to ensure they are as accurate and close to the live requirement as possible. For example, while your example might be education based, rather than the housing association tender you are bidding for, you describe why the scope, value and skills needed were very similar. This also allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the housing association's requirements and your expertise.

As detailed above, public sector procurement exercises can accept private sector references. However, it is important to use the same approach of tailoring and justifying why it is similar and a relevant reference to provide.

In summary, the key to providing tender references is keeping them as relevant and recent as you can. If you are not sure about your references, you should ask a clarification question through the tendering portal to ensure you can create a PASS, or speak to bid writing experts.

Your tender references should be as close as possible to the live tender, based on:

  • Buyer type
  • Location
  • Size
  • Scope.

While references are usually considered to be around ensuring tender compliance, it is also important to consider that you are still in a competition! Within the 'description of the contract' you have an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, challenges you have overcome.

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