Step Six - Compete to win
Compete to win
When you have identified an opportunity to supply to the Australian Government, the next step is to compete for the business.
Of course there is no guarantee of success when competing for any business, but there are some basic rules and better practices that will help to ensure your bid for government work has the best possible chance of success. It is absolutely vital that you pay careful attention to the requirements set out in the tender documentation.
Tender documents will usually include some, if not all, of the following elements:
|Tender Content||What does that mean?|
|A description of the procurement||
The request document describes the goods or services being procured. The description should include:
|Conditions for participation||
The conditions for participation are the minimum requirements you must meet to be considered for the work. Agencies include these to make sure you have the legal, financial, technical and/or commercial capabilities to perform the contract. Some examples are:
|Evaluation criteria and methodology||
Your submission will be assessed against the evaluation criteria.
The evaluation criteria will provide critical guidance on what you need to demonstrate to win the business.
Evaluation criteria are often weighted according to their relative importance, and of course will vary from tender to tender.
Some examples are:
|Minimum content and format requirements||
Minimum content and format requirements explain what information your tender response should contain and the format that you need to use. For example:
Process rules relate to how the tender will be run. For example:
|The draft contract||
A draft contract is usually included in tender documents to allow you to clearly understand the requirements of the agency:
Quick Tip: Contract issues
Agencies will typically provide a draft contract as part of the tender documents. Draft contracts will include a number of requirements relating to public liability and professional indemnity insurance, confidentiality of both contractor and agency information, auditor access to contractor records, conflicts of interest, and the use of sub-contractors (where applicable). Agencies will generally ask that you indicate your preparedness to accept the terms of the contract. It is your responsibility to negotiate any variations to contract clauses before you sign.
The following checklist presents some key points to consider when preparing your tender submission.
Have you targeted the best opportunities?
Participating in tender processes can involve substantial costs with no guarantee of success. Take the time to determine whether each opportunity is potentially rewarding and cost-effective to pursue, based on whether you have a reasonable chance of winning the business.
Do you understand all the requirements?
It may sound simple, but be sure to read the tender documents carefully, highlight key points, and seek clarification from the agency contact if you are uncertain about any issue. For example, are you required to quote prices inclusive or exclusive of Goods and Services Tax?
Have you attended any briefing offered?
To be fully informed, whenever an industry briefing is offered make every attempt to attend. Industry briefings provide an opportunity to ask questions and understand the process in depth. They allow you to make direct contact with the agency representative in charge of the tender process.
Have you planned your tender and allowed plenty of time to meet the deadline?
Late tenders will not be accepted, so make sure you know where and when your tender must be lodged. If you need to form a consortium or engage sub-contractors to complete the work, be sure to allow others enough time to provide input into the tender submission.
Is your response straightforward and to the point?
There is no standard format for tender responses—they vary depending on the nature and complexity of the procurement. However, you will always need to complete any mandatory forms and follow suggested formatting style or templates and schedules provided. Your tender will be evaluated on content, not extravagant presentation. It is also a good idea to use simple, straightforward language and keep to the point.
Have you addressed all mandatory conditions for participation and evaluation criteria?
It is extremely important to demonstrate that you comply with all specified conditions for participation, and that you address all the evaluation criteria and any other specified requirements. Make sure you can comply with the terms and conditions of the draft contract. Remember, if you do not address the evaluation criteria, there is no point in submitting a tender response.
Have you demonstrated value for money?
Value for money is the key consideration of government agencies. Price is obviously important, but so too are service standards, quality, performance and whole-of-life costs. Always bid competitively the first time; you will probably not be given a chance to improve your offer later in the process. Equally, don’t underprice to win the work assuming you will be able to extend the value of the contract or increase your price once the contract is signed—you will be expected to hold to the price you have quoted.
Have you emphasised what sets you apart from your competitors?
Think about how you would evaluate your tender against the evaluation criteria if you were the official responsible for assessing tender responses. You may wish to emphasise areas where you exceed the requirements, and where you feel you can add value for the agency. Your tender will usually be competing against several alternative proposals, so be sure to clearly identify potential points of difference from your competitors.
Quick Tip: Submit your bid on time
Agencies can not accept your bid if it is submitted after the deadline, unless the delay is due solely to mishandling by the agency. It is therefore vital that your bid is submitted by the deadline for submissions.
Of course, not all tender responses can be successful, no matter how good they are. However, the experience of an unsuccessful tender should not be a signal to give up on doing business with government. Rather, consider an unsuccessful tender process as a chance to learn and improve your offering for the next business opportunity.
Debriefing sessions are an important part of any tender process. The primary purpose of a debriefing is to enable potential suppliers to submit more competitive bids in the future. They can be a valuable source of information on the strengths and weaknesses of your tender and help you prepare better responses to future tenders.
Many agencies will offer debriefing sessions to unsuccessful tenderers as a matter of course. If not, agencies will provide debriefings on request.
Comparative aspects of the winning offer, or any other offer, cannot be discussed—the purpose of a debriefing session is not to justify the selection of the successful tender, rather it is to give you feedback on your response.
Issues that may be discussed at debriefings include:
- performance of your offer with respect to the evaluation criteria
- the strengths of your offer
- the weaknesses of your offer
- your experience, qualifications, referee reports or past performance
- an indication of cost competitiveness
- adequacy of your administrative or management systems
- quality management issues
- the nominated personnel, eg. number, experience, skills, knowledge, and quality of management
- facilities or equipment issues
- sub-contracting issues, eg. inadequate control mechanisms.
Debriefings may help you identify real problems with your product, service or pricing, as well as concerns that can be addressed when you prepare submissions to future tenders.
To make the most of a tender debriefing session, prepare in advance by reviewing your tender against the evaluation criteria and scope of work set out in the request documentation. Consider any specific questions you wish to ask.
During the debriefing, take note of all issues covered and clarify any points that are not entirely clear. If the agency undertakes to get back to you on a particular issue, ask for a contact name and number so you can follow up if necessary.
Quick Tip: Maintain positive relationships
Remember that you may have other opportunities to do business with the agency in the future. Take a positive approach to the debriefing, and treat it as an opportunity to continue to build your relationship with the agency.
After a tender process is over, you may have concerns that it was in some way flawed or the evaluation was inaccurate or unfair. Such concerns can stem from poor communication, leading to misunderstandings or misconceptions about aspects of the tender process. For this reason it is always a good idea to raise your concerns informally with the agency before making a formal complaint.
A possible process for pursuing concerns or complaints relating to procurement processes is set out below.
Ask for a tender debrief
If you haven’t already received a debriefing session, you are entitled to request one. The feedback and information provided at the debriefing session may help to alleviate your concerns, and the meeting will give you an opportunity to raise specific questions with the people responsible for running the tender process.
Approach the agency responsible
If, after the tender debrief, you would like to follow up on a particular issue, the agency responsible for the procurement process is always your first point of contact. Approaching the tender contact officer informally will often prove sufficient, but if you are unsatisfied with the response, you can put your concerns in writing to the agency’s Chief Executive for a more formal review. Agencies then typically undertake an internal review of the procurement process, using senior officers not previously involved with the procurement. Be aware, however, that unless there are exceptional circumstances, your challenge is unlikely to change the tender outcome.
Approach the Commonwealth Ombudsman
If you believe you have taken your concern/complaint as far as possible with the procuring agency, but remain unsatisfied, the Commonwealth Ombudsman has extensive powers to investigate procurement related complaints. The Commonwealth Ombudsman can make recommendations regarding the procurement process and decision, but cannot overturn the decision or specifically direct an agency to do so. If the Ombudsman’s office cannot assist with a complaint, it will explain why and suggest other avenues for resolving the matter. The Ombudsman’s website is Commonwealth Ombudsman 
The primary external review mechanism is the civil legal system, which can be used to settle disputes through a formal judicial process. A legal challenge is a serious and potentially costly step, and would obviously not be undertaken lightly or without professional legal advice. Litigation relating to Australian Government procurement processes is relatively rare.
Quick Tip: Mutual trust and respect
As a potential supplier, you have the right to be treated fairly, impartially, consistently and equitably throughout the procurement process. You also have the right to have complaints investigated promptly and without disadvantage. Making a legitimate complaint should not prejudice your involvement in ongoing or future procurement processes.
Equally, as a supplier, you have a responsibility to attempt to resolve concerns or complaints directly with the agency involved before seeking external intervention. You are also expected not to waste time and resources by making frivolous complaints, for example in an attempt to derail a procurement process or win a contract by means other than the merits of your offering.Agencies and suppliers should at all times aim to conduct business on a basis of mutual trust and respect.