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Framework Agreements: Getting SMEs involved in public procurement


Framework Agreements: Getting SMEs involved in public procurement

The annual conbined turnover of UK Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) was over £1.8 trillion in 2016. Governments in recent years have committed more and more funding to them, since it is clear they are key to economic growth.

Following on from a previous blog (‘A Bidding Guide for Small Businesses’, 10/04/17), we want to discuss how else SMEs can get involved in public procurement. Framework agreements represent around 45% of procurements in the UK, and they are increasingly valuable for SMEs.


Reasons to Red Team


Reasons to Red Team

Composing a bid can be just like any other sort of writing: at the start, you have good intentions of allowing yourself enough time to check your work thoroughly, reflect on the specification and make sure you have answered everything. In practice, when life happens, you may find yourself finishing the bid a bit closer to the final deadline than anticipated. Ideally, you should still check your work; in reality, you skim read it and think ‘it’ll do’. This is why red teaming is so key: organise a time to discuss the work, constructively criticise it and spot those little errors.


First things first, how can you avoid sailing a bit too close to the wind when it comes to deadlines? If you know that you have a tendency to finish things last minute, create your own deadline to stick to. If you make plans to go through your work with other people, something which is extremely beneficial to the resulting bid, there’ll be more motivation to get it done in advance.  


Once you have met your own deadline, it’s important to get a second opinion before that of the commissioner. Go through your work line by line, picking up on any small turn of phrase or grammatical mistakes which could be improved, as well as keeping in mind both the question and your win themes (if you find yourself scratching your head at this term, keep an eye out for our next blog!). Don’t be afraid to change it up a bit – on a first draft, it’s important to answer all of the points and, on the second, make it a more engaging read and ensure it will stand out above the others.


Finally, be impersonal. Obviously pick up on things you could improve next time you’re writing, but don’t take anything to heart. Your colleagues criticising your work constructively isn’t them criticising you, and it’s always easier to improve pre-existing work than to write it from scratch! This is what a red team is all about: a joint effort and open discussion will ensure an all-round better bid, helping to secure that win.


There are no prizes for second best – clichéd maybe, but very true here! There is little point in writing a bid half-heartedly, and so if you want a new yet extremely knowledgeable pair of eyes to have a look through your bid, contact us on 07341 338 200.



Being Bespoke: the Benefits


Being Bespoke: the Benefits

So you’ve found a contract you want to compete for, you have a sound knowledge of your product and company, and you want to get cracking with composing your bid… At HealthBid, we know that when you're creating a winning response, it’s good to start early, rein in your horses a little, and reflect on precisely what is being asked of you and perceive exactly how you’re going to approach the task in hand.


In this day and age, personalisation is the key to winning people over. Just consider internet adverts, hotel stays... Recognising the importance of tailoring something to someone is a great way to increase their satisfaction. Writing bids is no different. The tender is there to express what is needed in that particular case, and so it’s no use writing a story all about your great product or method if it’s not fundamentally fitting the specific requirements.


Think about it this way: would you like it if someone got you a Christmas present that has no relevance to you, and quite frankly was probably given to them as an unwanted gift last year? Well it’s the same here – recycling old approaches to quickly fit the spec could make your life easier in the short term, but it’s important to establish your operational solution which can do precisely what this contract is requiring & more: you have to be in it to win it!


Finally, people react to people. Simply stating the role title when describing your work depersonalises it and can desensitise the reader – make it relatable! Say who will be doing that role if (when) you win, and why not throw in a nice little picture of them in there too? On the same note, do your research on the commissioner, and address them personally. Tailor your bid to the reader and make it about your people. Be perceptive of what is needed. Make that extra winning effort.


The Self-Awareness Strategy


The Self-Awareness Strategy

Writing a bid isn’t as simple as just sitting down straight away and putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!): it is important to know both your product and strategy as well as what you’re competing for in order to put in that winning piece. Reflecting on your organisation as well as being perceptive of the specific situation is key to tailoring your bid to fit the mould… It’s all very well us here at HealthBid telling you this, but what are the practical implications? What should you be doing?


First things first - be self-aware. This doesn’t mean being able to critique yourself personally (although this isn’t such a bad thing!), but rather your product as a whole. Researching competitors as part of your capture plan not only shows you what you’re up against but also helps you to have a heightened awareness of your key strengths, enabling your win themes to develop.


In a similar light, if you are the incumbent and know certain occasions haven’t been your finest hour… don’t shy away, tackle them! The commissioner will be aware of what you’ve done, and so, instead of making empty claims, tell them (and, even better, show them through modifying your processes) how you are improving and how this has been the catalyst for change.


On a final note, being aware of your company means knowing your team. Need to ask a question about the operational solution? Call Gemma. The pricing? This one’s for Jeff. You get the picture – reflecting on the skills and roles of your team and therefore delegating responsibility in the best way possible enables information to be provided by the most pertinent people and a winning bid to be written.


Our next blog shall focus on the importance of accurately perceiving the demands of the tender, but if you find yourself needing any advice or more practical help with bidding in the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Joe, our Business Development Manager, on 07341 338 200.


Fail to Prepare...


Fail to Prepare...

Excuse me… If I could just interrupt your new year’s resolutions for a second. Dumbbells down, pens off paper, e-cigs in pockets… this is important.  Thank you.

Its January 2016, an opportunity for a fresh start, new challenges, and with that successes. Hopefully by now you’ve caught up from the Christmas break.

While you’re busy feeling the effects of that 6th mince pie, and planning the new and improved you, I thought it necessary to remind you not to forget about changing the way you tackle your bids.

As an organisation, we have found the most common reason for a poorly written bid is lack of preparation. Organisations often come to us last minute, having let the deadline creep up on them and in a bit of a panic. This panic is often evident in the work produced thus far. It can be mismatched dialogue, unclear goals or simple things like poor grammar or too much repetition. When you’re stressed in work there is less time for you, and your diet/gym program/travel plans will soon take back seat.

Here are some of the best way to prepare properly for a bid, and ensure that 2016 is your healthiest yet!

1.   First things first, if you want a winning bid, start planning EARLY. Waiting until the ITT is released means you have lost valuable time, which will result in late nights and weekend working.

2.   Get your strategies together upfront. Start analysing before the tender is out. We know this stage as a blue team, and is an ideal way to start assessing your strategies, win themes and competitive analysis.

3.   Get your deadlines in the diary…and stick to them. Breaking up the project into chunks and putting those in set timeframes avoids a last minute rush. Also you won’t be too phased by sudden date/deadline changes if you’ve already started the work.

4.   Remember Bid Projects Involve People – And these people will be busy too. Get your team together and delegate, arrange meeting dates, and set deadlines with them.

5.   Get your tools together – Often in large bid projects we suggest having a ‘bidhub.’ One room reserved for planning, meetings and is a centre for the whole project. You also won’t believe how much investing in a big pack of coloured pens will help.

At HealthBid we have a team of strategic experts that can do all of the above for you. From creating win themes, to helping engage and motivate your team for success. It’s never too soon to call and discuss. Contact Joe Gatenby our business development manager on 07341 338 200.



Answering the right question

Q: How did George Orwell's '1984' influence later writer's depiction of the future?

A: When thinking about George Orwell, it is easy to underestimate the influence of Aldous Huxley. 'A Brave New World', Huxley's depiction of a future...etc...etc

We've all done it - answered the question that we know the answer to, not the one that has actually been asked. In bid writing, it is a fatal mistake, and one that although easily avoided, is very common.

Once you as an organisation have put together your solution design, it is good practice to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of that solution. This is a positive step - it links your bid to your sales strategy, and allows you to weave a commercial thread through the bid.

However, then come the ITT questions - and they don't ask about your biggest strength. So, instead of answering the question asked, you instead answer the question you wish that they'd asked. 

When the evaluation panel opens the responses, and gets to that question, they will be confused - why is organisation x talking about Aldous Huxley when we asked about George Orwell? We really wanted to know about Orwell, and here's a load of Huxley. Mark it down.

There are some easy ways to avoid this.

  • Carry out a thorough review process - and if a response doesn't seem to fit, then speak it out loud. Often saying the words makes it clear that an answer isn't right.
  • Make sure that someone reviews your answers who didn't write them. And that you allow them to be critical
  • Think about how your strengths can be reflected in your answers without completely diverting them - this can be subtle, but is important

However, the best way of avoiding this situation can only happen before the writing starts at all - know and engage you potential customer. If they know about your strengths well in advance of coming to market, and if you have done a good enough job of convincing them that these strengths are critical to the success of their contract, then you will see that reflected in the questions.

It's one of our key tenets - writing a winning bid starts long before a tender is issued.



How do you future proof a bid?

How much time do you spend thinking about the future? Enough? Too much?

Sometimes it’s hard to create the space to look forward and imagine what is and what isn’t possible. Healthcare organisations spend a lot of time trying to predict the future develop strategies that will work for them. Often in isolation and sometimes without deep consideration for speed of change.

Technology will increasingly become central to everything we do in healthcare. It is something we’d be foolish to ignore; it fragments and changes services beyond recognition; it has the powerful potential to create deeply personal health budgets. We are facing a future where people will want to decide how to manage their own health outcomes and become more demanding of healthcare professional as a consequence.

It is a complex and difficult landscape and one which in the bid world requires you to gaze into the future without any great certainty. However there are steps you can take to help manage this process. It starts early, way before the bid is out to market and involves building a strong business strategy leading into a well conceived capture plan. By the time the bid pops out, you should have worked with commissioners, partners and patients to think about what steps you can take to radically improve your services and ask yourself the deep and challenging questions about how that might unsettle the status quo.

Doing this will almost certainly improve your bid, engage your commissioners and help you not only win or retain business but have a profoundly different outlook towards your services in the future. We can see how this type of approach is fundamental to the recent Vanguard sites and how the future will be shaped by a very different set of rules.



What's Next?

Last week's election result came as something of a shock for most pollsters. For most people working in the NHS, as in all public services, a period of uncertainty was anticipated while a new government was formed - a process which looked like it would take some time. Instead, the Conservatives have a clear mandate to implement their manifesto, including commitments to the NHS.

The commercial framework that the NHS operates within is therefore unlikely to change significantly. Pieces of work will continue to be tendered for through the European tendering process, and there will be no assumption that NHS organisations have a 'most favoured bidder' status.

To this point, NHS organisations have not won as many contracts a might be expected. After all, the NHS has many structural advantages over private firms - incumbency, the ability to drawn on other parts of the service, staff loyalty and a pre-existing relationship with commissioners.

In another sense, it is not surprising. Private sector firms are sales organisations, with the best spending money on commercial teams, marketing teams, bid writing teams and more. The NHS doesn't and shouldn't spend large sums on these things. That being so, there is a gap between having great services, but not being great at selling them.

There are different solutions to that problem. Sales (or the euphemistic 'business development') teams can be created, and bid management put in place. With a typical Community Trust bidding for 12-15 tenders a year, however, this is a large commitment. And, frankly, these teams are hard to create and manage, especially when the primary focus of the organisation is improving patient care, not recruiting and running commercial teams.

An alternative is to source external support. Obviously we think that this is an excellent route to go down! However, beware - make sure you know that the company you are partnering with truly knows the NHS. You don't want to spending your whole time explaining the difference between an ECG and a CCG.



Election Fever

The HealthBid team have a strong interest in the forthcoming election. We have placed a £5 bet on a number of potential outcomes. But more importantly is the bragging rights post election - we all believe we have got it spot on.

As I am sure nobody needs to be reminded it’s very tight right now and almost impossible to call. And we might be bid experts; but we’re not psephologists - I mention this only because I have noticed that the NHS has been central to many of the more interesting debates.

While following some of this this last week I notice that there was quite a few interesting stats flying about around privatisation and outsourcing. I have seen all sorts of different numbers mentioned around how many bids the private sector have won compared to the public as percentage anywhere from 40-60%. But no matter who you chose to believe one thing is very clear – NHS organisations seem to find it difficult to produce high quality bids on a regular basis.

What is the reason for this? Having ponder this I have two simple answers – one NHS organisations tend not to be bid–ready; they have less experience at creating clear sales vision and building strong bid libraries. Everybody finds it difficult to build a bid from the ground up and create a winning proposition first time round. Two they have competitors with bid teams and experience.

I’ll give you an example – I was running a large healthcare organisation when I decided to expand the portfolio of services we offered – this meant ‘new’ bidding. We pulled together the best of the current bid team and then some sector experts and started to create bids. We got lucky and won bid number three – but certainly never expected to win bid number one. And this was with a team of hardened bid professionals. We needed more time and better preparation.

This is probably how it feels for NHS organisations as they prepare a bid for the first time in sector they’ve never bid for previously. Only strong professional bid support can help. One of the driving forces behind HealthBid was to provide some specialist sector knowledge to NHS organisations. We learnt the hard way and I suspect it is something very similar for lots of NHS organisations.

So it's tough hitting bids cold – but it doesn’t help if your competitor is writing their 10th or 20th bid in this space and has a crack team of bid and sales professionals either. Very big independent providers will have bid teams, will have sales teams and will be bidding countrywide. They will understand what a good bid looks like because they will have learnt by experience. Once again this is something HealthBid brings. We understand how to create a passionate, winning bid using the same kind of skills and expertise employed by your competitors.

In essence what this election debate reminded me was that the NHS needs help to win work and grow. This isn't just about controversial strategic bids its also about the smaller, regular bids that are starting to become a fixture in the healthcare landscape. I don’t think they’ll go away regardless of the election result and that's why we would like to talk to organisation who know deep down they are simply not bid ready.

To find out how we can help, why not contact me or the team.

Photo - Amanda Wood



How do we win the bid?

Winning bids is a skill. It’s not just a simple process of creating bids. It’s about building a credible, dynamic and engaging strategy. This is often lost during the process of producing a compliant bid. It is especially difficult to do if you’re the incumbent on a contract. Over the years I have worked with many sales team to help them understand the crucial importance of building momentum into bids. It should not be a static process you have to gift the bid writer a winning strategy. This isn't done by happenstance and good fortune. It involves planning, vision and total understanding of what you would like to achieve, what the customer wants and what your competitors are doing. The bidding process should start months if not a year before submission date. 

This is really hard to communicate to disparate teams working across myriad of disciplines. The reality of this is that the NHS in particular finds it tough to win work in a competitive tender environment especially if the commissioner is driven by more than price. The statistics tells us the the hit rate for retention is low for NHS organisations. What can they do? The simple answer seems to be bring in a bid manager. Fine but that’s only part of the answer. This is somebody who is a specialist at taking a vision and strategy and turning it into a compliant and hopefully engaging answer. If you fail to develop that strategy and vision the bid manager is no more than somebody collecting information to shoehorn into a pretty dull bid. 

This process shouldn’t be a chore – it’s business critical – and the poor commissioner really does want to be engaged. They would like to see flare, vision and a deep understanding of how you can improve what’s already there. Successful commercial organisation build teams around this and have deep knowledge of sales and bid strategies. They plan to win. They invest to win. In many ways this makes for a unlevelled playing field. These are not skills honed in days, but in fact years and create winning environments built around accentuating current positives and building sweeping, grand visions. 

At HealthBid we have pulled together a team of people who have deployed these strategies with incredible success for many years. The core team won over £500m worth of contracts last year with the NHS and had a hit rate over 85%. We also won grants and governments programmes. Complex, difficult stuff which we built from a distance and worked towards over a period. We believe that simply employing consultants and bid writers isn’t the answer - you can spend less and get more by investing in a group of specialist to refine and develop a long term bidding strategy. You need to ensure your organisations visions is hard wired into the bid and is demonstrated at every stage, pre–bid engagement, PQQ, ITT, presentation and beyond. 

We love doing this at HealthBid and we really want to help healthcare organisations getting better. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune and can be amazingly productive beyond the simple scope of a bid. Learning how to be creative and sales focused is no bad thing and can transform elements of your organisations – after all it is all about improving care and developing new solutions.

If you’re interested in doing something different and moving beyond the mundane and developing long-term winning sales strategies then why not call me and the team. We’ll even do quite a lot of free just to help you on the way.