The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is one of the biggest public procurement organisations in Europe; in 2017/18 it spent nearly £20 billion with industry, accounting for over 40% of all UK government procurement spend and representing the fifth largest defence budget in the world. As MoD looks to compete more and more of its requirements, a high quality bid submission is absolutely essential to winning. Bidding for these contracts is an expensive and challenging exercise, particularly for bidders who are based overseas, or less familiar with the process. How can you give yourself the best possible chance of success? We outline here our top tips for bidding successfully to MoD.
How UK defence procurement works
In order to understand how to best approach contracting with MoD, it's important to first understand how it operates as an organisation and how it approaches competitive contracts.
Currently EU procurement rules drive UK legislation for public sector procurements, and this, alongside MoD procurement policy, provides the framework for all procurements.
As a public sector organisation, MoD sets objective tender criteria, is transparent and held accountable for procurement decisions. Contrary to popular belief, preferred supplier lists are not used.
The bad news for bidders is that there is no guarantee of winning. The good news however is that MoD must comply with the procurement principles of non-discrimination (on grounds of nationality), equal treatment (of all suppliers), transparency (acting in a fair and non-discriminatory manner), and mutual recognition (of equivalent documents and standards). So, in principle, all bidders are treated fairly and each new competitive process provides a level playing field to all involved.
The process in brief
For procurements which are subject to competitive tendering rules, MoD first identifies what it needs to buy and advertises this by publishing a 'contract notice' in the Official Journal of the EU. Suppliers then have the opportunity to express their interest and bid. An initial questionnaire to pre-qualify suppliers is used and suppliers are then invited to negotiate, dialogue or tender depending on the process followed by MoD. Bids are assessed using pre-agreed criteria and scored using objective evaluation methodologies. These criteria are used to select a supplier and award the contract. A debrief is available afterwards for all suppliers, including a minimum 10 day standstill period within which unsuccessful bidders can query an award decision.
In summary, the typical procurement steps are:
- Requirement advertised
- Pre-qualification questionnaire
- Invited to tender
- Independent assessment
- Successful bidder identified
- Contract awarded
Top ten tips for a successful bid
So how do you put your best foot forward? Below are our top ten tips for a successful bid.
1. Set yourself apart
What sets your organisation apart from the competition? Ensure you accurately describe your business, your offering and the value you add to the MoD. Give examples of what this means - e.g. how you have done this before (including with other customers) – and back it up with evidence. Describe the competition, pointing out their strong and weak points, and convey your unique selling point (USP) clearly. All of this must however be done carefully to ensure you stay within the tramlines of the MoD procurement.
2. Get the details right
When putting together the bid, preventable mistakes can be the difference between winning or losing the tender. Incomplete and/or late tenders cannot be taken forward to the evaluation stage, and details such as signatures, declarations and attachments should not be overlooked. Ask another team or person to review the overall requirements to ensure you have not missed anything.
3. Demonstrate innovation
MoD has stated that it is ‘committed to encouraging innovation’. If a bidder can do something differently, compete in a different way or provide a different service to accomplish the same task, then this approach will help your bid. If you can, demonstrate that you can deliver a service that is faster, more efficient or smarter than competitors, and this will give you a significant competitive advantage.
4. Use the right terminology
Research MoD’s needs, values, policies and principles and ensure your response uses language that reflects this. Understanding MoD’s terminology is an extremely effective way to demonstrate that you know what you are doing. Check the MOD’s glossary of terms and look to include any relevant acronyms and abbreviations in your bid whenever possible. This will demonstrate that you are ‘speaking their language’ and you have a sound understanding of their requirements. It will also give comfort that you will be an 'easy' organisation to interact with if you are not familiar to them.
MoD is also likely to use DEFCONs in the contract terms; make sure you are familiar with these and know what you would be signing up to in agreeing to them.
5. Pricing: no surprises
Your pricing model must be clear, and any assumptions which have been made in terms of resources required by MoD clearly stated. Make sure you are familiar with all pricing and payment models used by MoD, and the impact of pricing strategies on tenders. MoD usually asks for ‘firm’ and/or ‘fixed’ price responses; one allows inflationary changes and the other doesn’t. Make sure your pricing takes account of this, especially in long term contracts.
Give consideration to anchoring the financial aspects of the contract with milestones and setting payment profiles which are mutually beneficial to both your organisation and MoD. MoD needs to see that they are receiving ‘value’ to be able to make any milestone payments to its contractors.
6. Answer the exam question: understand requirements
One of the key factors behind a successful bid is the response to the MoD’s requirements and how successfully a bidder answers the questions asked. Ensure you clearly read the MoD’s requirements – the finer detail is usually contained in one of the contract schedules. Bids often fail to accurately express how your organisation can supply exactly what the MoD wants. Go through the tender and answer each requirement with a clear, concise response which demonstrates the knowledge, experience and skills your organisation can provide.
Where you have additional terms that you wish to include, or changes you are suggesting, first ensure that these are acceptable in principle to the MoD (otherwise you risk being non-compliant) and, if they are, be clear as to what you are proposing to the MoD and why. Don't leave any room for confusion or ambiguity as this may be reflected in your evaluation score.
7. Leverage your bid team
If you have a bid team, make the most of its resource and expertise to assist your bid. Preparation is key and you'll need to give yourself plenty of time to plan your response in the given timeframe. Bids are time consuming and onerous and often take longer than anticipated, especially if you are not familiar with bidding to MoD; MoD procurements are different even to other UK Government departments. If you don't already have a bid team, consider creating one to work on the bid ideally with some past experience of bidding on MoD projects. Obtain any necessary approvals, be clear on responsibilities, and hold regular meetings to monitor progress, flag problems and agree actions.
Seek advice and input from fellow colleagues and subject matter experts – these are likely to include export control, IT and systems security as well as the operational team who will provide the service if successful.
8. Dress to impress: presentation is key
It is important that the bid is presented in the format required by the MoD and that any specific requirements have been adhered to (e.g. number of copies, submitting by mail or electronically). This might sound obvious but after a final push to get the right content included in a compliant format, many teams overlook crucial presentation details in the last minute rush to meet the submission deadline.
A well-presented tender makes a more favourable impression to the MoD than a poorly put together bid. The document should be easy to navigate and all supporting material clearly labelled.
9. Set aside time to review
Once you have agreed and finalised the bid, it is prudent to do a final review of the tender questions in depth, considering if the questions have been addressed sufficiently and if you have demonstrated why you should win the contract. Also be aware of any areas where your bid may be deemed non-compliant with the MoD’s requirements – a common area for this is limits of liability. If variant bids are not permitted, your bid may be rejected if you don’t accept the MoD’s position.
Once you have submitted your bid, don't forget to follow up to ensure that it has been safely received, whether submitted electronically or by post.
10. Debrief: don't be afraid to ask
Beyond what you are entitled to by way of written feedback, MoD clearly states that it is willing to give debriefs on unsuccessful bids, however this will not be automatically offered to you: you must ask. Debriefs are fairly standard and experienced contractors always ask for one. You need not worry that you run the risk of offending the procurement team – or hurting your chances next time round – by requesting a debrief.
Even the most experienced contractors can still get their bids wrong. Contracting with the MoD is not an exact science but speaking to people who have done it before certainly helps.