Tenders that are anything but


I’ve had enough ..

The call came through directly to us that we were invited to tender for supplying social media training services across the country for this state body (I won’t mention who it was for the  moment).

Alarm bell number one..

Why wasn’t this put out to tender on the normal etender website I wondered?

I get quite suspicious when this happens – isn’t there a normal procedure for this?

Alarm bell number two..

We received the specification for this training and I was really surprised by how specific it was and by some of the language used. The objective was outlined clearly and it was up to the service providers to provide a solution. The thing is the ‘solution‘ was nearly fully mapped out in the specification.

One of the challenges for us was that the prescribed ‘solution’ would not achieve the required objectives.

We were well qualified to deliver a comprehensive solution for this organisation and we have huge relevant experience in the area so we went about writing a plan. This work took me the best part of a day to complete.

Alarm bell number three..

There was a very unusual item in the specification advising that the provider should budget “in a range of between €21,000 and €24,000“.

Why would a state organisation provide anyone tendering with a price guide? This was particularly surprising when the published ‘marking criteria‘ included cost.

Is it not up to each provider to assess the need and then provide a budget to fulfil this need?

Our proposal ..

We completed our proposal and included a more comprehensive training schedule than what was prescribed in their specification, clearly explaining why less training would not achieve their objectives.

I priced this using our normal rates and I was surprised that despite the heavier workload our budget came in a few thousand under the €21,000 – €24,000 price range as indicated.

We submitted our proposal and crossed our fingers – this was a really well thought out substantial and comprehensive evaluation and training plan.

Just like every proposal you work on, you end up investing your time and a little part of yourself in them and you become hopeful – on this proposal we were definitely hopeful.

Alarm bell number four – time to evacuate the building!!

We received our ‘Dear John‘ letter within days of submitting the proposal and we also received our score compared to the winning proposal based on the evaluation criteria.

On ‘methodology and fit for purpose‘ we scored 1,800 out of 3,000.

Surprise,surprise …the winning provider scored a full 3,000!!

Our methodology took their specification and went deeper and more comprehensive – I could feel the rage starting to build inside me.

A score of 1,800 means we barely know what we are doing ..

On ‘quality and balance of resources proposed‘ we scored 2,800 out of 3,500.

Surprise, surprise (once again!!)…the winning provider scored a full 3,500!!

Wow …they must be brilliant. Like those kids in school who get 100% out of 100% for everything.

The rage was starting to brim over … the cat, the dog, the laptop, the office door – nothing was safe (don’t worry I just cursed a lot!)

On ‘cost‘ we scored 3,500 out of 3,500..Jackpot!

Surprise, surprise …we beat the winning provider because our costs were below what was prescribed in the tender document. My accounting training was starting to pay off!

Rules and regulations..

I feel sorry for the government agencies as they are obliged to put things out to tender even when they might have a preferred provider. This ‘technically‘ means there is always 100% transparency, fairness and honesty and equal opportunity for everyone.

90% of the providers I have met have given up on this tender process because they believe it is a farce and a colossal waste of time and anything but fair.

In the commercial world we can work with whoever we want and when we want even if providers are more expensive – this makes business easy as we can just get on with things and not be forced into a painful ‘tender’ process every single time we want to get our business done.

However, these rules are in place and when these agencies are obliged to put things out to tender this commits anyone (fools like us) who is interested in the work to spend a lot of time working on proposals.

If the process is genuine we will play the game and put our best foot forward and let the best crew win.

When it is not and we are being used unfairly just so that the agency can ‘tick the box‘ on their technical obligations it is a much different manner.

What can we do??

This time I have had enough and I am complaining, freedom of information, the whole nine yards and I don’t care about the consequences.

The dilemma we all have is that ‘we don’t want to be seen as the troublemakers‘ and if we complain then we run the risk of not getting some crumbs from the table down the road.

We pay our taxes, which pays for these state agencies and if these rules are in place I won’t put up with anyone wasting our precious time just so they can tick a box and give the business to their favoured supplier.

I’ll let you know how this one goes…

Update !!

A lot of people have contacted me since I published this post.

Many are irate and have given up on the tender system as they feel it is anything but. Some have criticised me and told me that we are naive to expect any of this to be a chance of winning business – ‘play the game‘ and get in there before things go to tender, which is how you win things I am told.

I desperately want to believe that this system can work fairly and that it is a valid way of winning business.

With that rationale I did officially complain and as expected I didn’t get very far..

There were explanations

Performance – the winning company apparently committed to seven times more activity than what was outlined in the brief. I can’t see how this would be necessary and I struggle to see how the teams would be free to attend that much training. We will keep a careful eye on that one.

Budget – they told me that it is their “normal practice” to give a budget guideline to be fair to everyone tendering. I don’t think I have seen this in a tender, at least not the ones we have entered.

The unexplained

It turns out another company who tendered for the work scored exactly the same as we did on the criteria except for the cost element. An incredible coincidence …what do you think?

They contacted me when they saw this post and have decided not to complain as they want to make sure that they do get those ‘crumbs from the table‘ the next time they might be going.

Maybe they are right!

Next steps .. lets see

Greg Canty 

Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion who offer Marketing, PR and Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland

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17 Responses to “Tenders that are anything but”

  1. Robert Daly Says:

    It’s a closed shop Greg – One Dublin based agency taking the lion’s share of our Cork local authority business over the last few years – and everyone knows who they are and that they are wasting their time trying to compete for the business. I’ll bet they wrote the spec for the tender for their “Contact” in the State agency, hence the detail and level of specifics. Stick with the private work – you guys are making huge strides in that side of the economy over the last few years and gaining the peer recognition for it. Some future tribunal will finally reveal the croneyisms that are currently perpetuated by State, Semi state and Local Authority depts and maybe even dole out some justice and rectification to those adversely affected and punishment to the guilty.

  2. Fergal Bell Says:

    Very annoying!

  3. Paul Lanigan Says:

    If receiving a tender is a surprise, losing it shouldn’t be.

    Tendering is not selling. The tender request is someone else’s ‘story’ (I know how much you believe in stories). The problem with tenders is that the story is already written and you’re not in it.

    The simple fact is that you were outsold by someone else who got in there early and did their job. The same job you or I would do if we went in early.

    The purpose of a tender is to make the process look fair. It isn’t, never was and never will.

    The best thing you can do with this is write it off a lesson that cost you time and some Euro.

    There is no such thing as a bad prospect, only bad selling.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Unusual perspective and I ‘sort of’ understand you. Unfortunately our state officials are obliged to operate this process fairly – us accepting that this is not the case is us just throwing in the towel.

    • JW McCabe Says:

      I agree with Paul here. He is looking at things from a winning perspective. He isn’t concerned about making it ”right” he just gets on with it. Find the next client or goal and have fun with that. If it wasn’t a ‘tender” and a prospect decided to go with someone else, would it be an issue?

      • Greg Canty Says:

        The problem with that Jenny is that it keeps on happening over and over ..you never know what is a genuine enquiry for services and what is a ‘dummy’ request. There is good business to be had and there are specific rules that should be followed…if you don’t kick up the same people will keep getting the same business because everyone else has just given up ..

      • Paul Lanigan Says:


        With respect, you’re missing the key point here.

        If you didn’t help them write the tender, you’re highly unlikely to win it.

        No, it’s not fair, but it is human nature. I’ve trained on four separate continents and it’s the same everywhere. This is not an Irish thing and it’s not a public sector issue.

        Selling ends when the tender is issued. Our job is to get in early before they even think they have a problem so by the time the tender is released we have a clear advantage.

        We don’t lose for technical reasons, we don’t lose for financial reasons, we don’t lose because God doesn’t love us enough…….we lose because we are outsold.

        If it helps, here is what I would do if I received an unexpected tender…..

        1) I would call up the ‘prospect’ and say “thank you very much for sending it to me, but I must respectfully decline”

        2) If they say “ok”…..it was never yours to begin with

        3) assuming that they say “why”, I would respond with something like “I never respond to tender requests unless I first have a meeting with the key stakeholders

        4) Again, if they don’t offer that meeting, it was never mine to begin with

        5) Assuming I get the meeting, I get an opportunity to qualify it properly and decide if there is a good fit

        NB – the above sounds harsh when written down. In reality it has to be very nurturing with a lot of humility

        NBB – I realise that I’m now sounding very preachy, and I don’t wish to. I have been where you are and I understand your frustration

        On a positive note, turning a tender down is quite liberating….. 🙂

      • Greg Canty Says:

        Paul – part of the rules and regulations with this stuff normally is that they won’t talk to you once the process is live.

        I fully understand your perspective, which to me is someone who has given up on this process a long long time ago. Maybe I am not far behind you!

  4. Fergal Bell Says:

    I think the issue Greg has with this is not that he missed out on a sales prospect, but that there wasn’t a sales prospect to begin with and he wasted his time making the tender process look fair.

  5. Brendan palmer Says:

    Unless you are writing the spec for the tender, it is a waste of time.

    We stopped answering the “We must have three quotes” brigade some years ago. The most annoying scenario is when you don’t get the business from the tender but the winner asks you to do it, because they don’t have the competence to provide the service. You provide the service and you charge them more than your tender price.

    Referring to one of the other comments. I definitely think that a “proximity” score should have a high weighting in any State tender. We don’t want to get too parochial but it would put a stop to very large organisations or out of state companies getting what should be local business. The value of the business to a local economy (trickle down jobs effect) should be taken into account when the value for money score is being calculated.

    If you need any extra input into a campaign, give me a shout
    Brendan Palmer

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Brendan – When legitimate companies such as your own have totally given up on responding to tenders the whole system is broken and ‘the state’ is not getting the best service providers at the most competitive prices …broken?

  6. Donal Marah (@donalmarah) Says:

    I agree with Paul Lanigan above.

    If the tender is a surprise your sales team need to up their game. Depending on the value of the business to your company they should be out 6-12 months before tender publish date laying the ground work and advising the end user on the text they need to include for their tender. They need to put in as much prospecting and ground work as they would a “normal” sales lead of that value and then use the Tender Doc as your final proposal.

    Tendering is a sales technique and an art in itself and the majority of tenders are won well before the RFT is published. Also contracts under €25k p/a don’t have to go on etenders. It is good practice but not a requirement. If you have enough influence on a buyer under €25k you will get them to only approach three companies privately as it immediately narrows your competition field. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing all your USPs listed in a tender request and knowing this is yours and your hard work laying the foundations has paid off.

    While this maybe frustrating for SMEs it is a reality right across the world and public bodies and the Office of Government Procurement are well aware of this and they do get bodies like InterTrade Ireland to help SMEs become more competitive and they offer really good tender training which they part fund. http://www.intertradeireland.com/tendersuccessfully.

    I would at least recommend everyone who has any intention of ever going for public business attends their Meet The Buyer events. They are really educational and lets you meet the buyers and have a decent conversation around their requirements and expectations. It is also a good networking event talking to other suppliers.

    Best of luck with future tenders. I don’t think tendering is something you should give up on if public business is potentially worth a lot to your company, instead you should look at some of the InterTrade Ireland events and Dublin Chamber host some too and start putting a tender plan together.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Thanks Donal for the fantastic advice and information. This is really useful. I have more information on this tender ..I will update the post when I am ready. Cheers, Greg

  7. Andrew Gilleran (@AGilleran) Says:

    Greg, I was at a seminar this morning run by Fingal LEO on this very topic. And pretty good it was too. €25k is the cut off before it must be advertised on eTenders. And the lowest price always gets full marks. However another bidder getting maximum marks in other sections is a bit suspect as is the exact price range the ‘tender’ was pitched at. Sounds like a box ticking exercise and for you Greg, you were brought along for the ride. “Look, we did the tender, here’s the quotes and the scores”.

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