Submitting a tender in any procurement process can be a daunting experience; like publishing a much agonised over profile, intimate details of your organisation's offering and how it really thinks it can meet the brief are out there for judgement.

And with public sector procurement this sensation often intensifies: more akin to Guardian Soulmates where the hook-up guidelines are very firmly prescribed, on submission of your tender you are acutely aware that now you are operating within a strict legislative framework. As a result, you are doubly anxious to demonstrate not only that you and the contracting authority are the perfect match, but also that you can play by the rules.

Due to the legal strictures involved, a lot of organisations are put off even trying to win public sector contracts. Some have had negative experiences or rejections in the past, others simply don't feel the time and expense involved in preparing a tender are worth it, given the perceived hurdles inherent in the process. Instead they favour more ‘traditional' means of partnering up with private sector customers and winning contracts.

This is a shame for contracting authorities, because their priority in running a public procurement should always be to appoint the right person for the job, and if fewer people are bidding there is less chance of them being able to find their dream contractor. Tiresome as they may seem, legal frameworks are almost always there for a reason, and in the case of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (the Regulations) they are there to ensure, amongst other things, that contracting authorities are getting the best deal by having access to all potentially compatible contractors.

In view of this, and as contracting authorities should likewise be advised, the legislative framework should be taken advantage of in order to achieve the best results. When contractors are having to submit tenders within pre-determined parameters, they should aim not only to adhere to those parameters, but also to turn them to their own benefit.

So how best to achieve this? It's a blindingly obvious one, but first and foremost read all the procurement documents very carefully, particularly the specification. Yes, the document pack can sometimes seem weightier than that for a regular procurement exercise, but this is because (at least where a contracting authority is opting to use the open or restricted procedure) contracting authorities are required under the Regulations to spell out precisely what it is they are after.

This is the procurement equivalent of someone on eHarmony explaining that they are specifically looking for a female aged 40-50 with a demonstrated interest in horticulture and particular experience with brassicas who would be willing to team up to tackle an allotment growing only purple sprouting broccoli. And who doesn't like cats. In other words, provided the procurement documents have been well-prepared, you are being told exactly what it is the contracting authority is after: absorb this fully and it will make producing your tender an awful lot easier.

A key thing to look out for in the procurement documents is what the procedure is for communicating with the contracting authority and raising queries. There will almost always be points that contractors will want to get clarification on (compare ‘When you say you're a ‘lax vegetarian', does that mean there's still scope for a date at Hawksmoor...?'), and indeed doing so will often be helpful to the contracting authority - if lots of tenderers raise similar queries this can reveal areas in which they need to provide more detail, and ultimately the contracting authority will genuinely want contractors to understand what it is they are bidding for (‘Absolutely not, steak is definitely out...').

Make sure, however, that in raising queries you do so in line with any stipulated timeframes; it can make things tricky for contracting authorities if tenderers start seeking clarification outside the prescribed window for doing so. As with selecting that all-important dating profile headshot, a great deal of thought will have gone into setting the timescales involved in any public procurement exercise (not least to ensure compliance with the Regulations), and it pays for tenderers to be respectful of that - diarise everything and stick to the deadlines. 

Often, part of seeking clarifications generally is raising specific issues on the contract, and this can be one of the trickiest areas in public procurements. By all means raise points/queries on the contract if you have them, but as already noted do so at the right time, and also think about the restrictions the contracting authority is under in respect of the contract. If they are running an open or restricted procedure, under the Regulations there is fairly limited scope for them to amend the proposed contract once it has been published (which technically should have happened at the very beginning of the process), and even less so once all tenders have been received. For this reason contracting authorities will usually have already given very careful thought to the contract drafting - it is not intended to be a starting point for negotiation.

As such, tenderers should give very careful thought to the nature of the points they raise on the contract - you are not going to endear yourself to a contracting authority by demanding multiple amendments simply to bring their form of contract more in line with your own standard terms. Be sensible and proportionate about any issues you have with the contract - are they things that are genuinely going to be unworkable for you in the future, or are they just unfamiliar drafting points that you don't feel comfortable with?

Remember that if you are seeking drastic changes to the contract, it may be that legislative restrictions mean the contracting authority simply cannot accommodate such changes (like the divorcee on who really can't change the fact that he has three kids to whom he is devoted that spend every other week with him). If this is something that you, as a contractor, cannot live with then consider whether the opportunity is really for you in the first place.

When we reach the evaluation stage of a public procurement, our online dating/procurement conceit falls flat: on a dating app it is most unlikely you will have any inkling of the complex set of criteria being applied by other app users in the all-important decision to swipe left or swipe right, but in a public procurement exercise you will have been told precisely what criteria your submission will be evaluated on. It may seem obvious, but keep these criteria in mind when you are preparing your tender - the best tenders are invariably the ones that make evaluators' lives easier, so aim to do so by sticking to the brief and keeping those criteria in the foreground at all times.

Ultimately, commercial contracts work best where the contracting parties have a good relationship, and the foundations for that relationship can be laid from the very beginning of a public procurement exercise: acknowledge and respect the legal framework a contracting authority has to operate within, take advantage of the requirement for contracting authorities to be so upfront and specific about what they are seeking, and try and match the time and effort that will have gone into preparing the procurement documents in your own submission.

Your next public sector match is out there...

Winckworth Sherwood