Top tips for running a mini competition

Running a mini competition during a tendering process can be a good way to successfully match your contract requirements with a supplier. David Nichols from public sector buying organisation YPO shares his tops tips on how to make this a success

If you work for a public sector organisation and looking to buy a single minibus, fleet of vans, specialist vehicle or other fleet services including repair, tracking and hire purchase, you’re likely to be faced with a complex and lengthy tendering process.

Using a public sector framework – like those provided by YPO, a publicly-owned buying organisation – can save you significant time and money. It will also make sure you’re fully EU compliant and be tailored to your requirements.

Once you’ve decided that using a framework is the best way for you to renew or set up a new contract, you have a few tendering options open to you. One of them is to run a mini competition (also known as a further competition), between a set of pre-approved and pre-vetted suppliers.

Stage 1 – get prepared

Do your research on the market or the services or goods you’re looking to source. For example, look at what’s currently available, what’s the average cost, and if there are any new innovations or changes to industry standards.
Build up a detailed description of everything you’re looking for.

For example, if you’re looking to buy a fleet of mini buses, your specification should include details such as engine size, number of seats, CO2 emissions, and livery.

You also need to decide how long you want your contract with the supplier to last. Is it a one-off purchase or are you looking for a long-term arrangement such as a four-year contract, calling off vehicles year-by-year. Remember you can include your requirements for four or more years within a single mini-competition (you’re not mandated to call-off all the vehicles).

Finally, make sure that all your stakeholders are on board – do your finance team or legal team need to be involved? If they do, it’s better to involve them as early as possible.

Stage 2 – get your documents ready

As a starting point, speak to YPO. We might have a mini competition template that you can use and should find useful. You’ll need to work out how you’re going to evaluate all the submissions from the suppliers. This is called the award criteria.

This will involve coming up with questions that will allow the suppliers to demonstrate how they’ll meet your needs. For example, questions could be tailored around quality aspects of the organisation or products or how the supplier will deliver the service to you.

Try and avoid closed questions and allow the supplier to tell you how they will meet your requirements – this will allow you to award scoring that better reflects their ability to provide your needs.

To evaluate the questions, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to score them. Add a weighting which will help you identify the most important points to you.

And make sure your documents or questions aren’t too long – that’s why it’s called a mini competition.

Stage 3 – issue your documents

There’s a number of ways you can issue your documents to the suppliers: on the YPO portal; on your own procurement portal; or on email.

Send all the documents to all the suppliers on the framework that meet your requirements. This means all suppliers who are on a ‘lot’ or have responded to a ‘expression of interest‘.

Please don’t assume some suppliers can or can’t meet your needs. Make sure you give the suppliers enough time to respond to your mini competition. The more time the better – as you’ll get better responses.

Give the suppliers an opportunity to ask questions. But give them a deadline to get their questions to you – usually one week before the deadline for submissions.

Stage 4 – evaluation

Don’t open the submissions before the closing date – it needs to stay fair and equal. Using your own portal or the YPO portal will help with this, as it can lock them away until the deadline has passed.

Don’t deviate from the award criteria that you previously set – you could face legal challenges.

Have at least two people evaluate the answers then agree on a final score. If you can, use a moderator to review and balance the scoring.

Keep detailed notes during your evaluation and reasons for the final score so you can give feedback to the suppliers.

Stage 5 – contract award

You’ll now be able to identify a winner from the scores you’ve given at the evaluation stage, and it’s now time to notify all the suppliers of the result.

The best way to do this is by letter. This might include details of the winner, feedback and the scores. YPO should be able to provide you with a template.

If a supplier asks for more feedback, you can do this but only if it’s related to their submission, and not any commercial details of the winner. It’s recommended you allow a 10‑day standstill period before entering into a contract with the winning supplier.

And that’s it! Once the standstill period has passed you can begin your contract with your supplier.

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