Tendering gets personal

The UK’s public sector is a vital source of new business opportunities, with lucrative contracts worth around £225billion being awarded every year in every sector from healthcare, IT and construction to security, cleaning and catering.

However, with hundreds of websites and other sources, finding the relevant tenders posted by the government, local authorities, emergency services, NHS trusts or the armed forces can be extremely frustrating and time-consuming.

There are numerous companies offering tender alert services, sending information on the latest opportunities direct to inboxes - but Tenders Direct is the only one which manually categorises all tenders to ensure that only highly relevant opportunities personalised to individual preferences and areas of specialism are sent to subscribers every day and perhaps more importantly so that important opportunities are not missed.

Run by electronic procurement specialist Millstream, Tenders Direct also provides a one-to-one helpdesk to ensure that every individual customer finds the information they need and receives support whenever necessary.

A long career in retail and a background in customer care paved the way for the Head of Tenders Direct, Karen Bothwell, who leads a dedicated team of 14.

“What makes us different is our focus on the customer’s needs. We use keywords, as others do, but we don’t rely on the European Commission CPV codes as they are notoriously poor at identifying business opportunities,” she said.

“We also offer support to customers. Every single customer is an individual – some have been our customers for 20 years and they know exactly which tenders they are looking for while others need hand holding, so listening is the most important skill.

“Everyone is busy so we aim to make the calls as short as possible while still being effective. New customers usually just want to see some great tenders very quickly.”

Every tender is read by the team of reviewers, who are very familiar with specialist terminology to enable them to classify tenders accurately, particularly in sectors such as IT and healthcare.

“The reviewers read every single tender and ensure that the right keyword is attached to the tender, so exactly the right tender goes to each customer. Between us we read an average of 250 every day,” explained Karen, who was previously a department manager at John Lewis and has 17 years experience of dealing with customers.

“We are always adding to the bank of keywords to ensure they are up to date and ask customers lots of questions to make sure we are finding the correct tenders. We can refine the search if necessary to make it more accurate.

“We need to keep up-to-date with sectors such as renewable energy. We have seen a huge growth in new sectors such as wind farms, wave, tidal and solar power, recycling and waste management, which has thrown up hundreds of new words and search terms.”

More than 4,000 companies, from sole traders to SMEs to multinationals, use Tenders Direct to ensure that they receive regular bespoke alerts on tender opportunities.

These include low value tenders, which offer particularly lucrative opportunities for SMEs.

Tenders Direct has a team responsible for finding and publishing below threshold tenders, generally those with a value of £100,000 or less.

These are sourced from the national portals such as Public Contracts Scotland, Sell2Wales, websites for local authorities, NHS trusts and housing associations and other sources.

“Smaller contracts, with a value of less than £100,000, tend to be of particular interest to smaller local companies as they have a realistic chance of winning these. In 2012, small and medium sized businesses won 25% of the total number of local-authority contracts and central-government contracts.

“The team check thousands of sites so make sure we have everything,” said Karen. “We occasionally get a query from a customer who can’t find a tender they are expecting – but usually it has not yet been published.

“There is no effective way to keep track of all the opportunities without using an online system, particularly in today’s 24/7 world where business moves quickly.”

For Karen and her team, getting the best tenders to customers often gives them a crucial head start when looking for new business.

She added: “Our aim is to ensure that if a tender is published anywhere, we will have that information available for our subscribers so they don’t have to worry about missing any opportunities.”

·         As well as the Tenders Direct and myTenders websites, Millstream also runs procurement websites for Scotland (Public Contracts Scotland) and Wales (Sell2Wales) and recently launched a Norwegian service, myTenders Norge. For more information, call 01224 636999 or visit www.tendersdirect.co.uk