Help or hindrance? How bad tender descriptions hurt suppliers

Help or hindrance? How bad tender descriptions hurt suppliers

Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash

When deciding whether to bid for a tender, often the first thing a potential supplier reads is the tender description. Published as part of the tender notice, it provides a summary of what exactly a buyer is looking for so companies know whether it is an opportunity worth investigating. However, some of these descriptions are not fit for purpose.

We surveyed word counts of descriptions for over 35,000 tenders published in the UK by the public sector and public corporates to determine whether the descriptions were detailed enough to allow businesses to decide whether to investigate further.

On average, there were 100 words in a description. 937 of the tenders we surveyed had no description. A further 5,464 had descriptions of fewer than 10 words. 8% had descriptions the same length as the title, implying that they are very similar or the same.

Not only do these tender descriptions fail to provide potential suppliers with enough information, they also can hide the tender from potential suppliers in the first place. This is because electronically searching for tenders requires that there be enough meaningful words in the tender name and description to be returned in the search results. Tenders with fewer than 10 words in the description are unlikely to be returned by a tender search meaning that fewer companies will see them and respond to the tender. This reduces competition by restricting the number of qualified companies who will apply for the tender.

As providing detailed tender descriptions is good practice as it encourages competition, we continued our research by focusing on individual public sector bodies to identify the best and worst performers. We narrowed down the analysis to only buyers with 10 or more tenders. For these buyers, the average number of words in a description was 121.

18 of these buyers had average tender descriptions of fewer than 20 words, indicating that providing insufficient detail in tenders is a regularly occurring flaw in their tender publishing practices.


Buyer

Avg description length

LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY ENTERPRISES LIMITED

3

LONDON SOUTH BANK UNIVERSITY

6

FIRST CHOICE HOMES OLDHAM LIMITED

7

UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS

9

HIGHWAYS ENGLAND COMPANY LIMITED

9

AMICUSHORIZON LIMITED

9

RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT LIMITED

9

BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL CHARITY

10

FCO SERVICES

12

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OFFICE

12

GDS 2016 LTD

13

QUADRANT CONSTRUCTION SERVICES LIMITED

13

UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM

15

MAGENTA LIVING

16

NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY ENTERPRISES LIMITED

18


Of the central government departments included in this analysis, the Department of Transport published the shortest descriptions, at just 27 words on average.


Row Labels

Avg description length

DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT

27

MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

45

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

52

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE

58

CROWN COMMERCIAL SERVICE

91

DEPARTMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

96

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT,  FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

99

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

110

HM REVENUE AND CUSTOMS

113

DEPARTMENT FOR WORK AND PENSIONS

122

DEPARTMENT FOR COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

122

DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION

149

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE

155

HOME OFFICE

166


However, long descriptions are not necessarily markers of clarity. Overly long descriptions can be confusing and obfuscate the point of the tender. The longest tender description was 1992 words from the Ministry of Defence. Of the public sector bodies who had published 10 or more tenders, nine of the ten buyers with the longest average tender descriptions were corporations acting on behalf of the government.


Buyer

Avg description length

BBMV LTD

671

CIRCLE ANGLIA LIMITED

500

C.V.U. LIMITED

437

GLE & INTERNATIONAL PROPERTY LIMITED

436

TOPCOAT CONSTRUCTION LIMITED

413

B.S.J. FIXINGS LIMITED

401

THE LITMUS PARTNERSHIP LIMITED

379

HUMBER NHS FOUNDATION TRUST

359

AIR POWER PRODUCTS LIMITED

334

ATTAIN HEALTH MANAGEMENT SERVICES LTD

327



Conclusions

Word count is a blunt instrument for measuring the quality of tender descriptions, yet it is an easily measurable proxy for the overall quality of the description.

Very short descriptions, nonexistent descriptions and descriptions that are identical to the tender’s title are all unlikely to be useful to a company deciding whether or not to look into bidding on a tender. Similarly, very long descriptions are of little use to businesses looking for a quick overview of a tender before deciding whether to pursue it in depth.

Good quality tender descriptions are important for attracting the most relevant bidders to a tender. Therefore, buyers who habitually publish low quality descriptions should reevaluate how they publish their tender notices and give more time to crafting a clear overview of the tender.


Our analysis indicates that, when it comes to publishing overly long descriptions,  it is corporations publishing through public sector tender portals who need to make the most effort to improve.

 




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