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Buying training: does tendering work?


Whether you buy training or whether you sell your services as freelancer or training company, I'd like to know what you think about the use of formal tendering processes? Does it work from your perspective? (- or what parts work and what parts don't?) Does it assure value for money?
If you avoid formal tendering, why do you do that and what works best in its place?
I'd really welcome as many views on this as possible, and I think it would be useful to others to post them here. However, if you would rather respond in strictest confidence, do drop me an email.
Graham O'Connell

7 Responses

  1. love me tender?
    Hi Graham
    great question

    In my opinion and experience –

    Yes – if you want to use people you have never used before, you dont understand the scope of what is required and you want the purchasing process to be seen to be ‘safe’

    No – if you want to pay a sensible price, you know possible providers and you want to build relationships so when a problem occurs – it is dealth with by relationship rather than contract.

    Bare in mind that tender processes are expensive, and most organisations only with one in five or less. this means that the winning organisation would have factored this into the quote.

    Does it provide good value for money – undoubtedly NO. I have been involved in many tendering processes (as both contractor and subject matter expert) and have to say that the proposed price is usually 30+% higher than the actual cost.

    what works best – well that depends why you have a tendering process.


  2. Vested interest

    As the founder and editor of a site that support freelance trainers and has had in place an Opportunity (Tender) posting facility since our inception 6 years ago I would of course declare an interest in this question.

    Tendering is quite a broad topic and your mention of the term ‘formal’ would suggest ‘public sector’; is this correct?

    My own research suggests that my members have been successful to a degree with regard to the Opportunities posted on the site, though the majority of those posted are for associate work and may not fall into your ‘formal’ criteria.

    I am aware that a number of training organisations what have won large government contracts have then tendered for assocates on TrainerBase.

    I have been involved in tendering for training contracts in the formal context. I am also privvy to some less that favourable comments on trainers’ thoughts on the process. We have won contracts based on ‘framework’ agreements and found that the level of administration (not detailed in the original brief), rendered them less than profitable.

    I am aware that some providers have now stopped applying for tenders based on this type of experience and a perception that the ‘formal’ tendering process is ‘fixed’.

    A personal view is that it appears that some ‘tendering’ is done by the ‘purchasing’ department and not necessarily by those that understand ‘training’. This results in an emphasis on ‘price’ as the ‘purchaser’ has no idea what they are ‘buying’. I have known of some contracts where the winning provider has been squeezed on price and ended up only being able to pay £200 per day (or less in some instances), to the actual associate trainer running the training. This is hardly conducive to the organisations desire to get the best possible training for their staff!!

    At our last conference we had Harod Lewis, author of ‘Bid, Tenders and Proposals’ give a talk on this topic. He asserts that the process does work but is an ‘art and science’ in itself. My personal addage to that is that most freelancers or small training companies do not have the knowledge, skills or attitudes towards doing the process well. They cannot compete with some organisations who have dedicated staff who just write tender proposals and then outsource the delivery.

    Sorry I am rambling:
    Does tendering work – sometimes for some.
    Does it assure value for money – No
    What else works in its place – personal contacts or the ‘less’ formal Associate Opportunity process that is found on TrainerBase.

    If you would like any more of my rambling plese do ring 01239 711544, I have sturdy soap box:)


  3. tendering
    Well HMG and most other public sectors in many place in the world believe it works.
    In fact there are many such “thou shalt” directive regulations.

    Does it bring the “best” is open to wide debate; and the answer as always;it all depends.

    When there can be a strict clear specification where price is only variable between suppliers, then it works well; as indeed also will reverse auctions on these types of buying of leverage items.
    Where there is an unclear specification and there is a need for suppliers innovation, then tendering can be restrictive and of less value. However this will unlikely stop the public sector from still having to tender!!

    As for me, I rarely respond to tenders as I cannot sell on price and price alone. There will often be someone who will do it cheaper; for example, moonlighting academics. who can work marginally.

  4. Does trainer-tendering work?
    My brief answer is that it certainly can do, but not when:
    – open ITTs produce so many responses they cannot possibly be sensibly adjudicated (many public sector tenders typically attract at least 60-80 responses);
    – the tender specification is so broad, loose or complex, as effectively to be meaningless;
    – the criteria for adjudication are not explicit;
    – the process is administered by those too junior to be aware of the nuances;
    – the choice of supplier has already been decided and the use of a tender process is only to go through the hoops;
    – insufficient time is allowed to produce a sound response.

    So I guess the answer in most cases is No!

    Kind regards


  5. Buying Training by tendering
    I am a trainer who trains purchasing people to tender. The process is to competitively test the market, then award business. I accept there are occasions where this is an unprecise tool. However it is more importatnt to look at what happens prior to this at the pre tender situation where information and assessing is done. Many organisaions provide information which does not “sell” themselves at this point.
    To bslance this point I would say when the opportunity presents itself, it is a good practice to examine what is involved and open up dialogue at thsi point and clarify what is needed (and can you do it).
    The system is here to stay because it is one of the best ways to ensure transparency and competitive in public sector purchasing.
    The difficulty is some services are difficult to tender, unless there is a detailed specification of what is needed and how it is to delivered. Some services like training, media, PR have sensitivities because of the untangible aspects of what is needed.
    Many tendered contract are set every year and each is an opportunity for trainers to engage in a process which could win them work. It is worth while noting that tendering is not necssarily defined by the cheapest price, but who offers the best value and the best deal.
    In recent times there has been strides to make the process less onorous eg Electronic Tendering.

  6. Do you know what you want… can you define it precisely
    My experience with tendering for various goods and services is that it works very well in circumstances where you;
    1 Know what you want
    2 Know how you will measure it and
    3 Can clearly articulate these in writing (sometimes the most difficult bit).

    These are the pre-requisites for both effectively responding to and evaluating a tender.

    If you can’t answer yes to these then you are not ready to tender – and the result of proceeding to tender will be that you either don’t achieve what you want to achieve or that it will be at a higher cost than necessary.

    As regards the public sector, tendering is not conducted primarily to achieve efficiency but to achieve openness and accountability in the award of contracts. This does tend to result in sub-optimal contracts(to put it mildly) but is arguably a price worth paying.

    So if for example you are looking for training to be provided against a published curriculum (e.g. some areas of legislative compliance) with a definable timescale, location range, trainee population and anticipated outcome (e.g. 95% certified by third party examiner after one training iteration)etc. then you have a good basis for a tender.

    If you are looking at “softer” training where the measures are expected to be changes in overall business performance then you are best to look at a softer purchasing process which relies much more on word of mouth/references.

    Hope this helps

  7. Tendering for Training
    I have been involved in tendering from both angles. As a senior manager in local government my invitations to tender were for very large contracts and some very small ones as well.

    As a freelance consultant and trainer i have responded to some formal tendering exercises and not all from the public sector.

    i would have to say that i dont like them, from either angle because the time spent on them never seemed to make up for any perceived benefits.

    On some ocassions we had so much legal, equality, environment and other requirements that we didnt have enough room to specify what we wanted the potential contractors to tender about!

    Things dont seem to have changed and a recent training tender had lots of legal stuff, impossible demands for insurance and accounts, a brief but unclear specification, lots of spelling and grammatical errors and potentially hours of work just to get on a preferred list, we didnt bother.

    When they work, they are fantastic, the invitations are well thought out, the client is very clear what they want and contractors have to think very carefully about the delivery, the manner of delivery and the pricing.

    When they dont work they are awful, more box ticking than real intentions, poorly thought out requirements and little encouragement to tender.

    I would like to see less irrelevance, more concentration on clear and unambiguous needs and more appreciation of the real positon of small businesses.

    Not sure what the answer is, but i wish someone would find it.


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