Confirm your suitability for supply contracts: Pre-Qualification Questionnaires

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Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) are usually deployed in the early stages of a public procurement process. Companies need to prove suitability to be considered for the tender stage. How can you best maximise your chances of passing through a PQQ and winning the business?

What is a PQQ?

In the simplest terms, a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) is a list of questions relating to the important criteria that a supplier must meet when applying for a contract. These documents are far more commonplace in the public sector than the private sector, but they are sometimes used to check supplier suitability in private tender arrangements.

A PQQ is often used as an effective tool to shortlist suppliers when there is a large number of applications for the tender. Suppliers that fail to meet the required standards can be automatically disregarded in the process, allowing for streamlined, efficient short-listing.

Suppliers are scored on a scale according to their answers in the PQQ, which may cover areas such as finance, appropriate experience and company policy. Often the supplier with the highest score will be accepted for the job.

PQQ: A demonstration of competence

Don’t be fooled into thinking that a PQQ is simply a box-ticking exercise that’s about passing a barrier to the tender process. The intelligent way to view this document is actually as a marketing exercise that gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your competence and suitability as a supplier.

This is an example PQQ document — but they may vary. It goes into depth about the different areas of your business, verifying that you understand your competitive edge and seeking assurance that you have the credentials to fulfil the agreed targets.

When you are completing your response to the PQQ, it is recommended that you put a dedicated team leader in place to manage the process and they are given enough time to create a succinct and relevant response. You are looking to communicate your company advantages and benefits in a clear manner that shows a confidence in your identity as a business.

Areas of your organisation typically profiled in a PQQ

Specific PQQs for niche industries may request the relevant specification and credibility. However, most standard agreements will explore the following areas:

  • Status – the full details on your organisation, ranging from directors history through to lists of sub-contractors and supply agreements in the business. Here the PQQ is exploring your structure and competency.
  • Finances – cash flow and your balance sheet are unsurprisingly often used as an indicator of your organisation’s health and success. You may need to provide references from your bank as well as your insurance certificates.
  • Quality – it is vital to provide assurance that your business can complete the required contract whilst meeting all the relevant milestones, budgets and timescales. The best demonstration is having a quality management system in place, such as the internationally recognised ISO 9001, which has been a key factor in many companies winning tenders.
  • Environmental policy – many organisations have a commitment to reducing their environmental impact and need to work with suppliers that are able to share this responsibility. Again, having an environmental management policy in place such as ISO 14001 can help prove an ongoing commitment to green issues.
  • Competitive edge – the business should be able to give strong reasons appertaining to its suitability for selection. What is your unique proposition? What value could you potentially bring to the relationship that other suppliers may lack? This is your chance to really push your company forward as a strong contender for the contract.
  • Social policy – public sector organisations will want to work with companies that have a clear equal opportunities mandate alongside some acknowledgement of corporate responsibilities and an awareness of progressive thinking.
  • Health and safety – for certain contracts risk assessments and the correct health and safety protocols are essential. Any company with more than five employees should have such a policy in place. Again, certification can give a competitive advantage here. Companies that are OHSAS 18001 compliant can expect to score highly on this section.
  • Case studies and testimonials – can you prove your organisation has success and validity in your chosen operating space? Demonstrations of previous performance can put you ahead in the game when it comes to showing proficiency and suitability for the contract.

Excellence in Production

It’s all too easy to focus on finishing a PQQ rather than ensuring that all the moving parts come together to build a strong and compelling storyline. Take the time to properly collate all the assets needed for each section and acquire the feedback from each business function that needs input in the document.

Maintain a good pace of progress by utilising checklists and milestones, marking off key tasks as they are completed. If you are employing a team to work together on the production, then make sure you record all communication, allowing everyone to know what’s been changed.

Using a master version of the PQQ document can also help, as with multiple people, there is the danger of creating multiple versions, which can mean the final version misses information. In these situations using a central copy that everyone can access in the cloud can really help.

After the PQQ

Following any PQQ you should always reflect back on how the process worked within your company. If you were successful, what factors helped you win the business or if you failed in your application, what areas of the business have been highlighted by the PQQ and could potentially be improved?

Remember also that the PQQ may not be the final stage of the process and a good score won’t always guarantee you preferential treatment in the tender stages. If you are required to submit a tender, make sure that you do not rest upon the answers provided in the PQQ. You will still be required to make a strong case to win the business.

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Written by Mark Nutburn

CTO - technology professional with over 20 years of IT experience building bespoke CRM systems and designing customised software solutions. A key part of the management team at The British Assessment Bureau for many years and a part of AMTIVO’s management team.