"Will Parsons and Mark Allen provided really useful input to our Best Value Review of Procurement and helped us achieve a much better result with more substantial savings identified through improved procurement practices"
Best Value Officer
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
Writing The Very Best Specifications
Specifications lock in a high proportion of the price you will pay and the value you will receive, over the lifetime of a contract. The very best specifications do much more than simply communicate what you want to buy, they attract the very best suppliers and motivate them to tender their very best deals.
To write the very best specifications you should:
- Determine the desired impact you want it to have on suppliers
- Set standards or conditions that it must meet to achieve the desired impact
- Allocate sufficient time and apply relevant expertise
Suppliers use your specification to determine the risks they face to supply the goods and services you need and the rewards they could earn, and use their conclusions to determine their price. Their aim is to earn as much profit as they can. Your aim should be to specify what you need and no more, and influence the very best suppliers to offer low prices but not so low that they come to resent your business or they struggle to stay in business.
Write specifications with the expectations of the very best suppliers uppermost in your mind. You need to capture their interest immediately, and then retain it. How suppliers interpret specifications has a strong bearing on the prices they tender. If they do not need to interpret a specification because it is easy to read then you are more likely to receive competitive tenders.
Suppliers view specifications in terms of risk and reward. The risks each perceives they need to take to achieve the rewards they perceive are on offer. Convince the best that the return on their investment to win your business is more valuable than the return on other investment opportunities., that is other tenders.
The very best specifications influence the very best suppliers to compete strongly for your business even though they have other customers and other potential customers. To encourage the best to compete strongly your specifications should:
- Be clear and unambiguous; eliminate the need for suppliers to interpret your specification
- Be comprehensive but concise; suppliers want a lot of information but do not want to take a lot of time to read and digest it all
- Include only what you need; and not what you want, resist the temptation to over-specify as this results in you paying for value you do not need
- Minimise risk; or rather minimising the perception a supplier may have of the likelihood that risks will occur while supplying you
- Maximise reward; by explaining 'what's in it for them', the rewards available to them by supplying you. Describe things that do not cost you anything but are valuable to a supplier, for example being associated with you because you have a good reputation, references you can provide, on-site visits and editorials.
- Be attractive; write your specification so that it is attractively laid out, structured well, inviting to read, easy to understand and considered professional
- Be easy to price; pretend to be a supplier and price your own specification. You must be able to do this relatively easily and accurately. If you cannot do this suppliers' are also likely to find it difficult and will err on the side of caution; the result being higher, or in some cases lower, than necessary prices.
- Fair; by nullifying, in the eyes of potential suppliers, the actual or perceived advantage of an incumbent or favoured supplier
- Convey your expectations; what you expect from a supplier, particularly in terms of their performance and the results they should achieve, and what you expect from your own organisation to support a supplier
- Shape suitable working relationships; by describing how you would like a supplier to behave and the joint approach to develop the most effective and relevant type of working relationship
- Be capable of being used for the duration of a contract; hold supplier to account and measure, record and manage their performance and that of your own organisation in so much as it influences delivery, quality, price and value
- Provide more certainty (stability) than uncertainty; suppliers (and their shareholders or stakeholders) crave certainty and stability, it allows them to minimise risk premiums as they can concentrate their resources on developing a prosperous future
- Develop a common understanding;all interested parties should derive the same understanding from the same information