Interview with Sarah Hinchliffe
We've interviewed our wonderful course leader, Sarah Hinchliffe, ahead of the newly announced Winning with DOS course!
The courses, held at techUK in May and June, are aimed at helping suppliers win more business with the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework. To get ready for the sessions, we’ve asked Sarah some questions about what to expect, her opinions on the framework and a little bit about herself!
Give us a 7 sec pitch for the new DOS training courses?
The courses will help set some realistic expectations about the role of the framework and give delegates really helpful techniques to improve their chances of success.
What made you want to join forces with us?
The best way to improve buying and selling experiences is to get healthy dialogue between buyers and sellers – get them to appreciate each other’s perspectives. Advice Cloud has a strong reputation for bringing the buyer perspective, particularly in public sector tech frameworks. I remember meeting you in the early days of G-Cloud and DOS (or Digital Services as was) and seeing how valuable it was to see “the other side”. When Advice Cloud suggested putting together the techUK workshops to support suppliers tackling DOS applications, it made perfect sense to combine your procurement experience with my sales and proposal expertise. The courses are a great way to get a bit of both sides of the story.
You are known to have a pragmatic and down-to-earth supplier perspective. Why is this important when working with the public sector?
It’s very easy to see the public sector as a huge pot of money that everyone can get a slice of. And lowering the barriers of entry with the frameworks makes it seem easy. But it isn’t. I counsel anyone planning on entering the public sector market to expect a two-year lead time on getting established – if you do it quicker, it’s a bonus. Being on the frameworks is just a part of an overall marketing and sales strategy; you have to put them in context. There’s still plenty of hard work to do getting yourselves known and demonstrating how you can help address public sector challenges. An ill-informed DOS application isn’t the way to win.
Why do you think DOS is THE framework to be on for suppliers selling bespoke solutions to gov?
In my experience, more and more public sector buyers are turning to DOS. The public sector is under enormous strain to do more with fewer resources, whether that be money or people. And procurement rules are pretty extensive and can be hard to navigate. The DOS rules are clear and the process is fast, so it makes more sense than running an OJEU or other competitive procurement. And, I do think the frameworks gives more scope to newcomers and smaller businesses to succeed as long as they follow the advice about not over-relying on them.
Is there a way of making DOS even better? What’s your advice for CCS?
I do worry that the number of applications I see going through for some opportunities signals huge supplier effort preparing responses and equal supplier effort assessing them. I know CCS is trying to create a level playing field for everyone with much easier procurement vehicles, but I would like CCS to support the importance of being an intelligent supplier and not simply applying for anything. I would also like to see buyers better trained – although the buyer guidance is comprehensive and accessible, I see many DOS opportunities that are, from the suppliers’ perspective, poorly defined and run.
You will be covering a lot of ground on how to make DOS a success with the new courses. What are your top 3 tips for suppliers?
To sum up some of the points I’ve already touched on: one, be realistic; two, qualify hard; and three, this is a new point, plan before you write – I’ll be showing the importance of not simply “banging out” a response.
One of your previous roles is Chair of the techUK’s Marketing and Sales Group. Tell us a bit about that? What was your greatest achievement during your tenure?
I’ve been involved in the Marketing and Sales group for over fifteen years. The group monitors the latest developments in marketing and sales – especially those that rely on technology – and we arrange four-five sessions a year exploring topics chosen by the management committee based on group member demand. For me, it’s a great way to keep in touch with peers, something that’s really important when you work in smaller businesses or as a freelance consultant. Within techUK, we are a cross-cutting group complementing the various sector and technology-focused groups, which tend to be the crowd-pullers. During my time as Chair, we raised our profile with the techUK executive, increased the audience sizes and started to produce a regular stream of insightful articles. I am still the Vice-chair of the group and we continue to put together interesting and valuable sessions.