Industry engagement methods

Choosing the right method is vital to making sure your industry engagement succeeds.
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What you need to know
  1. There are 6 main approaches to industry engagement.
  2. No one approach to industry engagement will work best every time.
  3. The method you choose should depend on your objectives and when you conduct it.
  4. Starting an industry engagement after you’ve already begun procurement activity increases risks and should influence your choice.

Types of industry engagement

There are 6 main methods of industry engagement. We’ve set these out below.

1. Horizon scanning

This involves analysing a market’s near-term potential opportunities, developments, threats and driving forces.

Benefits of horizon scanning

Planning for what’s on the horizon will help you develop a better strategy for approaching the market. You’ll be more likely to weather potential changes and take advantage of new opportunities.

Horizon scanning helps you understand how a market operates within its broader economic context. You can then prepare and respond appropriately and tailor your procurement activities.

Horizon scanning’s broad nature means you may discover issues you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. It can also force your procurement team out of its “bubble” to consider procurement activities more broadly.

How to engage in horizon scanning

Horizon scanning involves:

  • strategically discussing future market conditions with suppliers
  • examining wider issues, such as global and domestic political agendas.

2. Market sounding

Market sounding involves floating an idea with the market to get feedback before formally approaching it.

Benefits of market sounding

Market sounding can help you develop a more relevant statement of requirements. That’s because you can incorporate industry feedback on:

  • the feasibility of the procurement activity
  • the market’s capability to achieve what you need
  • whether a competitive market exists.

How to engage in market sounding

There’s no universal method of market sounding but you should always follow a few basic rules:

  • Don’t be too prescriptive. You’ll reduce innovation.
  • Focus on suppliers as a group, not as individuals. This will encourage them to participate and focus their attention on a procurement activity’s viability rather than on their specific solutions.
  • Define your goals upfront. Being clear helps suppliers provide better solutions.

3. Market creation

Sometimes suppliers will have little or no incentive to respond to a formal procurement approach. When this happens, you’ll need to create the market yourself.

Market creation can work well where:

  • the market is too small or large
  • the geographical scope is broad or remote
  • the risks may are extreme
  • suppliers won’t see the engagement as financially viable.

In market creation, your focus should be on promoting the concept of selling to government so that you generate interest before publishing a formal approach.

4. Bidder conferences

A bidder conference lets suppliers respond to a tender to participate in discussions about a procurement’s commercial and technical aspects and risks.

You can only hold a bidder conference after formal procurement has started.

To encourage suppliers to participate, release a set of prescribed topics you’ll discuss before the conference begins.

5. Indicative approach to market

This involves publishing a proposed procurement well before you engage in it formally. That way suppliers can register their interest and provide feedback.

An indicative approach to market can help you understand the level of supplier interest. It can also help you amend and refine the procurement specifications before releasing them.

6. Concept viability

Concept viability involves using suppliers’ knowledge to test a proposed procurement’s technical viability. You can ask suppliers to respond to your specific need with solutions you’ve already developed. Or, you can ask them to come up with their own.

This can be an effective way of engaging with industry when you want to implement a new business idea. That’s because it gives active market participants the opportunity to road-test different solutions.

Using a concept viability approach can help make sure your approach to market will be based on a concept to which suppliers can respond.

How to choose an approach

No one type of approach to industry engagement is capable of always delivering the best outcome. Instead, you should choose a method based on both your goals and on the eventual procurement activity.

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum can help you do this. It recommends different approaches based on goals, timeframes, resources and levels of concern about the decision being made.

The spectrum also defines the promise being made to the public – in this case, the potential suppliers – through each form of engagement.


Industry engagement goal

Engagement approach

Well-understood business needs with stable, mature supply market

To expand the range of suppliers for the same or similar products or services

To inform the market about the anticipated solution

Well-understood business needs, changing market offerings

To identify pros and cons of new and emerging products or services

To consult with the market about the anticipated solution

Changing business needs, expanding market range

To assess market responses to emerging business needs alongside existing suppliers

To involve the market in fine-tuning the anticipated solution

Changing business needs with goods and services to come from new market

To recast supply chains through a broad range of suppliers

To collaborate with the market

Changing business needs with unknown delivery options

To deliver the anticipated solution

To empower the market to deliver a new business solution

Getting the most out of your approach

You can use industry engagement at any or all of these 5 levels. The same engagement can employ more than one approach.

To get the most from the industry engagement process, you should always allocate enough time to:

  • discuss and consider proposed solutions
  • analyse alternatives and innovative solutions
  • revise specifications, where needed.

Industry engagement within the procurement lifecycle

Sometimes you may need to run an industry engagement during an active procurement is.

When this happens, any information you’ve got from the procurement planning process should help you decide on an industry engagement approach.

Both the type of industry engagement and its timing are critical for making sure industry participates effectively and you properly manage probity risks.

Probity risks increase exponentially as the procurement process develops. Generally, this means you can be more flexible and informal with your industry engagement earlier in the procurement lifecycle.

Industry engagement at different stages in the lifecycle

There are 2 distinct stages in the procurement process, which highlight how industry engagement can change.

First pass

This is when you receive funding approval to explore potential procurement options.

Until this point, industry engagement is actively encouraged and you can be relatively informal. Your focus should be on collaborating with industry to brainstorm ideas.

You might, for instance, choose to attend trade shows and conduct one-on-one discussions with suppliers.

Second pass

This is when you analyse suppliers’ proposals more deeply.

Industry engagement between the first and second pass

Between these 2 stages of the tender process, you should refine and tighten tender specifications.

Any industry engagement you run will be more vulnerable to supplier influence. To counter this, you should make sure your approach is more structured and formal.

Typical industry engagement between the first and second passes includes requests for information (RFIs) and requests for quotes (RFQs).

You don’t have to invite organisations that were involved in your industry engagement to apply for the following procurement. You can invite other industry members to participate in the formal procurement process.

You can also use any results and insights you gain from the industry engagement process in the final procurement activity, including in the procurement requirements.

But there are some limitations to this. For instance, you will be subject to any confidentiality agreements you’ve entered. You must also protect suppliers’ intellectual property rights.