At the end of last year, staff from a number of departments at Buckinghamshire County Council, including planning and maintenance, environment and property services, were given 20 minutes to discuss their requirements with bidders.
The idea was to get contractors talking to different parts of the council to find out direct from managers what they wanted.
A shortlist of three bidders - Atkins, Jacobs/Ringway and Amey - is still in the running for the £40 million contract and will meet with the council next week.
But council head of procurement Hugh Sharkey said: “Our expectations for their bids were higher than what we got. We’re asking for written responses and we’re also inviting them in for dialogue days to clarify their proposals.”
The contract covers three aspects of council services: transport, planning and the environment and property.
The unsuccessful bidders were Balfour Beatty, Accord, Halcrow/Colas and Fitzpatrick/Hyder.
Mr Sharkey said that once the winner is chosen the council will decide whether to go ahead with all three strands.
He added: “If we’re not confident with all of them we’ll just go ahead with the ones we think are right for the council.”
In mid-September the council will cut the shortlist down to two bidders, who will be asked to make their final offers.
A preferred bidder will be announced in December.
The procurement process has been under way since last October.
One bidder said: “It might have been good to meet these departments themselves but this is the longest procurement process ever.”
The idea for the strategy came from market tests done by the council.
It found that combining a range of services currently provided by private sector companies under separate contracts could lead to cost savings.