We get to see a lot of bids within BravoSolution, not only in our work supporting buyers, but also as bidders – competing for business with potential new customers in both public and private sectors.
The vast majority of formal bid processes that we take part in are reassuringly well-planned and managed, with associated documents (or online questionnaires) that are informative, sensibly structured, and reasonably straightforward for bidders to understand and respond against.
But a significant minority are not!
Many contain common errors and omissions that make the bidding process burdensome for bidders and create additional work for the buyer, but are reasonably simple to identify and fix.
So here are a few pointers to help you avoid those classic howlers. I apologise if this sounds like a rant or that I’m teaching you something that you already know, but you’d be amazed at what goes on out there…
As a buyer, you need all participating bidders to provide you with the same specific set of information and/or documents in response to your requirements, so that you can arrive at a robust evaluation decision.
If you’re publishing a bid with numerous supporting documents – for example including fragmented qualification, business, technical and contractual requirements – this process of defining exactly what counts as a response requirement (and bidders then assembling the correct information in the correct formats) has the potential to become very confusing for all concerned.
And when bidders get confused, they tend either to raise numerous clarification questions that you in turn must respond to, or they “get creative” in how they respond, or they walk away.
As the happy users of a best-in-class eSourcing solution, you have the tools – online questionnaires – to formalise your information requirements, and mandate bidders to provide you with the information that you need, in the formats and at the time you need it.
Using online questionnaires can also allow you to manage collaborative evaluations more efficiently, potentially to auto-score bidders on their responses, and to provide automated granular debriefings.
You get the picture!
But formalising your requirements doesn’t just help you to gather complete bids and manage efficient evaluations, it helps bidders too.
Whether you’re gathering responses via online forms, or in an Excel sheet, or in a table within a Word document, by breaking your requirements down into a list of discrete questions (preferably organised by stage and by subject) you’re letting bidders see exactly what they’re up against, and you’re making it completely transparent how they should respond in order to be successful, and you’re helping them distribute the workload within their own organisations.
If you can display the available scores per stage/section/question, and flag any questions that are “showstoppers”, that’s even better (and may be a legal requirement).
This process of formalising your requirements may be time-consuming and difficult. Particularly so if your internal customers are unclear of their own requirements, or on the relative prioritisation of those requirements.
But if you don’t do it at some stage, then you can’t arrive at a solid evaluation decision.
So do it first.
2. Be concise
Bidders have no choice but carefully to read everything that you publish in your outgoing bids.
That means all the corporate policy documents, flow-diagrams, business requirements, technical specifications and sets of standard terms.
This is the only way they (we) can be sure that we’re not missing a critical piece of information which could potentially lose us your business, or cost us money if successful in the bid, or otherwise expose the business to unacceptable risk.
And it can take a lot of time.
So please, keep it simple. Aim to provide only the information that bidders need in order to make a complete and high quality response.
3. Avoid Easter eggs
Easter eggs aren’t just a seasonal & topical chocolate treat. If you’re a gamer (and some otherwise perfectly normal people are) then you’ll recognise the term.
An Easter egg is a hidden extra – often a game within a game – that the player can only unlock through extraordinary amounts of time & perseverance.
In the context of bids, an Easter egg is typically a 200+ line technical questionnaire, embedded towards the end of one of the buyer organisations’ corporate standards documents, and requiring several days’ work to complete.
Technical questionnaires are a necessary evil, and bidders expect them, so please be up-front with us.
If you actually need bidders to provide detailed technical responses at the current stage of the process, then make the questionnaire obvious, and include it in your checklist (or online form).
4. Timing: Be reasonable
Writing bid responses takes time. Writing high-quality, innovative bid responses that deserve to be read takes even more time.
You’re also no doubt under time pressure from your internal customers to fill their requirements ASAP, even if they only just managed to tell you definitively what those requirements are.
So time is always a precious resource.
Whatever the context, try to allow enough time for bidders to read all your content, and formulate their clarifications, and receive your clarification responses, and then write, and check and submit their bid responses.
How much time is enough? That obviously depends on the scale of the bid that you plan to publish (and/or the procedure you’re following). If you’re not sure, then ask a colleague for their advice.
And then add an extra week.
5. Timing: But not too reasonable
Bidders – and their bid managers, if they have them – are usually busy people. Not me, obviously. But most bidders are busy people.
At any given point they will probably be competing for business with several other prospects, and working through a list of bids that are jostling with your bid for their limited attention.
If you allow too much time for bidders to respond, then you risk getting “parked” at the back of the queue, and potentially your bid will be forgotten until the last minute.
How much time is too much? Again this obviously depends on the procedure and/or the scale of the bid, but if you allow much more than a month from publication to deadline, that could be a risk. Perhaps the best solution is to allow plenty of time, but to mitigate the risk with interim deadlines, communications, bidder calls and demos etc. to keep your bid on the agenda.
6. Timing: Bidders are people too!
You may recognise this scenario: The holidays are fast approaching and your evaluators are all disappearing to spend time with their families, but you’re under pressure to get the bid responses in and the evaluation started as quickly as possible.
So you set the response deadline for the first working day(s) after the end of the holidays, publish the documents, and then head out of the door. That way, you can open the bids and set everyone going on their evaluations as soon as they get back from leave.
You are the master of efficiency.
Yep. Thanks for that. Cheers…
7. Give clear instructions
Provide bidders with an outline of the process that you plan to follow, so they understand exactly what you expect of them, and when you expect it. If you don’t provide this information up front, then you will be asked for it:
- Provide a timetable of key dates.
- Provide a channel for communications during the process.
- Provide bidders with instructions on how exactly to respond.
- Provide a response checklist.
If you happen to have access to a best-in-class eSourcing solution, it can automate most of this for you. Merry Christmas!
8. Read it first
As I mentioned earlier (“Be concise”) each bid will typically include numerous supporting documents, and potentially hundreds (even thousands) of granular requirements.
I guarantee you that bidders will read every single one of those documents, and analyse every single granular requirement. That means they will find the things that you missed.
They will find the duplicated section of requirements that show you didn’t bother to check your questionnaire. They will find the out of context requirements that you copied across from the similar – but different – bid which a colleague ran last year. They will find (and have a quiet chuckle at) the embarrassing MS Word comments that you forgot to remove.
So, stating the obvious again, please proof-read every component of your bids.
Preferably before you hit “Publish”!