A formal tender will normally have strict rules to govern communication between the client and bidders. Yet it isn’t intended to be a totally arm’s length process. There are opportunities for bidders to influence the outcome and significantly improve their chances of success – without bending any rules or making your successful bid vulnerable to a challenge.
It’s simply a question of taking every opportunity that the process offers to build your relationship with the client, refine your proposition, and tune in to the real motivations behind the tender.
The bidders’ meeting that normally precedes the RFQ is a classic example. Bidding companies often approach the meeting with the wrong mindset. They go in with a passive frame of mind, expecting to simply ‘listen and learn.’
Listening is obviously important, but if you go in prepared you can start to engage more deeply with the process. Do your research on the client. Find out what is driving their business.
Discover whether other tenders have been issued recently (or contracts awarded), that could have a relationship to the contract you are bidding for. What are the prevailing market conditions? How will these influence the client’s ultimate choice of solution?
Your research will help you to ask intelligent questions. It will help you pick up on the subtext of what the client is telling you. Remember, at this stage the RFQ may not be finalised. There could be a chance to influence the content.
The meeting will also help you ‘suss out’ your competition. What does the body language tell you about the relationship with the incumbent supplier? Are there problems? Is the client looking to apply more stringent performance standards or hoping for more innovative solutions?
With better preparation you can ask more probing questions. Even before the RFQ is issued you are then starting to make a positive impression and build the relationship.
The themes of background research and active engagement apply throughout the process.
Formal dialogue clearly has rules that need to be respected. The tone of your questions is also important. Avoid the temptation to suggest (even implicitly) that the client hasn’t thought things through. Even if this is accurate, no client is going to welcome the suggestion that this is what you think. Nobody likes a smart alec!
With carefully chosen and worded questions you can test key assumptions in your bid. You can also start to subtly extend the client’s thinking about the project and prepare the ground for the added value in your proposal.
This level of engagement with the process is a long way from a last minute scramble to get the bid in before the deadline (the approach that businesses often fall into). It also marks out habitual winners from habitual losers.