Training & Management: Tips and tricks to avoid tender template traps

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The government’s Model RFx templates were launched last year and are heading towards mandatory use by many procurement professionals.

Caroline Boot

Caroline Boot

The templates provide a framework for putting a RFx (Registration of Interest, Request for Proposal or a Request for Quotations) out to the market.

There are small, medium and large versions of the Request for Quotation forms, plus a single version of the Registration of Interest templates and the Request for Proposal templates. Requests for Tender are not included at present, as these need to be carefully customised to meet the tightly defined specifications set out by the buyer.

They templates provide a standard framework for buyers to explain the opportunity to their suppliers, give key information about the tendering process, detail the buyer’s requirements, explain the approach to evaluation and give information to help suppliers to price their offer.

They also give standard (and legally compliant) information about the RFx process, terms and conditions that can’t be changed. The templates are accompanied by pre-formatted response forms that should, if used correctly, make evaluating tenders clearer, easier, and less time-consuming.

What’s great is that they will standardise the approach to tender documentation and reduce the time spent in interpreting tender documents and seeking clarifications. Standard terms and conditions mean bidders can focus on generating a compelling response rather than undertaking legal scrutiny of tender documentation that’s different every time.

However, a couple of areas need special attention:

  1. You still need to plan! The templates are an end-user tool and should not replace a robust procurement planning exercise that identifies what is and isn’t included in this procurement activity; what factors should eliminate unsuitable suppliers at the start (via preconditions); and the primary drivers for value for money.
  2. Identify the differentiators – and ask (only) about them: Procurement planning should identify the differentiators for those bidders that make it through the first hurdle; what weightings should be assigned to those factors, and how they will be scored. That information should feed into the questions used to differentiate the bidders, not generic questions on overall capacity or capability.
  3. Ask directly how their bid stands out: This puts the rest of their response into perspective and makes it easier for evaluators to understand and compare the relative merits of each tender.
  4. Beware tabular forms: Tables often have embedded styles that are restrictive – they may not allow insertion of flow-charts, diagrams, spreadsheets, Gantt charts, heading styles or text boxes – all of which make the document easier to read, understand and ultimately, score.

Allow bidders a limited amount of freedom as it will make the responses easier to mark. Don’t confine responses in table cells, and allow bidders to insert their branding, colours, diagrams or case studies – as long as they keep the same question order and numbering system.

  1. Get respondents to start each major section on a new page (or set up your template to do this). It’s much easier to compare section responses from different suppliers if they all start on a new page.
  2. Indicate the length and depth of information you’re seeking. Rather than setting an arbitrary page limit, indicate if you’re looking for a page or a paragraph or two. That way, you’ll get similar length responses and be able to compare apples with apples.
  3. Agree your objective scoring system for each attribute before you look at the responses. One of the most common traps for evaluation teams arises when individual evaluators bring very different scores to the moderation table.

Agree the factors that must be included to satisfy the requirement, and what factors would constitute a non-conformance. These need to be defined in objective terms (facts and figures, not definitions like ‘poor’ satisfactory, etc.).

It’s then helpful to agree a few examples of descriptors for other points of the scale – i.e. what would constitute a minor benefit or reservation, as opposed to a major one. This will be different for each attribute scored.

This system hugely speeds up the marking time, simplifies moderation, provides clear justification for the scores allocated and gives the important inputs to a ready-made tender evaluation report. Some evaluators even put them into the RFx document for additional clarity.

The layout of the RFx templates and the response forms will make tendering much, much easier –but they also increase the pressure to make your response stand out.

  1. You’ll need to work harder: This is especially true if the buyer has used the standard questions provided in the templates. Although the templates clearly instruct buyers to customise the questions, unfortunately some don’t go to the trouble.

 

Your challenge will be to write content that’s obviously project-specific and client-focused. That gives your potential client something that your competitor can’t. And that needs to be something that matters in relation to the drivers for value for the money.

In every section, lead in by discussing what your client is looking for, and how your solution will meet their needs (better than the alternatives). Simply answering the questions just keeps you in the race. It doesn’t give you the edge you need to win.

  1. The challenges of formatting: If possible, format your response to get the message across in an interesting way. It’s tempting to simply respond in text, especially when the field for responses is in a table. If you can’t insert pictures and graphic interest to demonstrate the features of your offer, it’s tempting to refer the evaluators to the appendices.

But beware, the evaluators don’t like flipping backwards and forwards to finds the answers, and some may lose interest and not look in the appendices at all.

Ask if you can include your branding and colours (but make it clear you are not changing the structure of the template or the order of the questions). Some will allow this, some won’t. Consider submitting hard copies as well as electronic copies if you are allowed to.

Whether buying or selling, these templates will make life easier for those involved in tendering. There will be fewer frustrations with the process and more much-needed focus on the effectiveness of the proposed solutions. That’s got to be good for everyone!

For more information, see http://www.business.govt.nz/procurement/for-agencies/government-model-rfx-templates. For specialist help using the templates for procurement, contact [email protected] cleverbuying.com. For expert assistance writing tender responses, contact [email protected].

Caroline Boot is the founder of tender specialist companies Plan A and Clever Buying™. She and her colleagues are committed to providing expert support for tenderers through providing bid writing and management expertise for companies preparing must-win tenders – throughout New Zealand and globally. For more information, including useful articles on how to win tenders, see www.plana.co.nz

 

 

 

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