By ‘response requirements’ I mean the content you expect from a vendor or service provider to demonstrate they’re right for the job, and how you want that content to be presented.
(So that said vendors and service providers can spend lots of time dutifully producing their tenders, just to drop them unceremoniously in some nondescript receptacle marked ‘tender box’, with an opening that barely accommodates the beautifully bound and packaged responses. In fact, some tenders haven’t fit and they’re lying on the floor.*)
Okay. Enough of my moaning. Here are the tips.
Tips to make the most of your response requirements
Have you considered how much information you really need to make a fair and valid judgement of tenders?
Do you realise what you’re going to get, volume-wise, in response to your requirements?
Are you going to be able to compare apples with apples?
Will the responses need to be broken up for evaluation by different groups within your organisation?
Does pricing need to be separated so it doesn’t influence evaluation of the proposed solution or service?
These sorts of things need to be considered at the time the procurement document is written so that clear instructions can be given for the response format and its content.
For example …
Did you hear about the tender* that was so big and heavy — 75+ ring binders to satisfy the obligatory original and two copies — that it had to be delivered with a mini forklift?
Or what about the request released just before a Christmas (don’t you just love it when they do that?) which explicitly stated not to refer to the same attachment in answer to different criteria. So the same content had to be repeated in different attachments … in hardcopy … ten sets. That response* was delivered on three flatbed trucks!
And both examples were only one of several responses.
Mini forklifts? Flatbed trucks? Can you imagine? I’ll bet the requesters didn’t.
Think about the carbon footprint of those procurement exercises!
2. Keep all of the response requirements together, and make sure they’re clear
Ever been on a treasure hunt?
Reading through a multi-part RFP, it’s not unusual to find response requirements spread throughout the specification, the terms and conditions, and even the draft contract.
This isn’t helpful to respondents who need to make sure they submit everything you expect, especially when they’re working to a, sometimes, ambitious (to put it politely) timeframe.
For example, it’s very annoying when the people reviewing the draft contract ask whether the rest of the bid team knows about including a draft project management plan and other assorted response requirements (as happened when I was working on the response to a Commonwealth Government RFP* some years back).
Why on earth would you put response requirements in the draft contract? It just isn’t logical.
This sort of thing makes it difficult for vendors and service providers to plan their response and the time required to respond.
As for the specification for the solution or service, be clear about what you want. The better you’re able to articulate your requirements, the better others will be able to respond to them.
That also means balancing your expectations of the level of detail you want with the level of detail you’ve provided.
3. Carefully consider what you want the responses to look like
I’ve responded to procurement documents that include incredibly detailed, well thought-out response schedules.
I’ve seen others, without predefined schedules, which clearly define the content to be included and the format to be used.
I’ve had to respond in predefined schedules where most response requirements have spaces for answers to be provided, while other response requirements are stated without any indication of how or where the answers are to be included.
And then there’s the ones where tables have been thoughtfully provided for you to respond in.
You know, they’re neatly sized to fit on a single page with equally sized columns and equally sized rows ready to type in, with a neat line at the bottom for the signature that’s required on every page of the response.
Except, what I’m describing needs more than one page per row because of the 12-point font on a portrait page with 3 cm left and right margins; the equally sized columns don’t make sense when one of the columns contains most of the information; the vertically centred text doesn’t make it easy to read each row; the horizontally centred text doesn’t make it easy to read each column; the header row isn’t set to repeat on multiple pages; and the signature line needs to be moved to the page footer so that it appears on every page.
Oh, and the response schedule was issued as a PDF!*
And don’t get me started on the ridiculousness of signing every page of multiple copies of a response.
This sort of thing frustrates respondents. If you’re going to provide a table for respondents to fill in, try using it yourself to ensure it’s actually appropriate to gather the information you’re asking for.
Remember, vendors and service providers like to put in diagrams and tables of their own, so you need to determine how a predefined response format is going to accommodate this type of information.
So that means if you want to use a web-based response format, think twice before using something like Survey Monkey*. Survey tools are for surveys. How could anyone think they’re the right tool for a tender?
And if your procurement documents provide precious little guidance for what’s expected in the response (the ugliest) then all I can say is: good luck to your evaluation team.
Then, it’s over to the vendors and service providers
The trouble is, regardless of how well put together your RFP is, and regardless of how clear your instructions are, you’re going to get responses that indicate vendors and service providers didn’t read or didn’t bother to follow your instructions.
Perhaps that might tell you something about the relationship you’d have to look forward to.
* As unbelievable as they sound, the cited examples are all true.
Do you want better procurement documents?
This post is one of a series. Read the rest and find out: