Under-appreciated Things That Winning Bidders Do: Use the Q&A
Consistently successful proposals are developed by organizations that maximize use of the formal question and answer period called out in most Request for Proposals’ schedule of major events. This is an underutilized opportunity that bidding organizations often fail to use at all, and those that do use it, seldom use it as effectively as possible.
Once an RFP has been issued and is “on the street,” there is typically a “cone of silence” around the soliciting organization to ensure equal access and fair treatment of all bidders. The Q&A period is typically the only opportunity where it’s acceptable to interact with the customer for the general purpose of ensuring that the customer’s needs (i.e., scope of work) are understood. This opportunity also allows the bidder to gain clarity on any other solicitation requirements that may be subject to interpretation or are unclear.
While there are certainly many reasons that most do not participate in this process, perhaps the major reason is that it requires taking the time to study the RFP well before the Q&A cut-off, which, given the short duration of many RFPs, can prove to be a real challenge in time management. However, once an early understanding of the RFP has been developed, there is then time to carefully craft the questions that will effectively engage the customer. The reward for taking the time to carefully craft questions is that the answers may prove to be very important in developing an effective proposal and addressing the customer’s clarified concerns.
Providing clarifying questions demonstrates an interest in supporting the buying organization and allows confirmation that the requirement is understood. Those that develop the requirement documents (and even those on the selection team) are likely to be experts in their respective fields, but may not have the required technical background to actually be able to design or completely specify the requirements needed to create the solution. Even those purchasers with an excellent practical understanding of the technical requirements are unlikely to be as up to date as those working within the industry. They may not be completely aware of the trade-offs and limitations inherent in their proposed approach or all of the information or data needed to allow industry to assess their situation and provide the best fit solution.
Some organizations might express concern that all questions and answers become available to other bidding participants, especially to those that didn’t take the time to participate in the Q&A. While this is understandable, the very core of a successful bidding process for all participants is having a current, clear, concise and complete scope of work. In fact, the penalty for having less clarity is the likelihood that each bidder approaches the opportunity with entirely different assumptions, perhaps missing the customer’s real requirement altogether. Those proposals either will be under-scope and thus likely underprice the opportunity or over-scope and provide pricing exceeding the work required.
Increased variation provides a challenge for organizations evaluating proposals, causing selection teams to make assumptions of the bidders’ proposals that can lead to increased variation in scoring. The better the scope of work, the more specific the proposals can be, the more accurate the pricing is, and the more likely the buying organization receives what it’s looking for. The bidder with the best solution vis-à-vis a clear scope of work is best positioned to be awarded the work.
Ultimately, all stakeholders are served when they know what the customer actually wants, and there is only one way to be sure…ask.
Dale Jordan has been Procurement Director for Cherokee County, GA, since 2012. In 2017, Dale lead the Cherokee County Procurement Department to achieve National Accreditation by the National Institute of Government Purchasing (NIGP). Prior, Dale worked in aerospace and other commercial purchasing roles for thirty years. He has a B.S. Degree in Management, with an emphasis in Purchasing and Materials Management from Florida State University College of Business. Dale finds his greatest fulfillment in his roles as father, grandfather and husband as well as his passion for music.