Best Practice for Conducting a Bidder’s Conference as Part of a Procurement
The purpose of a bidders’ conference is to provide an open exchange between purchasers and vendors, to communicate the Request for Proposal (RFP) process to vendors, answer questions about the RFP and ultimately ensure that prospective vendors have a clear understanding of requirements. Bidders’ conferences are more prevalent in the Public Sector, but they can be part of the procurement process in the Private Sector as well.
How to make the most of the Bidders’ Conference
The purpose of the bidders’ conference is valuable in the procurement process as it is a discovery event for both the purchaser and the vendor. It provides a forum for open dialog and clarification of the RFP, as well as bringing to light any missing elements that should be considered in the evaluation process. An in-depth and enlightening exchange in a bidders’ conference bodes well for the project’s overall success.
Based on my observations of several bidders’ conferences gone awry, here are a few suggestions to make the most of a bidder’s conference.
Be prepared. Read the RFP before you attend, nothing makes you look worse than asking obvious questions that are addressed on the first page of the RFP.
Write it down. The client will likely ask you to submit your question in writing for clarification and to provide a written response.
Control yourself. A bidders’ conference is not a marketing event or platform for you to demonstrate your consulting skills by trying to solve the client’s (or other vendor’s) issues.
Don’t argue. Don’t tell the client in public that their project approach is wrong. Remember, that you ultimately want them to hire you for a project. Subtle insults are not usually a good idea. If the project is not right for your firm, simply do not submit a proposal.
Don’t read the RFP to the vendors. RFP’s are painful enough to read on your own.
Provide structure to the conference. If you are going to answer questions by referring vendors to sections of the RFP, provide a verbal explanation of the answer. RFP’s can be interpreted differently.
Provide structure to your solution request. Don’t ask for vendor open-ended solutions as you will likely have a hard time comparing responses.
Avoid antagonism. Using phrases like “you are the experts, you tell us the best way that we should be doing this project” will not help you in evaluating the best acquisition fit.
In summary, understanding the bidders’ conference for what it is – an opportunity for open exchange and clarification about your requirements for a major technology purchase – exponentially increases the value it provides to your decision-making process.