Misinterpretations can kill your success rates

Customers and their procurement advisors don’t deliberately set out to write contradictory, vague or ambiguous instructions and questions in their Pre-qualification Questionnaires (PQQs), Requests for Proposal (RFPs) and Invitations to Tender (ITTs) but you would think so judged on the responses they receive back from bidders.

One of the more obvious mistakes that bidders make is failing to ensure that they really understand the instructions and questions.
Why don’t they ask a colleague or a consultant for their interpretation or seek clarification from the customer? If a bidder misinterprets just one question or requirement it could be enough to eliminate them from the competition. So why take the gamble? Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear foolish by asking an obvious question or maybe it’s because they haven’t scheduled in sufficient time to ask the questions and missed the deadline for asking questions? Maybe they genuinely believe that they are right?

When helping my clients to win contracts, I often have a different interpretation on what will pick up maximum scores for each question. Sometimes I even have a completely different interpretation of what the question or requirement means. I like to think that it is because I work on both sides of the fence and have an insight into what end-user customers are looking for.

This undoubtedly helps but more significant is the fact that by combining my ideas with those of my clients’ own team we jointly arrive at the right interpretation and can plan and write an answer which obtains top marks

I think that in most cases bidders know when they are struggling to grasp what the customer is looking for. However, rather than seeking help or clarification, they sometimes plough on regardless. The results can lead to answers which are too short and lack substance or are too long and full of waffle. Neither demonstrates clarity of understanding that the customer is looking for.

In some extreme cases, bidders have simply provided no answer at all or have even cut and pasted an answer from another pre-qualification questionnaire or tender in the hope that some of it may pick up some points!

The funniest answer I have seen was from an architect who didn’t understand a question about equal opportunities and diversity and rather than seek clarification he simply answered “Well, you’ve got me there!”

At least he was honest and proved that he had a good sense of humour but needless to say he didn’t pick up any points for that particular question.

I have seen some fairly ambiguous and nebulous questions being asked by customers which make it difficult for bidders to answer. In these situations it is important to contact the customer to establish exactly what they mean.

The customer should then distribute their answer to all bidders to ensure a level playing field for all.

If you don’t do this then it could become a bit of a lottery with some bidders on the same wavelength as the customer and some not. Make sure you don’t fall into the latter category and remember…if in doubt…ask for help!

David Harrison

David Harrison set up HMC Consulting in 2003 following many years working for multi-national contractors in the Construction Industry, holding positions from commercial manager to senior vice president and running business units with annual sales ranging from £14M to £50M and developed a successful track record and a passion for growing businesses. Now he shares his experience and knowledge through speaking and consulting.

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