The shortlist phase
Why is it important?
Being shortlisted to bid presentation or clarification stage is a big achievement. You should feel reassured that the prospective customer is interested in what your organisation has to offer, but also be realistic about the task ahead.
Any presentation, clarification or contract negotiation activities should be a lot like your written submission: well-prepared, clear, relevant and focused on your customer’s needs. The post-tender presentation and clarification period is your time to leave a good impression with the buyer, and clearly reinforce your ‘value for money’ proposition. Most evaluation committees are acutely aware that a bid team has prepared the response, so they now want to meet the service delivery team, obtain additional information (or see a product demonstration), and be sure that they feel comfortable working with you.
Procurement departments should ideally provide an agenda for the presentation far enough in advance, along with any specific requirements, to allow sufficient preparation time. Criteria is usually prepared in advance to evaluate the presentations, and short listed bidders will be asked to answer the same questions or provide the same information to be evaluated.
Presentation and clarification objectives
- To respond to questions to help the evaluation panel better understand the tender responses
- To introduce the team who will be dealing the buyer for the service contract, and to demonstrate their abilities, knowledge and expertise.
It is important to note that presentations or interviews are generally not the forum to negotiate on price, or change or enhance the value of your submission.
- To arrive at a Best and Final Offer (BAFO) where the buyer achieves value for money procurement, while the supplier can modify their price, or provide additional information to negotiate a contract that is within their resource capabilities to deliver.
Under probity, negotiations should not be used to materially alter the minimum requirements of the bid given all other bidders were evaluated equally against the requirements.
- Central file documenting the procedure, stakeholders present and minutes.
Getting ready for your presentation
You’ve managed to translate in-depth technical information into a coherent response that the buyer will not only understand, but warm to.
But meeting the buyer face-to-face gives you a chance to do what paper can’t – to interact with them and prove that you are the sort of responsive, customer-oriented organisation (and team) they would welcome working with long-term.
There’s a lot at stake, but a huge amount to gain – so effort spent on getting your presentation right is one of the best investments you’ll make. And more and more procuring organisations are including performance at the presentation in the evaluation scoring.
While organisations might impress tender evaluation teams with fancy, insightful submissions (and these usually make it to the shortlist), many disappoint in the interview. This is a ‘make or break’ step which needs to be planned carefully. Some suggestions for successful interviews are:
- Adequate research and preparation before the meeting
- Small teams with essential experts, managed by an effective leader (preferably not bid or sales leader, but an operations leader)
- A strong opening highlighting how your offer differs from, and is superior to, your competitors (without mentioning their name(s))
- Sparing use of slide presentations
- Be ready to explore alternative solutions, to make your offer a better fit to the customer’s requirements
- Truthful answers to questions
- Take questions on notice if you do not know the answer, and provide a response promptly following the presentation
- A strong close.
Common interview/post-tender presentation mistakes
Experience shows there are some key areas in which bidders often make mistakes; ensure you pay particular attention to the following:
- Don’t leave things to the last minute
- Provide answers to questions requested, not the ones you want to give
- Offer products or services which match the requirement
- Address the selection criteria
- Double check your references/referees
- Bid only if you can meet the minimum requirements of the specification and fulfil the evaluation criteria
- Make sure the team reads the RFx documentation and bid response thoroughly before the interview. Generally, the people responsible for attending the interview may not have been the primary authors of the bid (they may be the technical solutions and/or the contract delivery team). It is amazing how often people get caught out being completely unaware of what was promised in the bid. Be aware and be prepared to discuss with the buyer what you have promised to deliver!
Your presentation is a crucial stage in the bid process and it’s normal, even useful, to feel some degree of pressure. The ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ approach isn’t likely to work here and successful bidders know that the three ‘Ps’ – plan, practise and perform – are the only routes to a winning presentation. Seeking a shortcut at this stage can cost you the contract.
It sounds obvious, but don’t neglect the basics such as organising the date, time and venue of your presentation, as well as the amount of time you will have for your presentation on the day. Remember to allow a generous amount of travel time in case of unexpected delays, or technical support if you’re presenting online.
When it comes to planning your presentation, instead of asking yourself what you want to say, ask yourself: ‘What do I want my audience to know?’
- Capture this in 2-4 key points and build from there
- Avoid simply repeating your bid response – the evaluation panel will be looking for new information and convincing reasons to choose you as their supplier
- Stick to everyday language – you may need to use some acronyms and technical references but steer clear of weary buzz phrases like ‘deliverables’ and ‘core objectives’.
It could be a long day for the evaluation panel, so help them to stay awake! Use examples and instances wherever you can. Even tailor them to the buyer.
For example, if you are offering legal services you could say: “….the savings in appointing (our organisation) over the term of the contract period is equivalent to 6 months’ free legal advice because of the time savings involved in not having to come up to speed on your file.” If you are in engineering you could quantify your expertise in other ways, such as whole of life (or lifecycle) cost benefits of comparable solutions.
Quotes and humour are fine – but only if you’re sure these aren’t likely to offend and you know your audience.
Always build in sufficient time for questions at the end of your presentation and even be prepared with a shorter version in case the customer tells you they are running over and need to make up time.
Think carefully about who to take along with you – everyone should have a clear role to play. If you do need to take experts to answer specialised questions rather than to present, tell your customer this at the start so they don’t think you’ve brought along a wallflower, or worse still, that your staff have time to waste.
Be ruthless about your visual aids – a sophisticated electronic presentation may appear slick, but there is a risk of technology failure or incompatibility, even if you have checked in advance that the interview room should be able to support your requirements. Make sure you have access to a whiteboard as a back up.
If you do use slides – and they can be very useful for communicating numerical data – stick to some basic rules of thumb:
- Keep them simple and short
- Use 28 point text or larger
- Avoid clipart – it can be cliché
- Take printed handouts of your slides to give out at the end (so the evaluation panel doesn’t start reading while you are speaking).
Along with planning, rehearsal is the other secret to smoother, more convincing presentations – not to mention calmer nerves all round on the day. If you do have a chance to rehearse at the buyer’s premises, take it. Not only will you be able to troubleshoot any problems (do you need a longer power cable to reach the power source for instance?), but familiarity with the venue will make you more relaxed come presentation time.
Time each run-through two or three times to make sure everyone can make their points within the right timescales. Make sure too that all your team is well rehearsed – not just you.
Often the biggest problems in delivering a good presentation performance is nerves. The key is to accept them – they’re all part of our natural ‘fight or flight’ responses. If you expect them, you can be ready with coping strategies that work for you.
Even before you take to the floor, your ‘performance’ has begun. Greet the evaluation panel with a smile. Make eye contact with each one when you introduce yourself and your team – let your eyes linger for a moment making each individual feel appreciated and important.
Good eye contact is also crucial as you deliver your pitch:
- While you are settling into your presentation, it can be useful to make early eye contact with someone on the panel who is giving reassuring nods to what you are saying – this boosts your confidence
- Be inclusive. Use eye contact to engage everyone in what you’re saying. Even the most junior looking person on the panel could be influential in the final decision
- Avoid the usual body language pitfalls – such as folded arms or burying your hands in your pockets. Studies claim as much as 90% of all communication has nothing to do with speaking.
Don’t give your audience a license to turn off. Vary your voice, introduce different tones and use brief pauses to change the pace. More confident speakers sometimes introduce simple involvement techniques such as asking the panel to vote. If you make a mistake correct it quickly and move on. Don’t hope that no one has noticed, because someone always will.
A good pitch is about listening as well as speaking – so remember to pay close attention to questions and ask the panel member if you’ve answered their question fully before moving on. Look interested when your team members are presenting – even if you’ve heard their part a dozen times before.
And finally… smile, thank all the panel and don’t be afraid to end on a positive note – for instance by saying how much you’d value the contract if you were successful.
TIPS for interview preparation
Begin the presentation planning and strategy early; work on the presentation well before the document is submitted (your executive summary is a good place to start)
Try to present first: it is an opportunity to set the criteria by which competitors will be assessed. If you are the incumbent, try to present before the RFx is issued as a way of providing ‘key results and outcomes’ – this can be a good strategy to leave a good impression with the buyer
Check venue (layout, seating, lighting, AV/ technology support)
Research styles/personalities/priorities of the evaluation panel
Conduct rehearsals using mock panels
The presentation should reinforce your value proposition
Focus on non-verbal communication (positive “selling” behaviour via body language, facial expressions)
Maximise time allocated for Q&A by showcasing your knowledge/expertise/“learnings” through questions
All team members should present: never bring someone for show, although you can nominate a lead speaker and refer to experts during Q & A time
Minimise the impact of less confident presenters by having them present in the middle.
AV support should complement, not dominate, the presentation (eg. “low tech” option may optimise delivery/two-way interaction).
“Leave-behind” documents assist the evaluation panel to recall your value proposition. Provide hand-outs at the end of the presentation, and follow up with any points of clarification via email.
To make a successful pitch you don’t have to be a perfect presenter, just be confident of your solution and ability. Bear in mind that no one is likely to be as critical of you or your performance as yourself. You’ve gotten through to presentation stage because the buyer wants to hear what you have to say, and they are human too. Most of them will have stood in your shoes and be glad on this occasion that it’s not them in the hot spot. Prepare thoroughly, learn from mistakes and work as a team.
Respond positively to the invitation. Always prepare and write down your questions in advance of the meeting for easy reference. Always be represented by at least two people, one to ask the questions, the other to take notes of the answers, questions and remarks of others. Ensure the team being represented are technically competent both to ask and answer fully questions relating to the bid response.
Do not send senior management or business development figures to impress the customer. This is a common mistake, which leads to their perception that your organisation may be technically incompetent.
Never rely on your memory to recall information. If only one representative is present, their attention is drawn to seeking opportunities to ask their questions and not to listening to the answers to others’ questions. Even momentary distractions can result in you missing important information or intimations. Possibly, this could relate to areas the buyer deems of paramount importance when considering submitted bids.
It is also important to understand the significance of where to position yourself at a presentation. Avoid going straight to the head of the table, and stand where you can make eye contact with the evaluation panel.
With complex RFx, clarifications after submission of your bid may be necessary to help the buyer evaluate your submission. For example, where there are aspects of the response that are unclear or contain minor errors, or where the buyer wants to better compare your offer to a competitor.
Even at this stage communication is still recorded in writing so that an audit trail is maintained.
An example of a bid clarification may be when the RFx has specified that services need to be undertaken daily yet in your submission you respond that the services will be completed seven times per week.
The procurement officer may seek clarification that the services are indeed completed once per day. Clarification may also be sought around topics of quality performance (ie. warranties), or particular terms and conditions of contract. While you might consider it a minor point, it is vital at this stage that there are no ambiguities or wrongly interpreted statements or claims that could make their way into a final contract.
Negotiations in relation to price, essential aspects of the bid or other areas where bid improvements may be possible do not take usually place as part of the clarification process.
During the bid clarification process you may need to go through a question and answer period and resubmit sections of your response or your entire response again. This is undertaken to ensure the buyer is confident that they are obtaining the best value and that all clarifications are clearly documented.
There are many cases where contractors have have faced legal issues where claims made in the bid submission (and ultimately documented in the contract) failed to live up to their promise.
Procurement officers examine bids against the scope of work and selection criteria to ensure that claims are not fraudulent, and that the company has in fact delivered similar types of work that they have claimed to do so.
Following are common reasons bidders are asked for clarification:
- Are the claims made in the bid submissions legitimate and verifiable?
- If bidders are inexperienced in the type of work being procured, bids may appear excessively high or abnormally low – in both cases procurement officers need to ensure that suppliers have understood the scope of the requirement
- There may have been any perceived or obvious attempts to influence/interfere with the process
- There are similar bids with a large price discrepancy between different suppliers suggesting perceived or real collusion
- There may have been someone involved who should have been excluded as part of the selection process
- A conflict of interest could have been identified earlier in the process
- To check whether conflict of interest declarations were properly examined and approved
- To check the nature of the relationship with a procurement officer (social or professional)
- To verify if there was a legitimate reason for attachments not being uploaded.
Other reasons for seeking clarification of a tender may be to support the awarding of a contract, such as providing updated financials or insurance certificates.
During this process correspondence may be scrutinised, along with minutes of meetings, which is why audit trails across every touchpoint with the buyer, including associated communication relative to the opportunity, is important.
The objective of any negotiation is to get the best outcome for the buyer, and which is commercially viable for the supplier. Negotiations may focus on any aspect of the response, such as the price, the terms and conditions of contract, the design or the completion timeframe.
As part of the clarification process, the purchaser may conduct contract negotiations to:
- Make sure that all suppliers are being compared on a level playing field during the evaluation by standardising terms and conditions as much as possible
- Reduce the number of qualifications or deviations from their standard terms, or
- Refine and improve the tenders from preferred suppliers to ensure that prices, delivery or associated terms of the contract are competitive.
In negotiating a final offer, the buyer will be clear about their objectives, while the bidder responds with their BAFO for achieving them. Considerations might include:
- Commercial targets such as price and payment terms
- Delivery aspects including delivery timetable, methodology, and environmental, social and health and safety considerations
- Technical aspects such as design, material quality and innovation
- Risk elements such as where the risk sits, who is responsible for managing them and where the commercial impact of a risk that materialises sits.
Make sure you provide clear reasoning for any of your negotiation positions so the buyer understands your thinking behind the requirement. The potential areas for negotiation will differ for every contract but typical topics might be:
In such negotiations buyers shouldn’t make substantial changes to the minimum requirements or allow a preferred bidder to improve their response in such a way that other participants might argue that they could have matched the offer if given the same opportunity.
A BAFO (Best and Final Offer) is a multi-stage process where all participants or shortlisted bidders are invited to improve their response. The process follows the same probity process as any other procurement procedure, such as equal access to information, equal time to prepare the response, and documented processes.
If a contract negotiation has been accepted by the buyer for another contract you have with them, state this with reference to the other contract number. This makes it easier for them to accept the qualification.
Once the decision has been made to award the contract it should finalised and signed by the buyer and supplier and placed on file, noting any key dates for reporting, pricing reviews and contract end. Unsuccessful suppliers are then advised that they have not been awarded the contract on this occasion. This is usually communicated in writing with an invitation for all suppliers to receive a debrief as appropriate.