What do you do when you get an RFQ or a brief for a project that doesn't completely make sense? Important details are missing, or possibly the client is asking for something that you know isn't what they really need?
If you are a supplier of specialised products or services you'll probably know more about what your clients are looking to procure than they will - otherwise, why would they need to come to you?
Sometimes this means that you receive an RFQ that doesn't make complete sense. You can see what the client wants and needs to achieve - and you can see that the specific services they are requesting won't get them there. So what next?
How you respond will depend a lot on your knowledge of the client, the rapport you've established and your approach to business. There are, of course, implications with whatever option you choose.
Option 1 - Carry on Regardless
One option is to put forward a solution based on what the client has asked for. If you know you can deliver the requested service at an acceptable profit, you might think: 'Why not?'
You might decide that there's an opportunity to influence the procurement details before the final contract is agreed and the immediate priority is to get through the stages of the procurement process. This is not necessarily a bad approach if you know that the client's processes have that degree of freedom for negotiation once they've selected a supplier.
Sometimes this can be difficult for clients and may leave them feeling exposed to potential formal challenges or judicial review if the contract award is substantially different to the RFQ.
The biggest potential pitfall of this approach is being locked into a project that is doomed to at least partial failure before you start. The further along the procurement process you get, and the more of your time and energy you've invested in it, the harder it is to walk away. Much easier to convince yourself that things will work out, somehow.
Your client might not appreciate being told after the event that they specified the piece so badly. And even if you did attempt, unsuccessfully, to alter the deliverable details ahead of time 'I told you so' is not a good business development conversation.
On the other hand, attempting to change the scope or focus of the RFQ could lead to delays that your client, or you, might not welcome.
Option 2 - Look at it as an Up-selling Opportunity
You might take a view that once the project has started the client will realise that they need a host of add-on services that only you can provide. Again, the priority will be to secure the core contract so you are in a position to negotiate the add-ons.
Again, not necessarily a bad strategy if it's a client you are familiar with and you know that this is how they tend to work. The knotty question is how much of this you reveal to them beforehand so that it doesn't come as a complete surprise. You might also want to consider the extent to which discussing the shortcomings might unnerve the client to the point where they withdraw and rewrite the RFQ.
One option is to pursue the RFQ as-written and plant the seed by including non-compliant options section in your bid document and presentation.
Option 3 - Write the Bid your Way
You could just decide to write a bid based on the services that you know, based on your experience, will be needed to meet the client's business objectives. Potentially this could give you an advantage if everyone else follows the script and delivers a proposed solution that won't work. Or you could exclude yourselves from the process automatically by being non-compliant.
If you can explain the benefits of your approach sufficiently strongly yours might be the most attractive proposal.
I would never do this without talking to the client first. It might be that they are aware that they have an incomplete understanding of the issues and would welcome alternative ideas and approaches. But might is the operative word. And even if they are open to suggestions, their process might be too rigid to allow significant deviations.
It might also be that they are adamant that what they are requesting is what they need, or are possibly constrained by budgets to seek a solution they know to be incomplete.
And there's always the possibility that you have misunderstood what they want to achieve.
Storming on and delivering the proposal you believe they need rather than the one they have asked for could backfire.
There's also the risk that this clarification process turns into a significant amount of free consultancy; where you help to shape the client's understanding and get no business as a result.
Ultimately it all comes down to your relationship and the rapport you have established with your client. I always look on this type of relationship-building as a deposit account that you can draw on at times like these.
And if it isn't a client that you know well, they aren't open to discussion about the details of their RFQ, and you are convinced that the requested solution won't work you are left with the final option, which may be better in the long term than being associated with a failed project...
Option 4 - Walk Away.
This is a hard thing to do. There is a natural instinct in all of us that wants to win every business opportunity that comes our way. But if you can't influence the client, don't think you have the opportunity to change the scope, and are convinced the project won't work, this can be your best option.
The Bid Coach
New to formal Bids and Tenders? I'll help you get through the process and deliver memorable and effective presentations and proposals.
Call me on 01963 240555 or ask me a question.
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.