Tips for Better Tenders

September 4, 2006

If you are in the consulting business you are going to do a lot of tendering for work. A good quality Terms of Reference (TOR) from a potential client is a joy to behold. It gives me the opportunity to ask two critical questions (a) Am I the right consultant for the job? and (b) Can I, on the basis of the information provided, compete creatively?
Why, oh why are so many of the TOR documents I see so badly constructed? Isn’t it in the best interests of all parties that the client gets good quality, creative, impressive and comparable tenders so that the right decision can be made? I’ve seen TORs with no information on the scope of the assignment, the duration of the assignment, the context out of which the project is being conceived, little or no information on the desired outcome and the most frequent one – a request for a feasibility study and a development plan for the outcome? So here are my top tips for clients wishing to generate the best quality tendering information on which to base their decision.
• Disclose the budget. Yes, you heard me correctly. If not the full amount then a bandwidth. The reason? If you give all tenderers the budget then you immediately have a benchmark with which to compare like with like. How I spend that budget will give you a clear indication of whether I’ve thought through the assignment thoroughly or not. Competition on price is a very limited way of selecting the best person to work with you.
• If you can’t disclose the budget, disclose the total number of consulting days you reckon this assignment will take – again, you’ll get a better idea of how individual tenderers will address your dilemma and utilise your resources.
• Don’t ask for a feasibility study and a development or action plan. A feasibility study means I can take your money and tell you that this project isn’t feasible. If you want an action plan as well then you’ve already made your mind up that the project is feasible.
• Be clear about the questions you want to ask and allow the tenderer to demonstrate their creativity in coming up with a methodology for tackling them. Too often TORs focus on methodology as distinct from purpose.
• Tell me why you are commissioning this piece of work – what’s the history? What’s the context? Why is this assignment of importance to you?
• Tell me what deliverables you expect.
• What is your desired outcome? Fixed? Flexible? A process? Tell me what you want to be different as a result of undertaking this assignment.
• If you are going to call me for interview give me some idea of when that might be – that way I can mark it in my diary.