Interactive one-on-one meetings are becoming more and more common within tendering processes. But it’s hard to know how much information to discuss with an evaluation panel at these meetings, especially when they are held prior to submission of your tender document. If you use the meetings to stress-test your ideas on the best methodology for completing the works, how can you be sure the panel won’t leak those (inadvertently, of course) to your competitors?
How can you get useful direction from the evaluation panel when you’re putting your response together? And if your interactive is after tender submission, how can you best use it to reinforce what you have written in your bid response?
Interactive Meetings Prior to Tender Submission
Let’s start by talking about the interactive meetings held prior to tender submission. These are common for large and complex projects, especially with more sophisticated clients like the NZ Transport Agency. Their purpose is largely to provide a forum for you to clarify your client’s priorities, confirm the risks and challenges that you need to address when formulating your offer, and give you an opportunity to discuss the relative merits of alternative designs or solutions that are material to your offer.
While there is always an element of assessment in your interactions with your client, these types of interactives are not primarily designed to evaluate you as a team. Further, you can make it clear that you want the discussions to be held in commercial confidence, which gives formal reassurance that no discussion, real or implied, of your concepts will be communicated to other parties bidding the contract.
This is an excellent opportunity for you to explore what your client sees as their key drivers for success, within each section of the document. However, don’t ask them to enter into some kind of preliminary evaluation. Ask clever questions, and you’ll not only impress them by the thorough nature of your thought processes, but you will also come away from the meeting with a clearer idea of what will score highly.
For example, ask them what qualities and experience they see as important in the Contract Manager. What are the most important risks associated with implementing the works? What types of project experience do they see as holding the most relevance and similarity to the contract you are bidding. Demonstrate your intimate knowledge of the area surrounding the works, including anecdotal information – and ask pertinent, contract-specific questions about what the client values most in the way you deal with those factors.
Take care to carefully record their responses to your questions, and conscientiously follow up so their preferences clearly show up in your written submission later.
Post Submission Interactives
Interactive meetings or interviews held after your tender has been submitted have two main purposes:
- To give you the opportunity to clarify and reinforce key aspects of your response; and
- To provide additional information to the evaluation panel to help them to score your proposal.
In many ways, these are more stressful than the interactive meetings we have described above. You’re definitely on show, being scored, and how you present your material is crucial to the way your client will evaluate you on key aspects, such as:
- How cooperatively you will with them and with each other (crucial for alliance projects, Early Contractor Involvement, Design/ Build and of course Public-Private Partnerships)
- How well you know and understand what has been written in your proposal
- How you will deal with specific risks
- What value you may be able to add, above and beyond what other tenderers have promised.
Here are a few tips, designed to give these interactives the greatest impact:
- Stick to three main themes, which ideally offer something tangibly different to the norm that your competitors are likely to rely on. These are your differentiators, USPs, win themes. Introduce them at the start, demonstrate them with great ‘war stories’ through the presentation, and reinforce them at the end. Don’t over-complicate things with technical detail, except in the process of substantiating how you achieved one of your three differentiators.
- Appoint your best presenter as the MC for the event. If you need to involve several people in your presentation, bring them in to the discussion in a natural manner, rather than doing a ‘jack-in-the-box’ routine of a series of presenters jumping up to present short sections of the content. That just gets disjointed. Instead, have your least confident team members stay where they are seated and talk about their own experience on a similar project, putting into place one of the brilliant ideas within your proposal.
- Keep your slides simple. Use your branding on the first and last slides only, let the other slides focus on the message. Keep wording to a minimum – rely on photo backdrops when you substantiate your experience with examples from previous projects. Don’t use a lot of fancy animations.
- If you want to use a flow chart to explain a process, build it gradually, using the ‘wipe’ for arrows and explaining how the process works as you go. Nobody can interpret a complex diagram at first glance.
- If you have several people in the room, use an org chart with photos as a handout, so the evaluation panel has a constant reminder of who each person is and where they fit in the organisational structure.
- If you can, encourage interaction. Change the focus of your presentation – from the screen, to handouts, perhaps a storyboard or a demonstration. A mixture of visual, auditory and tactile props gets your message across in a manner that appeals to all types of communication preferences.
Once you have your presentation drafted, it’s important to practice. The better you know your content area, the easier it will be to talk naturally, knowledgably and convincingly about it. Ask an independent person to critique the structure of your presentation, the logical flow and build-up of your messages, the effectiveness of your examples in reinforcing those differentiators, and your individual presentation style.
And when you’re ready to go, take a deep breath, look them in the eye, and smile! Go knock their socks off!