Peanuts, Popcorn, Procurement!

Don’t Let Your Procurement Turn into a Three Ring Circus

The purpose of a bidders’ conference is to provide an open exchange between purchasers and vendors, to communicate the Request for Proposal (RFP) process to vendors, answer supplier questions and ultimately ensure a clear understanding of requirements.  Having conducted a fair amount of work in the Public Sector, I often find myself attending bidders’ conferences as part of responding to an RFP. Bidders’ conferences are more prevalent in the Public Sector, but they can be part of the procurement process in the Private Sector as well.

Regardless of sector, bidder’s conferences often become more of a big tent circus than Ringling Brothers. Why? Call it grandstanding, control-freaking, play-acting or quiet-rioting, bidders’ conferences can quickly turn into uncomfortable, disorderly meetings –  or even actually become entertaining.Here are a few of the most common behaviors I’ve observed in the bidder’s conference big tent:

  • Antagonistic vendor – the “know-it-all” salesperson who will go to great lengths to expose the project team’s lack of sophistication
  • Combative competitor ­– the competing salesperson who will argue details with the other salesperson
  • Daydreamer – the unprepared rep who asks questions that are already answered on the first page of the RFP
  • Dias Dictator – the project team spokesperson who answers questions with another question
  • Hurried and Harried – the clockwatching purchaser who has time only for 30 second questions
  • Passive/aggressive – the purchaser answers questions with instructions to re-read the RFP

How to make the most of the Bidders’ Conference

In fact, the purpose of the bidders’ conference is valuable in the procurement process. It is a discovery event – for both the purchaser and the vendor. It provides a forum for open dialog and clarification of the RFP, as well as bringing to light any missing elements that should be considered in the evaluation process. An in-depth and enlightening exchange in a bidders’ conference bodes well for the project’s overall success.

Based on my observations of several bidders’ conferences gone awry, here are a few suggestions to make the next one less of a big tent event:


  1. Be prepared. Read the RFP before you attend, nothing makes you look worse than asking obvious questions that are addressed on the first page of the RFP.
  2. Write it down. The client will likely ask you to submit  your question in writing for clarification and to provide a written response.
  3. Control yourself. A bidders’ conference is not a marketing event or platform for you to demonstrate your consulting skills by trying to solve the client’s (or other vendor’s) issues. 4.
  4.  Don’t argue. Don’t tell the client in public that their project approach is wrong. Remember, that you ultimately want them to hire you for a project. Subtle insults are not usually a good idea. If the project is not right for your firm, simply do not submit a proposal.

Project Teams

  1. Don’t read the RFP to the vendors. RFP’s are painful enough to read on your own.
  2. Provide structure to the conference. If you are going to answer questions by referring vendors to sections of the RFP, provide a verbal explanation of the answer. RFP’s can be interpreted differently.
  3. Provide structure to your solution request. Don’t ask for vendor open-ended solutions as you will likely have a hard time comparing responses.
  4. Avoid antagonism. Using phrases like “you are the experts, you tell us the best way that we should be doing this project” will not help you in evaluating the best acquisition fit.

In summary, understanding the bidders’ conference for what it is – an opportunity for open exchange and clarification about your requirements for a major technology purchase –  exponentially increases the value it provides to your decision-making proces.







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