21 Mar The Value of External Reviews
By Ken Whitson
March 21st 2016
There are two parts to a review; the first is the written text, and the second is the construction and delivery of a presentation – dependant on getting through to the short list.
Any well-constructed Invitation to Tender (ITT) from a client will include a degree of background to introduce their reasoning for the procurement in the first place. It will also include some ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’, as well as an insight into how their evaluators will be instructed to score the responses.
A good bid manager and/or account manager will read this material thoroughly and combine it with the knowledge they have picked up from client meetings (yes, it has to be said, there is a lot of bid activity by suppliers who don’t stand a chance from the outset because they haven’t qualified the prospect fully. If you haven’t been sitting in front of the prospective client taking an interest in learning how their organisation works, and the pressures they are under, you’ll have reduced your chance of success greatly).
The rest of the account team involved in the responses should be briefed by the bid or account manager on the ‘hot buttons’ that need to be addressed wherever possible within each piece of narrative. It is not sufficient, these days, to answer “We comply”. Evaluators are instructed to look for evidence that shows that a supplier can do what they say they will. Even with this instruction, it is almost a certainty that first draft responses will come back with boilerplate on the product or service being proposed for, but with no text to encompass the client needs, therefore show the relevance of the solution to their situation.
A good review team will not have been part of the bid team. This maintains an independence of thought, allowing them to read the responses with a fresh pair of eyes and no preconceived notions of what the bid team has been trying to design for the client.
Obviously all bids are different, but the review teams only need to emulate the customer evaluation team. We have found over the years that the reviewers should work independently of each other, feeding their scoring and comments into a single point for a consensus build. There should be two outputs- the first is the scoring sheet that has both the score and the reasoning behind the score; The second is essentially putting their money where their judgement is and offering an edited version of the response back to the bid team. If you’re telling someone you think they’ve not done something sufficiently, well you need to help them understand what you mean. Obviously, this editing cannot extend to specialist knowledge but it should be able to pick up inconsistencies in message and emotionally negative messages. The latter will be dealt with in more detail later on, but suffice to say, if you write something to a client that conveys a negative emotion, this will distract their attention from what could be a unique selling point you are making. The strength of the emotional reaction will determine how far the evaluator reads (because the eyes will continue to read while the brain is reacting to the emotion) before they start to concentrate on your response again. This gap in concentration could be the difference between winning and losing.
Inconsistencies of message usually occur where you have multiple authors in a response and /or where the written material contains unedited boilerplate. In the case of boilerplate, this can come from other bid responses but most often comes from marketing material. Marketing material has a specific function; it is usually directed at potential clients and designed to open their eyes to what may be possible. It’s less specific because it wants the client to be able to mould it into their own situation. Bid material, on the other hand, needs to be specific. The bid team must mould what they know of their own product and service set into a design based on the client need. Marketing material suggests something could be done, while bid material has to state something will be done.
Although the team will have been involved in the client requirement briefing and design build, different people will have visualised it in different ways dependant on their own experiences (see Understanding how people think and react). This often results in the new reader picking up on a contradictory message, usually in different parts of the response document. Evaluators are thn to mark what they see, not to go backwards and forwards in your response to help you explain what you are saying. They have multiple responses to read and score so you have to construct your response in a way that causes them no doubt. We saw a technical response that had one section stating, categorically, that what was being offered was resilience of 99.998% but another section suggested it was 99.99%. If allowed to go through unedited, this could have at the very least wiped all the marks away for the second section as it was non-compliant with the client wishes. In fact the evaluators would have been justified in wiping both sections because the contradiction caused reasonable doubt as to the capability.
The second area of review is the presentation. Many bid teams don’t review this and in a very unscientific survey we undertook, it transpired that the account teams feel the presentation is their ‘bread and butter’ and they don’t need anyone to tell them how to do it. Wider surveys have supported this. One personality trait company measured salespeople and found around 70% of those measured had heightened traits that supported the creative and ‘talking at people’ elements, but lower traits where detail is required, i.e. sitting down and writing responses.
We have found the “before ITT” type of presentation is less formal and allows the account team to be innovative and entertaining. The presentation material, like the written material is marketing based and talks to the possible e.g. “could do”. Bid text on the other hand, has to talk about the “will do” because you are in a position where you have designed a solution against a client’s particular need.
Reviewing a presentation needs at least two runs. The review team need to think themselves into a fair but very critical client chair, where they are looking for contradictions to the written claims. This is where the customer is getting two messages from each presenter. The spoken word and the body language – you need to be sure they are not contradicting each other. More particularly, you need to make sure other presenters’ body language is not contradicting what the speaker is saying.
A reviewer in a presentation needs to be confrontational. They cannot afford to let someone off with a statement that causes a doubt or is not substantiated. A good reviewer will interrupt them in mid flow and ask them to substantiate it, repeat it or explain it (if they didn’t understand it or catch what was said). Interruptions, like that in a dry run, can help prepare the bid team for the real thing but it must be stressed that deconstruction must not happen beyond the first dry run. The second dry run must be focussed on building or maintaining the presenter’s confidence.