Yesterday the results of another European tender came in. We lost. The reason: our proposal was "not economically interesting enough". I was disappointed because of all of the hours I put in, but especially with the feeling that our proposal had not fully come into its own.
This time I couldn't bring myself to being a good loser, so I sent a reply, drenched in vinegar. Stupid? Maybe, but I'm only human.
So, what went wrong?
The pitch document told me they were looking for a moderator for an online meeting. Well, you don’t say…
The document was also filled with generalities such as "organization X is concerned with the developments in market Y". Nothing about a (draft) program, format, target group, etc.
It's a bit like going into the temp agency and asking for a driver. The intermediate would, at least, want to know what needs to be controlled: a car, truck, cargo bike or an airplane.
Selecting a suitable moderator or creating an effective meeting design is a delicate process. We are not box pushers, who can just grab a standard product from a shelf. In a pitch, clients always take the 'standard meeting programme' as a starting point. By letting us pitch on that, they are selling themselves short.
The application did not say anything about the reason for the event, other than that it takes place every year and this time it was organized online for the first time.
That leaves me with a problem; you can’t score without a goal. I mean: only when I know the reason for the event, I can estimate in which direction the concept should go. And only then I can make a realistic quote about the number of hours of meeting design and the required experience of the moderator of the day.
In addition, the client can only really properly assess the various offers if there is a goal against which the effectiveness of the proposal can be measured. Then you no longer only look at money, but also at yield.
Unfortunately, most clients still think that you cannot make that calculation for meetings. We care to differ (see the links below, for the proof).
Once the procedure has started, you are at the mercy of the Procurement department. You are not allowed to have any contact with the actual client, because there may be fraud.
Of course I understand very well that a procedure must be handled carefully, that bribery must be prevented and that the procurers do their very best. But if you don't give tender participants a chance to ask questions or brainstorm a bit with the customer, then everyone simply just takes a wild guess. You gamble on a concept, hit a budget and put forward a random moderator.
The customer also gambles with his choice. The risk: a disappointed customer, frustrated suppliers or disgruntled participants. And probably all of the above.
Procurement was once created (forgive me if I offend anyone, here) to buy pens; or other products, where competitive purchasing can lead to cost savings.
But people (and moderators ARE people) and creativity are not standard products.
The thing is that, in the end, selection is always made on the basis of money and not on what the investment yields (also see: no goal). And that puts you at a disadvantage as a professional: you either have to offer yourself for far too little money, or accept that a cheaper alternative will be chosen.
I do have to give this specific procurement department some credit: an attempt was made to draw up a few clear criteria (and that doesn’t happen very often). The only problem was that the requirements were much too high in my opinion.
They wanted a moderator with 20 years of experience, 5 years of experience as an online facilitator and in-depth knowledge of the subject. My estimation was that this meeting might possibly only need a somewhat 'lighter' moderator of the day, because it seemed a fairly simple meeting.
Because you are not allowed to consult with the client (see also: no conversation), you are forced to choose: either you offer within the criteria, but take the risk of being too expensive, or you bid a lower budget and will not meet the criteria.
In the end this meeting will probably be led by someone who hasn't been very good at his job for 20 years and is therefore still very cheap.
The request usually comes in on Friday afternoon: could you please submit your proposal before Monday morning. In this case, fortunately it was a week (of which it took me a few extra hours to struggle through all the endless tender documents and to find my way around the tender platform).
Having so little time to fill in a tender is an insult to the skill of the pitchers. After all, a good proposal must be allowed to mature. With such a high time pressure, the client gets little more than the standard solutions. That is a shame, because there is so much more that can be done and other solutions are often so much more effective (see also: no cost-benefit and no goal). Once you've pitched to a standard setup, it's very hard to get rid of that later.
Losing is never fun. But it is tolerable, if you have been allowed to show your best. If I play with the 13th team of FC Eight Farmers Running (EFR) against Man United, I will happily take a 27-0 loss. But if we lose 5-1 thanks to a biased referee or uneven circumstances, it suddenly feels bad.
At this point, I believe that from now on we will only enter tenders once all of the above traumatizing factors have been covered. But I don't rule out the possibility that we will fall into the same trap again next time, hoping to score a nice assignment.
And as long as we all keep doing that, nothing will change.
Jan-Jaap In der Maur