Tackling the Tender: The 5 questions you need to ask

EOI. RFP. RFQ. RFI. NIT. ITT. PQQ.

A tender known by any other name would sound just as painful.  Hours, days, weeks, months are invested into the tender process by both customers and vendors alike, but do they ever achieve what they are designed for?

Tenders range from short and sweet capability statements, to a comprehensive list of detailed technical requirements – all of which often fail to ask the questions that really need to be asked.  A tender will most often ask the right questions, but do they ever ask the real questions that will determine success?

Here’s my top 5 questions to ask of every vendor (with or without the lengthy technical questionnaire):

1. Do you understand my business?  Find out whether the company you are looking to invest in understands the industry in which you operate, the conditions you face, and the key drivers for your executive team.

2. Do you understand what I’m trying to achieve?  Find out whether they have really listened to you as you’ve described your key business pains, and whether they understand the goals you have set.

3. Do you understand what I need, not just what I want?  Technology is their expertise – if they truly understand your business they will be able to advise whether the technologies you are evaluating are right for the business problem you are trying to solve. They should also be able to demonstrate other areas of the business that can leverage the same technology and increase your return on investment.

4. Have you done this before?  Unless you like to live dangerously it’s always good to know who their happy customers are. A logo on a PowerPoint slide is not enough – find out whether the solution solved a similar problem and if possible, talk to as many customers as you can to find out whether they are happy – not just with the technology, but the process and support they received from the vendor.  User Group meetings are usually a free event and gives you access to a range of current customers.

If your project is truly innovative, it might be that no-one has done it before.  That’s okay!  Find out what similar projects they’ve done and how involved the vendor was in the process – innovative projects are always more successful with a partnering approach.

5. Are you invested in my success?  Everyone will say “Yes” to this – it’s often a gut feel question.  Throughout the process, establish relationships that will stand the test of purchase.  Better yet, get commitment from them to remain engaged throughout the project delivery (assuming they are not the ones delivering the project).  If you’re in a position to offer a formal customer reference, that’s one way to ensure they remain committed to your success.

Also, find out what their plans are for the future – you should never invest in technology that the vendor is not continuing to invest research and development dollars into themselves!

At the end of the day, a single feature or function will not determine whether a project is successful.  Finding a vendor that understands you and is invested in your success will always lead to a more successful outcome for both parties.