It’s widely known that public sector procurement rules generally have certain dollar thresholds where a need to ‘approach the market’ and obtain at least three bids will kick in. It might be for services or projects valued at over $80,000; or for even lower amounts (especially for local government bids).
Given the obligation of public sector organisations (and some corporate or private enterprises) to approach the market and run ‘competitive selection processes’ (aka call for tenders, bids and proposals) there are many potential ‘opportunities’ that may vie for your firm’s business development time and effort.
In 2017-18 there were 73,458 Australian Government contracts awarded with a combined value of $71.1 billion.
Have you been ‘invited’ to play a stalking horse in a rigged tender, bid or proposal?
The obligation to ‘approach the market’ can also mean for some high risk, tricky or otherwise problematic work clients will sometimes struggle to attract a sufficient number of bidders to respond to a particular RFP/T.
This is where your firm might get a tap on the shoulder to participate. Generally, these bid invitations seem to come ‘out of the blue’. Perhaps a phone call from your contact at the client organisation gives you a heads up that an ‘opportunity’ is soon to be released, and your firm is strongly encouraged to submit a bid.
It’s flattering and very often these approaches are genuine and in your firm’s interest. However, there are some times when you’ll be roped in to ‘make up the numbers’ so once the final bid decision is made it will ‘stand up to scrutiny’ meaning the outcome was arrived at through a proper evaluation process and ‘genuine’ competition.
Or other times the client decides it wants to ‘test the market’ (perhaps to gain insight into particular IP, methodologies or solutions) and will ‘decide’ after many, many firms put in bids to reappoint incumbents, cancel the process, or take work in house.
Is this tender, bid or proposal rigged? Red flags to watch
Before you commit to a major bid some red flags that may indicate not all is as it seems with the RFP/T you are responding to include one or more of these:
- Ridiculously tight turnaround time for the bid
- No briefing session/site visit offered to bidders
- Poorly written RFP/T and/or spec
- No real previous relationship with the client and /or it is an urgent/high risk situation
- You are aware a competitor has been working with the client on related projects just prior to the release of the RFT/P and is ‘embedded’ with that client
- Too much information is requested relative to the short (or unreasonable) bid turnaround timetable
- Requiring detailed responses to very specific ‘hypotheticals’ or ‘scenarios’ – basically a detailed plan on how to tackle a problem they may just end up solving themselves by lifting your solution from the bid (often you’ll be told afterwards, ‘we decided to take it in house’)
- Alternatively, the client doesn’t really know what they want so the scope/requirements are so broad or vague it is difficult for your firm to address them in a meaningful way
- Jargon or other very specific wording in the RFP/T (e.g. names of proprietary software) suggest it has been (at least partly) prepared by another (competitor) firm on behalf of the client
- Sometimes it is not just wording but an overall sense the RFP/T has been ‘written for someone’ and that someone is not your firm
- A significant amount of demonstrated past experience with the client is required that you cannot demonstrate as you are not incumbent / have no historical track record with them
- Or if you are incumbent there are some ‘odd’ questions that are ‘new’ for this client and their usual work (e.g. suddenly mandating certain credentials for your team or technology to be used going forward)
- Very short period for clarification questions to be submitted regarding the RFP/T
- Lots and lots of clarifying questions are sent by bidders to the client regarding the RFT/P criteria
- Responses to bidders’ clarification questions are vague, or remain unanswered
- Last minute changes to the process (e.g. an extension of the deadline is granted – possibly to help their favoured bidder)
- Results are announced within 10 business days (or less) of the bid hand in
- Debriefs are refused, or if provided are time limited, conducted by phone and feedback tends to vague or ‘non-answers’ with mutterings around ‘problems with the documents submitted’ or ‘it was on price’ which are non-specific and not elaborated upon.
This is not to say you should never bid if one, some or all of the above factors are present. However, carefully weigh your costs of bidding against your prospects of success. If you do still decide to bid, participate in the knowledge that the RFP/T structure and process is imperfect (and the outcome is possibly pre-determined, and not in your favour).
Finally, it is worth bearing in mind very often nothing nefarious is going on at all; and the tender, bid, or proposal isn’t ‘rigged’ rather the client is simply inexperienced in running RFT/Ps, is running late or is just generally disorganised.
Tender readability remains a problem for some in the 21st century. I still see submission documents that cling to a handful of really old hat tender presentation and formatting techniques. I suspect this is because some of these ‘rules’ are viewed as being more appropriate to a ‘formal’ style of document such as a tender. […]