Tender Submittals – are they worth the hassle?

I’m sure at one time or another most integrators have been in the position where they receive a request for a proposal (RFP) against a set of tender documents.

Tender RFP’s usually polarise opinion:

There is the camp of integrators who believe they are a waste of time because the winner of the tender has probably already been decided and the RFP is just due diligence on behalf of the client.

Then there is the camp of integrators who actually build their businesses on winning tender RFP’s.

Until recently I was firmly with the first camp, however, some recent realisations have changed my opinion entirely.

So if you are considering taking up a tender RFP that you have received recently here is the way I think is best to go about it.

Firstly its important to remember that the client has chosen to go down the tender route for one of two reasons: Either their preferred AV supplier has put in a hefty price for the job already and they are looking to compare this with other companies. Or they don’t have a preferred supplier and are looking to find the most competent/cost-effective partner to fulfill their requirements. Either way, the fact that they have preselected your business as a potential supplier means you have a golden opportunity to win a new client. Remember the space shuttle was built by the lowest competent bidder!

Unfortunately, most tender packages contain masses of unfiltered information that can take many hours to sift through to pick out the detailed requirements to base a proposal on. This is something that comes with the territory. We should bear in mind however that most RFP’s come to you directly, you haven’t had to put the time in trying to hook up a meeting with the client, visit them at the site to talk through their requirements and then come away trying to make sense of what it is you think they want. All of this information has been delivered directly to you, so in this sense, although there is a lot of reading involved, the time required for this can be offset against the fact that the client has already decided what they want.

At this stage it is a good idea to ask some questions about the tender submittal, one of which could be; ‘does the client already have a preferred supplier for AV?’ This question can help you decide if it’s worth going to the trouble of submitting a proposal. This can be thought of a bit like the way you might ask a potential client some pre-qualifying questions to make sure they are a good fit for your business before going to the trouble of visiting their project site.

Once you have picked out the detail you need from the tender submittal, considering that there is probably a lot of scope for up-selling once you have won the project and also changes in the client’s requirements, I would recommend taking a staged approach where you put forward separate proposals for the different elements involved.

The first and most important part of the project will be the infrastructure, if this is done correctly the client should then be able to pick and choose what they want in which parts of the building once the construction work is complete. I recommend putting together a standalone infrastructure proposal which will take care of all the wiring to satisfy the requirements in the tender and provide a centralised patch panel to termination endpoints solution. This should include catering for all incoming services and would also include where appropriate, things like the essential parts of the lighting control system.

Next up I would recommend providing a standalone proposal for each system required by the tender documents. This will allow your bid to be assessed individually and may win you parts of the project that an otherwise integrated proposal could get dismissed as the end number is simply too large. Try breaking it down into things like AV, Access Control, Automation, BMS, CCTV, Climate Control, Fire & Security, IRS/MATV, Lighting, etc, etc. and providing an individual proposal for each discipline. This is particularly important in the key areas where your bid is likely to be directly compared to other specialists bidding for things like Access Control and Fire & Security. This method also gives you a greater chance of your bid being compared on a like for like basis.

Then there is the task of deciding what equipment to include in your bid. In my experience, unless the equipment is tightly specified within the tender I would always go with the lowest performance/priced equipment that meets the requirements in the tender and your minimum specification for reliability, functionality and ease of use. As I said before there will always be the opportunity to up-sell once the project is secured. This is where a lot of integrators fall into the trap of getting carried away with the specification, including items that they would ‘like’ to sell rather than equipment that just meets their minimum performance requirements and those of the tender. A perfect example of this would be specifying a brace of Sonos Connects with separate amplification for the audio solution, which is something the integrator would ‘like’ to sell over and above the minimum requirement which would most likely be Sonos Connect Amps. As we all know Sonos is a particularly contentious solution (which is why I chose it for this example) as its hugely popular with end-users but the margins for the integrator are poor. However, the simple fact of the matter is that the integrator who bases their bid on the Sonos Connects with separate amplification solution will nine times out of ten lose out to the integrator who is prepared to specify Sonos Connect Amps. As long as the solution meets the requirements of the tender and the integrators minimum specification for reliability, functionality and ease of use then that is the right solution to include in a tender bid, anything more is superfluous and will most likely create a bid that is not competitive.

The final piece is to communicate your solution, what is included and excluded and the cost to install it clearly and concisely to the client. Personally I have always favoured using fully installed prices for this. The thinking here is as an integration company while we are providing equipment, we don’t do this in the same way as say internet box shifters do, we provide the equipment with the knowledge and wherewithal to install it correctly and ensure the client has a positive reliable experience for many years to come. The price that matters most is the cost of the system required, installed in the building in question. It’s irrelevant if you are charging more or less for the same equipment as another supplier if your installed price is then less, you have the most competitive bid. It’s also crucial to detail what is included and excluded in your bid. For example, if your infrastructure system does not include installation of the cabling, you need to make this expressly clear within your submittal. Likewise, if you are using high-quality solid copper cables that meet a higher level of CPR than required this should be stated. Likewise if you include an extended warranty or a year’s free support this should be detailed. Any additional information you supply about your bid will help the client understand any differences between your solution and the others they have on the table.

All that remains is for me to say good luck and happy bidding!

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