Many times, requirements go under the radar, even after multiple readings of a bid document. These include significant assumptions from the side of the purchasing entity, which feature gaps made intentionally or unintentionally by the purchasing manager and his/her evaluators. Oft missed requirements include:
- Onsite requirements
- Physical presence assumptions
- Kickoff meetings not disclosed in the original RFP
- Travel costs to be eaten by the contractor
- Assigned staff permanence, even during the startup
- Level(s) of resources reserved in a nearby office, and other surplus level assumptions
Onsite requirements can either lead to synergistic moments between two partnered entities or dreaded travel days where you’re stuck on a plane for three hours to have a 20 minute in-person meeting.
It’s especially important to ask about onsite requirements during the open Q&A window (prior to the proposal submission) if you’re located more than 25 miles away from the issuing agency. If you’re within a comfortable driving distance, we still recommend asking about onsite meetings in order to price these into your rate (giving the agency a blended rate), and in order to help with the Bid/No Bid decision. A project with 10 required onsite meetings and an estimated contract value of $600,000 looks unreasonable, and likely nonviable, compared to one that only requires a kickoff meeting and has an estimated value of $500,000.
Many onsite meetings are completely off the table for smaller firms and firms based outside of the United States, which discourages competition. In situations where an onsite meeting is inflexible with time and location, what are the flexible components (these usually include team composition, duration, and messaging)? Start constructing the approach for tackling how you’ll attend X number of meetings before making the Bid/No Bid decision.
If the requirement is unclear, you’ll want to know if a teleconference or virtual conference is off the table and the frequency of any onsite meetings. It’s also commonplace (and recommended) to give a justification as to why you think the issuing agency’s onsite requirement is unnecessary given your expertise. Remember: never take RFP requirements at face value; they’re written and enforced by humans who are sometimes humble enough to know that they cannot foresee every scenario or eventuality.
Physical Presence Assumptions
Bids that include consultation and/or maintenance in the scope of work typically require some degree of physical presence to provide hands-on employee-level trainings, etc. Security trainings such as Active Shooter training would be impossible to properly conduct in a virtual, e-learning environment, for instance. Therefore, the agency assumes that you will account for this “physical premium” in your pricing.
The recommended way to tease this requirement out of purchasing departments—start with the onsite meeting question and lead to a question about the total number of hours expected to be on client property. Ask for an approximate value that makes sense for your industry; meaning, use ‘hours’ if the work involved is extensive, technical, and mechanic in nature—such as fixing an elevator shaft—and minutes for translator work, courier services, and facility assessments.
Kickoff Meetings Not Disclosed in the Original RFP
These could include extra documents and presentations to prepare, timelines to finalize, and staff to coach on the finer details of the project. They include prep time to factor into your pricing, as well as debriefs to plan with your internal management. In a few words, kickoffs are mini-projects themselves, made all the more demanding due to the impression most contractors wish to make on their (presumably) first meeting with project designees on the buyer side.
There’s no wrong way to plan for these, with the exception of no planning at all. It’s recommended to include an optional (stressing the word optional) task item for these in your Gantt Chart or project schedule to showcase your desire to meet with agency contacts face-to-face, and to showcase your knowledge of the process overall. Tease a ‘Vision Document’ to be included in any kickoff meetings, which is designed to outline goals and objectives at a high level. Ask stakeholders attending the kickoff to ‘sign off’ on this document once its finalized to gain even more kudos.
The above onsite meetings and assumptions related to physical presence have another thing in common: travel, particularly the cost element of travel. Driving may be cheap, but if you’re looking at multiple day obligations with teams of people—hotels, food, and other per diem items tend to add up quickly.
A very common question we get asked: “Are we able to price in our travel costs?” It depends. Does the agency explicitly discuss or mention travel expenses within the RFP? 80 percent of U.S. agencies out there will exclude this from their pricing matrixes and forms. If you bring up the subject anywhere in the proposal without being prompted, you may see reduced scoring (due to responsiveness and not systematically addressing the actual subject matter the evaluators care about). Carefully providing a rationale for each travel line item is not going to help in this instance either.
While many RFPs, RFIs, RFQs, etc. indicate preferences for assigned staff, it’s not always clear.
To understand why staff permanence is a big deal, let’s get lost in the forest first. Purchasing entities want the best of both worlds—best value pricing with the maximum number of hours dedicated by the awarded contractor’s executive and operations teams. Because they know that team dynamic, flow, and quality matter, they want to ‘sign off’ on a certain standard prior to award and know that the standard they approved will not deviate much. There is a certain expectation of permanence, even in high turnover industries. As a vendor/supplier, you want to know:
- How do I construct / present my company’s team to meet the purchaser’s expectations?
- What is the appropriate ratio of permanent executives to somewhat transient operations and support personnel?
- How many people can leave my organization and still manage this contract compliantly?
- What is the procedure for someone leaving who was in the ‘permanent’ category?
- How has the purchasing entity treated similar instances in the past? Note: this is often public domain. An RFP Analyst is best suited for finding this and measuring the result against the current opportunity.
Purchasing agencies sometimes expect fully stocked resources, contingency storages, and surpluses in addition to the regular work flow. For example, the industry standard for the staffing industry is to recruit, hire, and train up to 120 percent of the total workforce need. It’s almost assured that staffing firms aren't keeping that extra 20 percent on retainer, but rather, on a database to be designated on-call.
We’ve seen an agency contest an award over the claim of a local operational office not being fully operational. According to this one instance, ‘fully operational’ meant that local operations were being managed and supported out of that one particular location, with full-time staff, cars in the parking lot, people coming and going for business purposes, etc. It might not be enough to pay for a virtual co-working space and selectively claim its address.
It’s likewise recommended that if any additional resources are mandated, that the vendor/supplier clarify when they are in fact needed and how the purchasing entity will be verifying proof.