What happens when I don’t understand the tender?

I know this might sound like a strange subject for a blog-post but there will be times when you read an RFT (request for tender) and it just doesn’t make sense. I have had this experience with quite a few businesses trying to respond to an important tender and they find that they just do not understand what they are being asked.

The usual answer, and the one that most people do not at first believe, is that the tender document is poorly worded, inconsistent or sometimes incorrect. We as customers or responders to RFTs assume that the tenderer has a clear concept of the product or service they require and know exactly how they want it to be delivered. This is sometimes not the case.

It is important for you to realise that if the client poorly specifies the job they will get a large variation of responses that will make it difficult for them to choose the most suitable tenderer. It is therefore in the clients’ interest to make the tender as clear as possible.

Why a tender document can be difficult to understand

Poorly-specified products and services

Quite often there is a gap between what tenderers want and what they specify—sometimes they over-specify, that is, ask for too precise a solution when there are better alternatives; and other times they underspecify, that is, do not adequately explain what is needed.

This can be in the design or specification of the service, the way the response is to be prepared or delivered, or it can be in the terms and conditions offered to tenderers.

Inconsistency within the document

Tender documents, particularly in Government organisations, go through multiple reviews and have multiple owners. What often happens is that different sections of the document may be changed without cross-checking, which creates inconsistencies.

Not adequately proof-read

With all documents, deadlines sometimes mean that the document is not properly proof-read or reviewed before it is released. Inadequately checked documents may have typos and inconsistencies in them.

What to do if you don’t understand a tender document

Once you have accepted that your failure to understand the tender is the fault of the document there are several things you can do.

If the ambiguity has an affect on your pricing or scheduling you should send a formal question to the client organisation. The question and answer should be made available to all the tenderers either by publishing on a website or by email.

If the ambiguity affects your presentation and answers you can either seek clarification (as above) or use common sense.

Remember, it is in the clients’ best interest to make the tender as clear as possible.