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How to Master Offers
As a supplier of professional services, it is almost always desirable to know more about the customer and his project once a quotation is requested. Conversely, a (potential) customer often doesn’t know the service provider and his services as well as desired. This reciprocal information asymmetry must be evened out as early as possible in the bidding process. Although it is a truism that one should talk to each other, this is regularly neglected in the bidding process.
As good service provider has to be able to read between the lines and recognize even small hints. What is the essence of the inquiry? What exactly is the requested service? Which challenges must be anticipated? What purpose does it serve and how will the results be used further? Especially the answer to the last question is often forgotten or is sometimes not quite clear even to the customer himself. However, it is a very important question since a precise understanding of the intended use of the results allows for better tailoring to the specific needs. This clearly goes beyond focusing on the direct subject of the tender and requires careful examination of the specifics of the tender and the customers environment. Furthermore, a good understanding of the intended use of the requested service can lead to a different but better suitable solution than the originally requested services. The core element in this context is customer value and strictly speaking, consulting begins therefore already in the offering phase.
On receiving a request for an offer, a service provider typically has many questions. They can be divided into content related questions (what is the subject of the tender) and formal aspects (conditions to be met such as deadlines or the required form of the offer). The following list shows the information a service provider should know as a minimum, in addition to a precise description of the desired service:
In addition, the service provider needs experience, good instincts and sometimes diplomatic skills to obtain as much clarity as possible on the following issues:
A service provider has to assume that he is in competition with other providers, whether declared or not. Therefore, an offer must not only be attractive as such, but it also has to be competitively advantageous. In this respect, the price usually plays one of the most important roles and it can be tempting to artificially reduce the pricing. However, fair rates according to the market customs and corresponding to the services offered is a better strategy and is also more transparent for the service recipient.
Sometimes providers are confronted with the situation of being asked for a quote although the recipient of the service has basically already made his choice. This is particularly frustrating for the provider if the offer involves extensive work or even requires creating real content such as solution concepts.
The more openly, transparently and directly all these topics are discussed, the easier it is for a provider to create a convincing offer to the benefit of both parties.
Good offers are based on a clear idea of how the requested objective can be achieved. In some way, an offer must already include the actual project. To that end, the requirements, general conditions, available resources and also a possible project schedule have to be factored in. For the provider, time planning is a particular challenge as he does not know whether he will be awarded the contract, yet he must be able to make commitments or at least include the project in in his own resource planning. IT projects often require planning flexibility from providers and in many cases a clear project plan can only be agreed after the contract is awarded.
Over the last few years, one could observe an increasing use of procurement platforms. These platforms may well have their benefits such as better comparability of offers or easier overview of supplier relationships. However, from personal experience, such tools are often inflexible and frustrating to use due to missing interfaces, incompletely implemented processes, malfunctions, etc. One could be inclined to gain the impression that the advantages are often mainly on the side of the service recipient. Although they are useful tools in principle, the desired benefits are not always achieved and it will be interesting to see their further development.
Especially as a service provider, one is predisposed to also respond to requests for projects that seem not quite achievable. It is the nature of professional services that work is performed for others to support clients in achieving their goals in the best possible way. As such, it is sometimes difficult to say no, also because one hesitates to pass chances of winning a project. However, if there is any doubt that the assignment can be carried out to the client’s full satisfaction and no good alternatives can be identified, one is better advised to abstain from offering. Accepting a project and then not executing it well is frustrating for all involved parties and very quickly damages a good reputation. Especially in such situations, an open and transparent communication is very helpful and often a suitable solution can be found together.
For providers of specialized professional services that require a high level of expertise and experience, almost every inquiry has its own characteristics and requires an individual offer. A good offer requires a precise understanding of the objectives to be achieved and a concrete idea of how these objectives can be achieved. This can only be obtained by openly exchanging the required information. Consulting services are mostly a people business, often based on trust which particularly benefits from personal interaction. An open and transparent interaction between the service provider and the customer is the basis for a successful offering phase and a fruitful collaboration.
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