Why You Should Conduct Orals as Part of Your Procurement

Requiring the RFP respondents to conduct an oral presentation of their solutions is a great way to finalize the selection of the winning bidYou’ve worked hard at planning your procurement and have solicited some great responses – at least on paper.

But what if it’s too close to call? What if you’re having trouble selecting from among the excellent solutions?

I addressed this topic in the final point of my previous article, “Why You Should Use SMEs to Select the Winning Proposal”. In that article I advised my client organizations to include Subject Matter Experts and end-users during the oral presentations of the vendors’ proposals, particularly those client staff that will be working on the project with the eventual winning bidder. They would see for themselves the interactions of the vendor team members, their proficiency in describing the proposed solution, and their interactions with review team members. In this way, the client staff would get a good impression of what it would be like to work with the vendors’ proposed project staff.

What are some of the key factors to consider when conducting oral presentation sessions with qualified respondents to your RFP?

  • Establish a competitive threshold that the bidders must meet to be invited to orals. By the end of the proposal review process, each compliant bidder will have received a proposal score based on the technical qualifications of the solution (and usually the bid-price as well). Those vendors whose score meet or exceed the pre-defined threshold score are qualified to continue to the next step of orally presenting their solution to the proposal review team.
  • Develop an agenda for the oral presentation session(s). In my personal experience in dealing with very large IT procurements, we scheduled each vendor’s oral sessions over one to two days with a well-defined set of topics to be covered. We required that the key personnel that were bid for the project conduct the presentations.

    Typical topics to be conducted over several sessions included the following:

    • introduction of the key staff, their roles on the project, and their prior experience;
    • summary presentation of the overall proposed solution;
    • demonstration of the proposed solution in the format requested in the RFP (e.g. this could be a demonstration of a high-level prototype, a demonstration of a similar system for a similar client, or other such format);
    • in-depth interviews of proposed staff by appropriate members of the review committee (e.g. Project Manager interviewed by senior management, business analysts interviewed by SMEs, technical analysts interviewed by client IT staff); and
    • a question and answer session to clarify aspects of each vendor’s proposal that may require additional clarification.

For a real-world example of how oral presentations made the difference in selecting the winning vendor, read my article, “An Orals Train Wreck”

  • Schedule orals a day or two apart. Spacing out the orals provides time in between the vendor presentations for the review team to discuss the merits of the proposed team and solution. It also protects the anonymity of the finalists (from each other) as they are less likely to cross paths. Anonymity is important so that no bidder potentially gains an advantage by knowing competitors that presented before them.
  • Complete a final review across all proposals. The proposal review team must complete its scoring of the oral presentations and add these to the scores allotted to proposal responses.

    At this point the organization must be prepared for lengthy deliberations among the review team members, especially if the scoring is close. I have been in situations where the vendor coming into orals with the highest score was not selected because of a poor showing at the orals. I have also witnessed the opposite where a bidder came from behind because of the clarity of its presentation.

There may be few new revelations in my description of an effective process for vendor orals; however, the important concept to focus on is involving client staff in selecting the winning proposal. These are the people that will be working on the project with the selected winner. These are the people most knowledgeable about how the new system must serve them when implemented.

It’s all about the people aspects of project delivery.

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