Most organizations today use a competitive bidding process to select their suppliers of goods or services. The terms that are used to describe this activity vary; some refer to it as ‘tendering’, while other common terms are ‘bid’ or ‘proposal’. In an abbreviated form, you may encounter ‘ITT’ (Invitation to Tender) or RFP (Request for Proposal). These are essentially the same thing, with different industries tending to prefer one or the other. However, there may be a difference in the formality of the process and a first step if you are considering a response is to understand the rules that govern the tender.
The way a tendering opportunity reaches you may also vary. For example, sometimes there are public invitations to tender, usually advertised through newspapers or a specialist web site. Other times, you may have received a direct invitation from the potential customer, in which case there will be a limited number of bidders (3 or 4 would be typical).
The first critical step is to review the tender documents to determine whether it makes sense to respond. If this is a new customer, with whom you have had little prior contact, it is very unlikely you will win the business. Perhaps they are just using you to obtain a price comparison or to put pressure on their existing supplier. However, even if you feel your chances of winning are low, you may still wish to respond, perhaps as part of getting to know that company and to increase your chances in the future.
The second aspect of evaluation is to ensure you understand and can comply with the rules – for example, the closing date for submission, the right to ask questions.
The tender document should specify the customer’s detailed requirements. It may also describe the benefits they want to achieve from this acquisition and will often explain the criteria to be used in deciding the winner. For example, while the price will be a significant factor, the supplier may also be concerned about issues related to quality and reliability. Many tenders operate with a weighting system, used to decide who is the best supplier. By studying these and matching them with your capabilities, it is possible to see where you may have strengths or weaknesses related to the customer requirement.
“面对一个大项目，如果准备不足，或缺乏信心，那么，放弃竞标也许是更好的选择。因为准备一套高质量的方案费时 费力，一旦没有达到客户的期望，可能会影响未来的机会。如果决定放弃竞标，那么，给客户写封信，解释你的决定并表达希望在今后得到合作机会，实际上是以退 为进的高明做法。”
Customer requirements may also detail specific obligations for a foreign supplier – for example, compliance with regulations or international safety standards. But the tender may not mention all the areas in which compliance is necessary, so it is essential to be aware of these ‘hidden requirements’. Many of these are covered in part two of this article.
Also, consider how you are going to protect your own interests. For example, are you confident that the customer will pay you? How will you deal with any disputes you may have? Do you understand the customer’s business practices and can you trust them?
If you are not confident that you can comply with requirements, or that you cannot protect your own position, it may be better not to bid. Not only is it time consuming to put together a high quality proposal, but if you fall short of customer expectations it may even damage your future opportunities. However, if you decide not to bid, it may be a good idea to write to the customer explaining your decision and expressing the hope that you will be included on other occasions.
Many times you will have questions. You may be unsure about the meaning of the requirements or need more details about the process. In general, a tender will explain how questions can be submitted and the rules related to replies. In general, customers share questions and answers with all the bidders, so you need to check and consider this. For example, will the question you are asking help other bidders by giving them a clue on the approach you plan to take?
Asking questions can be a good idea, not only to make sure you are clear about customer needs, but also because it shows your interest and may enable some level of relationship to be formed with the customer interface. However, you should not use this contact to try to influence their decision or to extract inappropriate information – for example, details about other bidders. Such action will generally be very damaging and may even result in your exclusion from the process.
Many times, the customer is very clear about their requirement and perhaps even a detailed specification of the goods or services they wish to acquire. It is certainly essential that your proposal will satisfy these basic needs. You must first of all demonstrate that you are compliant.
But what about if you can exceed those needs? It is certainly good to highlight that you may have extra or superior capabilities, but you should not try to impose those onto the customer. They may not need these added elements. If you can offer ‘added value’, you need to work out how that will benefit the customer and you should describe those benefits in a way that relates to something the customer considers important. For example, perhaps your product requires lower levels of maintenance, or consumes less electricity, resulting in a lower ‘cost of ownership’. Or perhaps you can offer an enhanced product that enables faster operation and therefore cuts production time and raises productivity.
In addition to opportunities for additional value, consider things about your company, or its products or services, that make you different from others, that are particular strengths. You will want to highlight these elements in your proposal. They could be related to your existing experience with similar customers, your detailed knowledge of the customer’s industry, or perhaps the extensive investments you are making in research and new product development. It could be that you have a well-developed distribution network that makes your deliveries more reliable, or which includes an existing spare parts service near the customer’s location.
Often it will be best to highlight these areas of strength and also the potential for added- value in a cover letter or the introduction to your tender response. Good practice means that you catch the customer’s attention through positive differences compared to other bidders.
The tender will tell you how to reply and in general the customer will have very specific questions they want answered. They may also specify the permitted length of the answer. It is important that you comply with these requirements. However, it is generally permissible to include a cover letter or ‘executive summary’ and you may be permitted to provide attachments or additional information.
It is essential that you present your replies in a professional manner. Your answers must be clear and easy to understand; but also the overall appearance and structure of your response will create a very strong impression about the quality of your company. If you are not familiar with international standards and are not expert in the language of the documents, seek external support and expertise.
There are many additional factors to consider if you wish to succeed in international business. In this article, it is only possible to discuss these at a high level and to indicate the areas for further research.
Do you have international capabilities? Can you actually deliver the required product or service to the customer’s market? This question must be considered in several ways:
Can you support the product? Do you have local presence in the customer’s market, with the necessary skills or equipment? How will you deliver support services, including perhaps the need to obtain visas for employees? Might you need a local representative to work with the customer?
Beyond these basic questions of logistics and support, there are also some bigger concerns that customers will be considering when selecting a foreign supplier. While historically the major reason for tendering to China was because of low prices, many international companies have come to appreciate deeper values. However, international experience also means they may have specific concerns about the Chinese market and they will be looking for signs that you understand these possible issues and truly represent a reliable partner for their business.
Therefore ‘best practices’ in international tendering should include your consideration of the following areas, all of which will be different from those in China: 因此，国际招投标的“最佳实践”应当包括对如下领域的考虑，所有的情况都和中国有所不同：
Tim Cummins 国际合同和商业管理协会（IACCM）的CEO。IACCM是从事调研并帮助公司和专业人士提升国际交易和合同管理方面的技能的协会。网站www.iaccm.com。