Strategies to Receive Quality Submissions
Successful competitive solicitation processes for the goods and services that the Province buys rely on multiple qualified vendors participating. But how can ministries be sure that these vendors know about their opportunities, and want to respond with quality submissions? Effective marketing, clear solicitation documents, mechanisms for answering vendor questions, processes that anticipate vendor concerns, multiple options to submit, and sufficient time to respond all will help.
Having numerous qualified vendors respond to the Province’s solicitations benefits the Province, as it helps to ensure that the successful bidder / proponent / respondent is offering good value. It also benefits the vendor community, as clear information helps them to make informed decisions about which opportunities are worth the time to participate.
When planning for any solicitation process, ministries should consider the opportunity from the vendors’ perspective. In other words, what do vendors need to know in order to write an effective submission for this opportunity? By doing this, ministries are more likely to receive quality submissions from qualified bidders / proponents / respondents, resulting in a more streamlined and effective evaluation and award process.
The following information is provided as guidance only; if in doubt as to whether or not these strategies would be effective for a specific solicitation, contact the ministry’s Procurement Specialist.
Advertising an opportunity to vendors can be challenging; ministries will want as many qualified vendors as possible knowing about their opportunity. Competitive solicitations for goods valued at or above $10,000 and services opportunities valued at or above $75,000 must be advertised on BC Bid (see the Core Policy and Procedures Manual (CPPM) sections 6.3.2.b.3 and 6.3.2.c.4), unless a supply arrangement is already in place (see CPPM 6.3.2.a.1 and the Goods and Services Catalogue), or the opportunity is being restricted to a pre-qualification list that was created through a Request for Qualifications posted on BC Bid.
However, ministries may choose to advertise their opportunities in other media in addition to BC Bid, particularly if the industry doesn’t usually refer to BC Bid for opportunities. If there is any concern that BC Bid alone will not be sufficient, ministries may want to consider asking industry associations to inform their membership, and/or contacting their Government Communications and Public Engagement unit to discuss potential stakeholder outreach and advertising options. Email distribution lists may also be used, but ministries should include any vendor known who might be interested, rather than just a select few vendors.
Bidders / proponents / respondents will be responding to the information contained in the solicitation document, including any addenda. The solicitation process should not be unfairly biased towards those bidders / proponents / respondents who can make the best guesses on what the solicitation document is asking, or those who have worked with the ministry before and therefore know what is expected.
Refer to Prepare Solicitation Documents and Mandatory and Weighted Criteria as well as the videos "Mandatory Criteria" and "Desirable Requirements (i.e. Weighted Criteria)" for more information on how to create a clear solicitation document.
No matter how clear or concise the solicitation document may be, anticipate that vendors will have questions. A fair and transparent methodology needs to be described that allows the Province to answer these questions.
There are two recommended options for answering vendor questions: written addenda and bidders’ / proponents’ / respondents’ meetings. All solicitation processes should allow for addenda, and some may also include the meeting. See Vendor Relationships and the video "Communicating with Vendors" for more information.
All solicitation documents require a named government contact and his/her contact information (e.g. an email address and fax number). The solicitation document should state that all questions should be directed towards the named contact, as information from other sources cannot be relied upon.
Vendor questions are an excellent opportunity for the ministry to discover issues with the solicitation document that were not evident prior to its release. Encouraging questions gives the ministry the opportunity to clarify any issues or concerns that vendors may have, and ultimately improve the quality of the solicitation itself. A high-quality solicitation document, in turn, will assist in developing clear evaluation criteria (see Submission Evaluations for more information).
Vendors should be encouraged to submit any questions in writing; phone calls are not desirable. If a phone call takes place on an open solicitation, there may be a perception of unfair treatment as the vendor phoning may have received information not provided to anyone else. If such a perception exists, the Province likely will not be able to prove exactly what was said to whom. Even if the exact conversation is later posted as an addendum for all interested vendors, the one vendor who phoned received that information before anyone else did. Therefore, phone numbers should not be provided in the solicitation document, unless the number is a generic number (not one used by an evaluator) that can be used for such things as confirming receipt of a submission.
Vendors should submit their questions in writing, either via email or fax. Addenda should be posted or distributed that includes both the question(s) asked and the ministry’s answer(s). Unless the solicitation has been directed to select vendors (i.e. the opportunity is under $75,000 for services and $10,000 for goods, or has been restricted to a pre-qualification list), all addenda should be posted on BC Bid (see Amend Opportunities).
Ministries may receive questions on any aspect of the solicitation document, including requests for changing mandatory requirements. However, mandatory requirements should not be changed without a compelling reason that benefits all bidders / proponents / respondents rather than just one. For example, a request that the closing date be extended due to the availability of one vendor’s key staff is usually not sufficient reason to make such a change. However, this same request due to an industry-wide conference being held the same week that the solicitation closes may have more merit as it impacts more than one vendor.
Ministries may decide to answer each question as it comes in, or to wait in order to answer multiple questions at once. However, remember the time that vendors will need to consider the information contained in the addenda and to adjust their submissions accordingly. Addenda should not be posted just before closing, as this may not allow the time needed for these adjustments. However, if an important question is received or the ministry becomes aware of new information close to the closing date that requires a detailed response and/or may significantly impact submissions, issuing an addendum and extending the closing date to give bidders / proponents / respondents more time to incorporate this new information is advisable.
Bidders’ / Proponents’ / Respondents’ Meeting:
Another mechanism for answering questions is the bidders’ / proponents’ / respondents’ meeting. This meeting is not needed for every solicitation, but can be effective if:
- The opportunity is complex, and difficult to ensure a shared understanding of the requirements in writing alone;
- The opportunity is of a high dollar value;
- The opportunity is politically sensitive, with many stakeholders interested in its outcome;
- Interested vendors may benefit from a site tour of the government-controlled facility where the services will be delivered; and / or
- Many of the interested vendors may not have participated in a competitive procurement before, and would benefit from basic instructions on how to respond.
If a meeting is planned, it should be clearly identified on the solicitation document, including the date, time and location. Ministries should plan up to two hours for the meeting, although many will end earlier.
Vendor attendance at bidders’ / proponents’ / respondents’ meetings is usually optional. However, ministries may designate this meeting as a mandatory requirement, meaning that only those vendors who had a representative present are eligible to participate in the solicitation. Be cautious if considering this approach, as it may be that only one vendor attends, which has the effect of eliminating competition.
The meeting should be documented, either through a verbatim transcript or minutes, and and this document should be posted as an addendum to the solicitation. Interested vendors should be encouraged to submit questions in advance of the meeting, particularly if the questions are complex or if the vendor wishes to remain anonymous. If the meeting includes a site visit, ministries should record the questions asked during the tour and repeat them in the follow-up meeting to ensure they are captured in the transcript or minutes.
The transcript is preferred over minutes, as it provides an accurate and complete document of what was said at the meeting. Minutes are condensed overviews that may not capture all points important to a vendor. The Province has an arrangement in the Goods and Services Catalogue for recording and transcription services.
Sometimes, a ministry may be able to anticipate vendor concerns while drafting the solicitation document. How to address these anticipated concerns will depend on what is anticipated; there is no “one size fits all” approach.
Following are a few examples of an anticipated vendor concern, and how each could be proactively addressed if they may apply to the specific solicitation:
Price influencing outcomes: For opportunities where the highest scoring submission(s) will be successful, vendors may be concerned that the ministry might be harder in its scoring for those submissions that cost more in order to give a greater advantage to a lower-cost solution. If this perception may exist, consider the two-envelope system for submissions. In the two-envelope system, proponents / respondents package their submission in two separate envelopes or files. One envelope or file contains only the pricing proposed and any related information (e.g. budgets, if applicable), whereas the other contains everything else that will be evaluated. When evaluating submissions, evaluators do not open or look at the pricing information until after everything else has been evaluated. In this manner, it is not possible to have price influence any other evaluation elements.
Vendor involvement: Sometimes, a ministry may not have the internal expertise to sufficiently understand what’s available in the marketplace. In this case, it can be very tempting to connect with a vendor that the ministry has worked with in the past to obtain information that may later be used in the solicitation process. However, this may create an unfair advantage for this vendor, as they had an opportunity that others did not have to provide input into what the ministry ultimately decides to buy. It may even put the vendor in a conflict of interest, where the unfairness is sufficiently great to exclude that vendor from participating in the solicitation. Instead of directly reaching out to one known vendor, consider the strategies that can be found in Market Research and Notifications, such as a Request for Information.
Vendor experience: Many solicitations have an incumbent contractor who is currently providing or has previously provided the goods and/or services, and is also eligible to participate in the solicitation. Other vendors may perceive this to mean that the ministry would prefer to award the new contract to the incumbent. To avoid this perception, consider strategies such as naming the incumbent and clearly stating that they are eligible to participate (shows transparency of the process), releasing all information that the incumbent would have that may helpful to develop submissions, and structuring the solicitation so that a vendor with similar experience in another jurisdiction or ministry or with a similar product is equally able to be successful.
Past relationship with a vendor: If the ministry had a relationship with one or more vendors who are likely to respond to the solicitation, this could create a perception of unfairness - either for or against those vendors - depending on the nature of the relationship. Consider these relationships when determining who should be making the final purchasing decision (e.g. the make-up of the evaluation team). It may be prudent to exclude certain people from a decision-making role in order to avoid any later perceptions of an unfair process. Ministries should also disclose any previous relevant relationships with potential proponents / respondents in the solicitation, in order to ensure the transparency of the process.
Changes to submissions: Once a bidder / proponent / respondent has delivered their submission, they have the option to make changes, provided that these changes are made before the closing date and time. For example, a bidder / proponent / respondent could add information to their submission, replace portions of their submission with new information, or withdraw their submission altogether. Refer to the video “Proposal Changes and RFP Questions” for more information.
Restrictive process: Some vendors may perceive a solicitation document as being unnecessarily restrictive in order to favour a specific vendor or product. These vendors may have alternative solutions that could effectively meet the ministry’s needs but that do not meet the specifications in the solicitation. To avoid this situation, requirements and specifications should focus on the business needs of the ministry rather than on specific products or vendors.
Solicitation documents need to identify how bidders / proponents / respondents are to deliver their submissions. This is usually associated with a mandatory requirement, meaning that the Province can only accept submissions that arrive in accordance with the instructions given.
Ministries may choose to allow only one methodology for delivering submissions. However, having multiple options to choose from can be quite convenient for the bidders / proponents / respondents. Ministries who choose just one option for submission should carefully consider their reasons for this, and should be prepared to answer questions on why more options aren’t available.
If multiple options are allowed for delivery, the Province should have no preference for one option over another.
Options for delivery of most submissions include the following, noting that ministries may choose one or multiple options for their specific solicitations:
- Hand or courier delivery: If allowing this option, specify the number of copies required of each submission. Ministries may also find it convenient to ask for an electronic copy on DVD, CD or USB stick. However, keep in mind the bidder’s / proponent’s / respondent’s cost of photocopying and delivering their submissions, as well as the extra time needed for those who are in remote areas or further from the closing location. Ministries should also ensure that the closing location is accessible to couriers and bidders / proponents / respondents to drop off their submissions.
NOTE: Submissions mailed through Canada Post may be diverted to a central location and then to the address indicated. This may cause an unexpected delay that results in a late submission to the closing location.
- e-Bidding: Vendors registered for e-Bidding in BC Bid can send their submissions through BC Bid for those opportunities that are posted on BC Bid and allow it. This can be very convenient for the bidders / proponents / respondents, as they do not incur photocopy or delivery charges. It can also be convenient for the ministry, as the submissions can be emailed to all evaluators, and evaluators can electronically search for specific information in submissions. In addition, BC Bid will inform both the vendor and the ministry if a submission is sent late. The e-Bidding service costs vendors $150 per year.
- Fax: Except where expressly prohibited, faxed submissions are an option, but ministries should consider the likely length of the submissions. The more pages expected in each submission, the higher the risks can be in allowing faxes. Faxing may work very well for price-based solicitations, which generally result in small submissions even if the solicitation document is large. Fax is not recommended for larger submissions, as issues may occur with a busy signal (noting that many submissions may be delivered in last hour) or with faxes that cross the closing time (i.e. some pages arrive on time, but not all).
NOTE: the corporate templates for the Request for Proposals, Short-form Request for Proposals, and Invitation to Quote for Services do not allow for faxed submissions. If using one of these corporate templates and allowing faxed submissions, edits to the template will be required in order to avoid conflicting instructions. Contact the ministry’s Procurement Specialist or Legal Services Branch for assistance prior to making these edits.
- Email: Submitting bids / proposals / responses via email is an option, noting that many risks are associated with this approach. In particular, emailed submissions should not be considered if a large number of submissions are expected. Refer to the Accepting Emailed Submissions for more information.
Policy states that the response time must be sufficient to allow interested vendors a reasonable opportunity to compete (see CPPM 6.3.2.a.8). But what does “sufficient” mean? Refer to the Sufficient Time Posting Guidelines before posting an opportunity to learn what timelines are recommended, and the potential consequences of posting for a shorter period.