Vendor Relationships

In public sector procurement, a contract results in a relationship between a vendor and a public sector purchaser. This relationship is much more than the legal document that binds them. This page provides guidance on how to build and maintain vendor relationships in a fair, open and transparent manner.

Vendor relationships happen through the entire procurement lifecycle. The table below provides an overview of the variety of points of interaction between vendors and government staff that can occur during the procurement lifecycle, noting that not all activities would apply to every acquisition.

Plan

  • Request for Information (RFI) results in vendors providing information, advice and suggestions, which may include product or service demonstrations
  • Government purchaser holds a stakeholder meeting to let the marketplace know about their plans
  • Vendors help government purchasers to understand how the marketplace has evolved
  • Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) identifies Vendor interest in a potential opportunity
  • Existing contract is expiring, and discussions happen with the current contractor about next steps  (noting that any information given to the current contractor that may impact a related competitive solicitation will need to be provided to all potential bidders / proponents / respondents)

Pre-Award

  • Vendors view solicitation information on BC Bid or receive a directed solicitation
  • Vendors submit questions and the government purchaser responds
  • Bidder / proponent / respondent meetings are held providing an opportunity for face to face interaction on an open solicitation
  • Submissions are evaluated and successful bidder / proponent / respondent selected based on criteria and process set out in the solicitation documents
  • Notifications sent to lowest bidder, or notifications sent to successful and unsuccessful proponents/respondents, and subsequent debriefs are held 

Award

  • Negotiation/clarification of deliverables
  • Communication to plan start dates/finalize work plan
  • Signing of contract documents, or delivery of purchase order

Manage

  • Kick-off events and progress reports/meetings
  • Ongoing communication between government purchaser and contractor associated with deliverables anticipated through the contract or purchase order
  • Management of disputes, change management and amendments
  • Communications about invoices, payments

Close-Out

  • Evaluations of contractor and government purchaser’s team performance and deliverables
  • Other contract discharge activities, including reporting and file close-out

Specific ministries may interact with vendors in a variety of ways in addition to the above.

Treating vendors well throughout the procurement lifecycle is in the best interest of both the contractor and the government purchaser. But how should government purchasers interact with vendors without creating a real or perceived bias? How can a balance between what vendors communicate and the needs of the government purchasers be managed?

Standards of Conduct

Vendor relationships need to be conducted in accordance with The Province of BC Employee Standards of Conduct, and the Standards of Conduct for Employees involved in the Procurement Process. Key information in these standards includes guidance on ways to prevent real or perceived conflicts of interest.

Refer to Standards of Conduct and Relationships with Contractors for more information.

Good Practice: Be well versed in the Standards of Conduct outlined above, and behave accordingly.

 

Communications

Good communications and information management practices are important to vendor relationship management. This includes both verbal and written communication, and is subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Often, vendors are unaware of government’s intent to go to market until an opportunity appears on BC Bid. This can make it difficult for vendors to respond to opportunities. Government purchasers may lose out on the opportunity to work with an excellent contractor simply because vendors weren’t aware of the opportunity in time.

The Province proactively informs the vendor community about opportunities that may go to market through use of the Contract Opportunities – Advance Notice webpage, which is updated quarterly and maintained by Shared Services British Columbia. To add an opportunity to the list, contact the ministry's Procurement Specialist

Good Practice: Include potential upcoming opportunities on the advance notice document above.

 

Risks with Vendor Relationships

As with any relationship, it can take time to build trust, respect and confidence in relationships with vendors. A strong relationship is an important investment because it makes it much easier to reach mutually agreeable outcomes. A poor relationship can make it difficult to manage the ups and downs that naturally occur over the life of a contract. When things go astray, consequences can include vendor complaints (including those received formally through the Vendor Complaint and Review Process), reports to the Office of the Ombudsperson, mediation, arbitration, or even legal action.

A good relationship makes it easier to resolve issues before informal or formal processes are commenced. The following table identifies how government purchasers’ behaviours can strain vendor relationships, and potential mitigation strategies for each:

Behaviour

Potential Consequences

Potential Mitigations

Information on procurement opportunities is not provided in a timely way.

Misunderstandings, loss of potential bidders/proponents/ respondents.

Development of communications plan, early notification or involvement of all potentially interested vendors.

Treatment of vendors is uneven.

Loss of confidence, potential conflict of interest, vendor complaints, and/or legal action, business outcomes not met.

Treat all vendors equally. Follow the golden rule: say what you are going to do, and then do what you say.

Problems in contract not discussed.

Business outcomes not met, potential costs to remedy.

Hold regular progress meetings, proactively share information, discuss any areas of concern early, encourage the contractor to bring forward issues.

Use of outdated templates.

Legal and policy risks (templates are usually updated in response to such risks).  Creates inconsistency for vendors and the Province.

Always look for the most up to date templates.  Use only official templates provided through Procurement Services or ministry Procurement Specialists, or work with Legal Services to identify an appropriate form of procurement document. Do not use old solicitations as templates.

Posting period is too short.

Vendors don't respond as they assume that someone else has already been selected and there is no chance be successful.  Alternately, vendors don't have sufficient time to write a quality submission, which results in longer evaluation timelines and potentially no successful submission. May breach the Province’s obligations under one or more trade agreements, depending on the scope and value of the procurement.

Refer to the Sufficient Time Posting Guidelines for appropriate timelines for length of solicitation processes.

Posting period is during the busy season for vendors.

Vendors may not participate. Those that do may increase the price proposed as they expect less competition.

Be aware of the availability of vendors and post opportunities appropriately.

Province's methodology on how an award will be made or what is expected for deliverables isn’t clear to vendors.

Miscommunications. Solicitation evaluation process becomes invalid, which may require cancelling and reissuing the solicitation. Monitoring and evaluating contract results becomes challenging, resulting in more work for all.

Clearly describe how the solicitation award will be made in the solicitation documents. Discuss upfront any applicable internal processes that may impact delivery and the expectations for deliverables.

Refer to Procurement Processes for more information on how and when ministry staff may interact with vendors. 

There are resources to help if a relationship with a vendor has become strained. Contact the ministry's Procurement SpecialistProcurement Services BranchLegal ServicesRisk Management Branch and Government Security Office or the Procurement Governance Office.

Good Practice: Seek the advice of experts early if a vendor relationship becomes strained.

 

Additional Guidance

Other good practices that can contribute to strong vendor relationships include:

  • Involve vendors in the planning stage of procurement opportunities wherever possible, through non-binding processes such as Requests for Expression of Interest, or Requests for Information.
  • Consider hosting open informal consultative meetings with interested vendors.
  • Prepare fair solicitation documents – step off on the right foot at the beginning of the process. Stick to whatever rules are identified up front.
  • Develop clear, defined, objective, and fair evaluation criteria and/or specifications – ensure the process can stand the scrutiny it may receive.
  • Evaluate bids / proposals / responses in compliance with the standards stated.
  • Offer debriefs and provide constructive feedback to proponents/respondents who are looking for ways to improve their submissions for future opportunities.
  • Retain documentation – from all stages of the procurement process.
  • Remember that the lowest price proposed is not always the best value – it may take a significant amount of time and energy to manage an inexperienced contractor.  If competing the opportunity, decide early in the process if it will be price driven (e.g. Invitation to Quote (ITQ) or Invitation to Tender (ITT)) or value driven (e.g. Request for Proposals (RFP), Short-form Request for Proposals SRFP)).
  • Spend time at the beginning of the contract to make sure that there is a solid mutual understanding of what is expected, and how performance will be measured.
  • Focus on the results, not on how the contractor will produce the results (beyond what is specified in the contract).
  • Evaluate performance in accordance with the standards and methodologies stated in the contract.
  • Comment on good performance whenever possible, and address non-performance immediately.
  • Ask the contractor for feedback on the ministry’s performance in order to improve internal contracting processes.
  • Plan for contract disputes by clearly outlining governance and mitigation steps.
  • Join the Procurement Community of Practice (PCoP), attend webinars and review the Buyer Flyers to continuously expand your knowledge base.