While the majority of pre-bid conferences are not mandatory for vendors, it should be treated as though. The pre-bid conference is a tremendous opportunity to size up your competitors, meet the procurement officer, hear questions and answers, and potentially meet partners.
Your Competitors May Be Sitting Next to You
First, your competitors will be at the pre-bid conference – those you know and even more importantly, those you do not know. You can begin to get a sense of who is going to bid on the same opportunity and compare your strengths and weaknesses.
You Can Meet the Players
The procurement officer will conduct the pre-bid conference and review the RFP page-by-page. Additionally, if a consultant helped draft the RFP, he or she will likely attend to answer questions. And, sometimes even the department official who will ultimately use the product or service may attend. This is your chance to hear first-hand what the RFP hopes to accomplish and introduce yourself to key individuals in the procurement process.
You Can Get Answers
Depending on the RFP and the audience, a pre-bid conference could elicit many questions or none. Based on my experience, multi-vendor RFPs and RFPs for very large projects are more dynamic in terms of dialogue. This could be a result of a large and diverse audience or a complicated scope of work that needs clarification. Remember, RFPs are rarely perfect.
Don’t be alarmed, however, if no one asks a question. Some vendors consider it a competitive disadvantage to ask a question in public because it may show a weakness in their product or service. Only you can make the decision on whether to ask your own question, but questions asked by others could reveal significant information.
Prime Contractors may be in the Audience
Last, I have heard from many small businesses that they can’t compete for the large contracts because of the breadth of products and services required and the experience and qualification criteria. If you believe that you have a value-added product or service, go to the pre-bid conference and evaluate whether you might be able to explore a teaming arrangement with a larger vendor. And, even if it does not work out with this particular RFP, it is about building the relationship with the vendors to position you for future projects.