The crowd goes wild when you win a contract – but at what cost?

Author: Sarah Shannon
Date:  July 28, 2021

Guest writer, David Lewis, CEO of Lewis Agency shares his experiences and frustrations working within the framework of an outdated and costly procurement system - where there are no winners.

"For the past 30 years I've been in advertising and marketing the process for tendering and pitching for business has been like something from the 1920's not 2020's. An almost biased, unfair and lethargic process of sweet talking, beauty pageants and an ultimately labour intensive series of word and excel document causing confusion and disillusionment. Sound familiar?  

This isn't a finger point at procurement teams, no it's a full head to toe process that needs rejuvenated and brought into the digital times for both buyer and seller.  

Where do you start with a system that is so in need of transformation.  

  1. RFI – it must all start at the request for information stage. This must be two sided. Agencies must be realistic and understand what effort and what reward is in the proposal and forget the ‘win at all costs’ mentality’. On the other side this must be a frustrating process for procurement, sending out RFIs to the usuals suspect and a new opportunity, waiting to hear back on a million questions and trying to just/justify ‘can the agency deliver,’ ‘will they have the credentials?’ 

What about a more equal and ethical process where agencies must have a certain pre-defined set of quality accreditations, due diligence checks and automatically are pre-verified.  

Imagine a procurement team that could search and select pre validated companies that would pass any due diligence and then ask one simple question: ‘You’ve achieved our level of due diligence. Would you like to be considered for this tender. Yes or No’?  

  1. Accreditation – I think we have had a go at about every accreditation around from ISO, to FSQS, Achilles and GoSupply. The problem is that these audits/accreditations are too often done after the contact award. Okay, why should you spend time as an agency doing these before you need? That has always been my question? We spend quality time and effort on delivering the proposal RFP and celebrate the win! Great but now also comes the ‘must’ - you ‘must’ now achieve our due diligence accreditation that costs £5,000 - £10,000 man hours and to register is a fee of £2,500. Oh and you’ll need to pay this every year!  

After everyone in your business has answered the questions, you achieve a stunning 96% score. The crowd go wild. Procurement put a tick in the box, and you’re never asked about it again until the renewal invoice comes in next year! It’s only used by one procurement team and the next RPF uses XYZ accreditation which you need to start from scratch. 

But wait a minute. I’ve got 80% of the questions answered in excel, word and PDF files somewhere in a folder somewhere on our system. Let’s pull them all into a new order rename them 1.12a and duplicate, submit and try again. Manually building new records and new documents that will need updated and are out of date from the day you completed. 

What about all your documents assets and info in one system, online, secure and verified by buyers. You could easily update one and it would replicate across all providers. You can enhance and iterate these when you and your business gain knowledge or more expertise. And here’s the big one. Each and every buyer, accreditation company and organisation can gain access to them at your discretion. For one supplier we have nearly 250 different items that are managed and updated on an ongoing basis. For another we have 145. Surely, we can have quality cross-over, only using the best and most appropriate in one super slick location, which means I never, ever need to send an Excel spreadsheet again! 
  

  1.  RFPs, Proposals and Tenders – This must be the biggest challenge for advertising and marketing agencies. As I’ve mentioned the process has never changed in my 30 years in the industry… Write a brief, tender, RFP, send to the agencies you have in your little black book, with maybe the exception of one you mate used and thought was ‘pretty good’. Have each and ever agency respond in 6 unique and individual ways, with different document types, different formats, layouts and worse still for procurement 74 different excel spreadsheets with rate cards, hours, contingency, options, variables….the list goes on. How on earth are you meant to select a business based on the same criteria, virtually impossible. One company says apples, one says oranges. One says £80 per hour average, but you’ll pay for the £140 per hour senior most of the contract. 
     
    From an agencies point of view, well let’s look out that last proposal that we ‘believe’ did well. Yeah the one where someone said ‘You did a great job and it was neck and neck, nothing between you and the WINNING agency!’ So, you rejig this and that, it’s looking good. You gather the 150 policies, processes, Gantt charts, near-miss document and email (yes, email)  it to a faceless, unknown often never to be seen or heard of again. Did we win? Did we do okay? When are we hearing back? We should send more stuff! Then three months on and we hear statements like: ‘we’re waiting for head of XYZ to comment’ or ‘We’re reviewing our Far Eastern Investment process, so this will impact on your tender!’ 
     
    So, what does procurement want from a RFP, Proposal and Tender process. What about ‘best-in-class’ templates, streamlined, validated and iterated by the industry to gain the best Proposals back?  

What about the ability to automatically search and select sellers that have achieved all the red-tape and policy, due diligence in an instant and can move quickly and efficiently to the real tender needs. What about being able to separate out the tender and have it manged and scored by selected people within the business, who are the experts. They can review only the sections they are experts at, scoring each answer, giving feedback, or asking for further information on selected answers, before scoring only those questions back to the seller. And what about being able to compare proposals side-by-side and being able to see where each seller scores higher or lower, where are the gaps, which areas are critical and should be necessary, which are lesser. How about a business strong validation on you decision making. Having reviewed scored, had expert feedback and clarity when viewing each side by side, you can truly make the best decision of the business. 
 
For an agency what about a system or tool that would be able to use AI to read and offer up the best answer to the question from your massive archive of answers. This library of answers you have written and are now available to either automatically link to the question, edit, or adjust, or see which questions have scored well in previous RFPs and use the ones that work and not the ones that left you short. 

 
What about the thing we crave the most, feedback! Yes, instead of the ‘we’re delighted’ or ‘we’re sorry’ emails, what about a truly beneficial feedback loop. A system that the agency can look at and see where their weakness are, where their strengths are and work harder, bring in more expertise and be a better business for all their clients. 
 

  1. Promotion, Search and Be Found – So, there’s over 25,000 advertising, marketing and digital agencies in the UK with over 22,000 employees. They are all buying adwords, building websites, posting in social channels all to get noticed by buyers. There are sales people, the sales agencies, the talkers and the walkers. So, how do you find the agency to suit your business. We’ve all done the agency beauty pageant. We used to (but not anymore with anti-bribery rules) take clients for lunch, a drink or maybe to a social event or corporate hospitality. We’ve all heard of the ‘Wanky’ agency that has the gold bar with neon signs, the ball-pool and we’ve even done it standard pool and ping pong table. All in a vain attempt to catch the eye of the judges. 
     
    But hear lies the problem, if you are unable to see under the bonnet, see deeper into the agency, more than just scratch the skin, what are you going to see, nothing more than the material possessions and flash chat of the agencies you have in your little black book.  
     
    As I mentioned earlier with the accreditations, what is under the bonnet counts for far more than a game of pool or a tequila at the gold neon bar. So, your agency looks the part, but can they actually deliver, do they match your standards now and in the future. How about having them all pre-approved at valuable levels or accreditations from financial, risk, HR, environmental, social or governance standards. Does that give you the confidence that you’re making the right choice? 

So after my rants and 30 years or seeing it, doing it, winning the watch, what am I getting at with this article. Well it's to only state that we need change within the agency/procurement alignment.  

We have some of the finest creative agencies in the world running innovative systems, platforms, and technologies. We can render pixel perfect CGI images and animations, build online tools that help detect health problems, we mine data and build tools to offer solutions to that one in a million individual. But we are running and answering RFPs, Proposal and tenders like something out of dark ages.  
 
Who’s going to help get the advertising and marketing world to address this problem?" 

We'd like to thank David Lewis for sharing his personal experience and highlighting the challenges sellers are facing while pitching to 'win a watch'!

For a live demo of Pulse Market contact us today.

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