Recently I was part of a team pitching for a council project. As is often the way, you can email in questions (which is great) and the prospective-client emails everyone with a registered interest their response, so they give all information to everyone concerned.

One day, someone asked:

“You have asked for an overall price to be given. However there is scope to offer you a variety of options within your budget/requirements. Ie can we put forward an individually priced pick and mix approach so that you can select which you require? “

I completely agreed with this questioner – I always do a “pick and mix†approach in quotes; I refer to it as a “shopping list†where I might categorise things by “must have†/ “would be nice†/ “let’s call that phase 2″. There are so many different options with how to approach a brief and they can have big effects on budget. And until you discuss the ins-and-outs with a client, and how a different approach might really benefit their internal resources or future goals, you can’t know which way to suggest.

The response came back however:

“To allow for a comparable evaluation of the tender submissions, only one option can be accommodated. I would not like to influence your decision on which option you choose to submit. Whichever is chosen however, it must satisfy the requirements of our specification and also be a competitive price submission.â€

Now, I completely see their point, that when they’re receiving tenders from goodness knows how many people (because this brief was broadcast across lots of different websites in various sectors) they need some ways of being able to compare them. And price could be one. But to me, the person you want to work with is the person who has ideas. The person who has thought about your brief and has suggestions / improvements / refinements / additions.

There are so many ways the same brief can be perceived and so basing a comparison on price doesn’t really tell you much.

I’ve given quotes to people who’ve said “it was good, but it was more expensive than other quotes I’ve had for the same thing, so I’m going elsewhere†– only for them to come back later and say “that other quote was cheaper because it didn’t include half the things you did and now my website doesn’t do what I need it toâ€.

So to non-web / technical people in different roles, 2 quotes can seem the same but be vastly different. Which is why basing things too much on price when whittling down potential-suppliers can be a big mistake. Not just with regards to quality of work, but also with regards to what is actually being quoted on / included.

This is one of the main reasons why, overall, I think the pitching process is extremely flawed for web development. If you’re going to have a pitching process, it should perhaps be based on choosing a team, rather than choosing a quote for your project. Get people to tell you what they can do, look at past examples of their work, maybe touch on your future project. But appreciate that until you properly sit down one-on-one with an agency and discuss the finer details, you’re not going to hear all of their ideas or the final price. It’s only once I’ve heard everything I can about a company’s internal systems and processes, and sometimes seen internal document templates or met all the members of a team and heard their take on it, that a brief is really complete.

Whilst I’ve left the above question and answer anonymous, incase anyone does recognise it, I should say that at the end of the process, the prospective-client sent around an email thanking everyone for their time which I thought was a very lovely touch and one that I hadn’t witnessed from an anonymous-system tender process before.