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First or Last – I Don’t Care! I Just Don’t Want The Saggy Middle

[caption id="attachment_1309" align="alignright" width="250"]Primacy and Recency Graph The Saggy Middle – Bidders Presenting First or Last Have an Inbuilt Advantage[/caption]

A Bidder Who Is Evaluated First Or Last Has An Advantage

I regularly get involved in helping with tender evaluation and downselection decisions, attending interviews and supplier presentations and moderating the evaluation scores from the customer team.

Tender evaluation processes need to be managed against a consistent set of scoring criteria, and have to be applied in the same way to every bidder.  These are basic rules of fairness that you would expect in any competitive process, and in my experience customer teams go to great lengths to keep to them.

However, one of the areas that receives little attention is the importance of the sequence of the evaluation of bids.  This can have a major impact on the scores that different bidders receive.

Primacy and Recency Effects Matter

The reason for this is a psychological effect called primacy and recency.  When we process information, for example when evaluating a tender, we tend to remember things more easily if they are presented to us earlier in the sequence than if they are presented later.  This is called the Primacy effect.

In a similar way, we also tend to remember information that is presented later in the sequence than if they are presented in the middle.  This is called the Recency effect, and reflects the fact that we find it easier to remember the most recent event than one that happened longer ago.

You can try this for yourself using this simple experiment.  Read the following list of objects once, then look away and try to write them down.

Hat, Chimney, Cow, Monitor, Pavement, Duvet, Fingernail, Clock, Potplant, Football, Sherbet

Chances are that you found it much easier to remember objects at the start of the list, or at the end, than you did for objects in the middle.

Primacy and recency effects are important in tender evaluation because they are universal (everyone is subject to them) and enduring (so, they apply whether the evaluation process lasts an hour or a week).  They mean that the evaluation team will tend to remember details of the first and last bidders proposals more easily than the proposals that they saw in between.  As a result, all other things being equal, a bidder who is seen first or last is likely to be scored higher than those in between.

The bidders who are in the middle of the deck will consistently find that their scores sag below those of their competitors. This is the Saggy Middle that you need to avoid (if you are a bidder) and mitigate (if you are a procurement professional).

In practice, of course, there are many other factors that affect the scoring, not least of which is the quality of the bids themselves! However, there are a few things that you can do to mitigate the effects of primacy and recency effects.

What You Can Do – For Procurement Professionals

  1. For written submissions, rotate the order in which different evaluators read and score the responses, so that on average no one supplier is read first or last.  Most people’s default approach is to read responses in alphabetical order, which gives an inherent advantage to companies whose name starts with an “A”!
  2. For presentations, ensure that evaluation scoring is done during or immediately after each presentation, rather than at the end.  This reduces the risk that the team will forget details about the bidders in the middle of the sequence.
  3. When moderating the scores, consider starting the review with bidders who presented in the middle of the sequence.  This forces the team to recall details about the middle bidders first, and reduces the risk of interference from the primacy and recency effects.

What You Can Do – For Bidders

  1. Try to ensure that you are either first up, or last, for any face to face presentation with the customer. Many customers are not aware of the importance of primacy and recency effects, and will accommodate a request to adjust the logistics of bidder presentations.
  2. Include evaluation checklists and helpers in your written submissions. For example, at the start or end of sections of your response include a compliance matrix that shows how the evaluation criteria are being met. This reduces your reliance on evaluators having to remember the details of your response when scoring. They simply have to check that what you include in your compliance matrix matches the actual responses to individual questions.
  3. Keep the number of messages about why your company is best for the contract small (4 or less is ideal), and repeat them consistently throughout all of your submissions. Saying that “these are the four reasons why you will get the best results from our proposal…” over and over again maximises retention of the information and reduces the risk that the customer confuses your proposal with those of the competition
  4. Change your name to start with an “A”! It worked for Accenture…

What are your top tips for keeping top of mind in the bid evaluation process?

For a bit more information on primacy and recency, you can see this link