Stimulating Competitive Bidding With Traffic Light Feedback

What does a traffic light have to do with the sourcing process? When you’re considering sharing information, it might be a good way to retain a balance.

Traffic Light

RFX processes can be frustratingly opaque for suppliers, particularly in the private sector.

Submitting a bid can be like trying to play a game of darts in the dark. After the dart leaves your hand there’s simply no way of knowing if you’ve hit anywhere near your target. And frequently there’s no response until the buyer informs you that your bid hasn’t been successful.

Don’t Give Away Too Much

Why are buyers typically so hesitant to give feedback? It may be due to a perception that knowledge is power, and giving away too much information will cause you to lose your advantage. To a certain extent, this is true. Too much granularity might allow the supplier to determine the target price necessary to win.

Similarly, giving away too little will cause your supply base to become frustrated and disengaged with the sourcing process. What buyers need to achieve is a balanced response, giving just the right amount of feedback to stimulate the supplier into giving a further discount.

A little bit of ambiguity can go a long way towards stimulating aggressive bidding behaviour, especially for suppliers who are aware that they’re in second or third place.

In a thoughtful article on the pros and cons of supplier transparency, Charles Dominick explains that a high level of transparency (through feedback) will help suppliers focus on what your needs are, instead of having to guess.

Transparency fosters open communication, collaboration and continuous improvement, and will help build your reputation for fairness and impartiality.

Finding a Better Way

Speaking at SciQuest’s Next Level Conference in Nashville, solution consultant Jason Hochreiter explained his organisation’s “Expressive Feedback” feature, which is a part of the Advanced Sourcing Optimizer module.

“Buyers need to get into the mindset of suppliers during the RFX Process”, he says. “Greater visibility of how their bid compares may actually help stimulate competitive behaviour and potentially lower bid prices during a sourcing event.”

SciQuest’s Expressive Feedback is named as such because it’s highly configurable, meaning that the buyer can choose when, how and what feedback to give suppliers during the sourcing event.

For example, the buyer may choose to only give feedback after the second round of bids, either sending out specific comments or using a green, yellow and red traffic light system to show at a glance if the bid is competitive, non-completive or significantly non-competitive.

Using the Traffic Light For Fast Decisions

Colours are a powerful tool to show suppliers at a glance how competitive they are, and if used intelligently, can encourage suppliers to make an impulsive decision to lower their bid.

Green: Consider what you need for the traffic light to show “green” – what does this actually mean? It could signal that the supplier’s price is within 10 per cent (or whatever percentage the user configures) of the target price. Or it could mean that they’re within the top five bids, without giving away their actual ranking.

Keep in mind that you wouldn’t want to alert a supplier to the fact that they are the cheapest, as it would almost certainly stop them from putting in a lower bid.

Yellow: This is where the psychology of feedback comes in. Hochreiter explains that it’s human nature to care about the loss of something (such as moving the traffic light from “green” to “yellow” status). This may prompt a fast decision to attempt to regain that status.

A supplier, seeing that they’ve slipped from the green bracket into the yellow bracket, may quickly submit a cheaper bid without considering the longer term implications of this action.

Red: Hochreiter cautions against using “red” for a supplier that you are interested in retaining. “If they see red, it’s likely that they won’t update their bid but assume instead that they are out of the race. Adjust the range as needed, so they’ll see yellow and will be more likely to compete.”

For more information about Advanced Sourcing Optimizer, please visit SciQuest website or contact SciQuest.

Lisa Malone, General Manager Procurious, was reporting from SciQuest Next Level 2016 last month, bringing you all the best bits.