As a Corporate Buyer I do not claim to be an expert in the process of Electronic Bidding, or “E-Bid”. But I know that many Suppliers today are either submitting quotes through the E-Bid process or will someday be compelled to do so by the Client. So I thought I’d share my experiences on E-Bid and provide a true Buyer’s perspective on the practice. Because prior to my employment in Corporate Purchasing I was actually employed on the supply-side of the business for 23 years, working for various engineering companies. During that time I attended request-for-quote (RFQ) meetings and put together quote packages for potential clients. And having worked on the supply side I understand the amount of time, effort and cost involved in the quoting process of a program. Now, on top of all that, comes the paradigm shift of Electronic Bidding.
When I first started out in the industry, everyone wore a tie to work. And if you didn’t wear a tie, everyone you’d run into would say, “Oh . . . casual day?” Now today when I wear a tie to work everyone says, “Oh . . . got an interview?” Now that’s a small but perfect example of how the way we do business has changed. When it comes to business, change has NEVER been the exception. In business, change has ALWAYS been the rule. Many years ago the majority of us never heard of ISO 9000, Total Quality Management, “micron precision” tool cutting or any number of technical and administrative advancements that have evolved over the years. Today, they’re the rule. Computers, e-mail, voicemail, cell phones, . . . if a company doesn’t keep up with technology and doesn’t keep up with the latest industry trends, they need to get out of the way because they’re going to get run over by someone who is. It reminds me of the old golf saying, “In the game of golf, you’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” The pendulum of change is constantly in motion. And in some industries, with some client companies, the pendulum is swinging towards Electronic Bidding. So I’d like to provide you with my experiences with E-Bid; how the process works, and what the positive and negative aspects are for both Sales and the Buyer.
I’m proud to say that I was the very first Senior Buyer at DaimlerChrysler Corporation to facilitate on-line E-Bid auctions for their Powertrain Purchasing Group. At that time no Supplier was forced to use E-Bid in order to submit a quote package. All suppliers were allowed to submit their typical quote package without the fear of being penalized. And yet, only a couple of Suppliers chose not to participate in E-Bid. In addition, no supplier was charged any money to bid on the on-line auctions since DaimlerChrysler covered the E-Bid facilitation charges. What’s important to note is that each supplier went through training to learn how to place their bids and was then registered with the company handling the process. Each Supplier also went through real-world practice bids days before the actual bidding began so they could become familiar and play with the on-line bidding options. This is highly recommended for every Client company to offer their Supplier base.
In a nutshell, “E-Bid” is sort of like using “E-Bay”, except for the fact that the price is going DOWN instead of UP. For our sessions, the Supplier logged onto their own computer, they logged into the E-Bid website with their own created password, they found their specific auctions and they start bidding at the specified time. Each auction lasts for ten minutes . . . which is not a long time. And that’s why before a Supplier starts participating in an E-Bid, they need to do their homework ahead of time and know what their absolute bottom line is so that they’re simply pushing keys during the auction and not planning a strategy. At the end of ten minutes, the low-bid supplier was considered the “winner”, though I hesitate to use that term because at DaimlerChrysler, low bid did not necessarily WIN the purchase order. If the technical content of the quote package was not acceptable then they didn’t “win” anything. But unlike E-Bay, it was impossible for a Supplier to hold off until the very last second of an E-Bid before time ran out to submit their lowest price and beat out the other Suppliers. That’ s because there was an “overtime cycle”. If any Supplier submitted a bid within the last three minutes of the auction, even in the last few seconds, the auction was automatically extended for an additional amount of time. And if within the last three minutes of the extension period a Supplier submitted yet another bid, the auction was again extended. If at the end of the last three minutes of the auction, or the last three minutes of the extension, there was absolutely no activity from any Supplier, the auction ended.
At Daimler Chrysler we used two separate types of E-Bid auctions. One auction was called the “English Reverse”. With the English Reverse a supplier was allowed to submit a bid as long as it was below the current lowest bid. But if the Supplier couldn’t beat the current low bid, then they couldn’t submit a bid at all. The other auction was called the “Dynamic Reverse”. With the Dynamic Reverse, a Supplier could submit a bid even if it wasn’t below the current low bid, but as long as it was below their OWN last bid. Towards the end of the quoting process of the Program, we realized that the English Reverse auction was not a good method of bidding for either us or the Supplier. That’s because we weren’t allowing the Supplier to submit their own best price. The Supplier was only allowed to submit a price if it beat the current low bid. Well, maybe they couldn’t beat the current low bid but maybe they could have beat their own last bid. That’s why we finally decided part way through the Program to only use the Dynamic Reverse auction and actually allow Suppliers to submit their best price. But again, with our E-Bid auctions, best price did NOT necessarily get the purchase order. Many factors played into ending up with the order, including the technical and commercial content of the quote package, conformance to specifications, and a proven track record in prior programs. Sometimes the low bid Supplier received the purchase order . . . and sometimes the HIGH bid Supplier received the purchase order. In my opinion this is the only fair, reasonable and common sense approach to E-Bids from the Client’s perspective.
By now you must be thinking, “Well, if a high bid supplier was able to receive a purchase order, than why do E-Bid at all?” There are positive aspects to E-Bids for both the Buyer and the Seller. For the Buyer it saves an incredible amount of time in the negotiating process. Especially on the power-train program I worked on, with hundreds of machines to purchase covering over 50 commodities and hundreds of Suppliers to deal with, E-Bid made my life as a Buyer a hell of a lot easier. The other positive aspect for the Buyer is that it obviously helps to reduce the price because Suppliers are directly and visibly bidding against each other. But there are positive aspects of E-Bid for the Supplier too. During the auctions the Supplier was able to see what the current bid was . . . just like E-Bay. But they were absolutely unable to know who that low bidder was; no names were shown to the other bidders. But through E-Bid, the Suppliers could compare their current price with the current low bid and align their price either below it or just above it with the understanding that low bid does NOT necessarily win the purchase order. Another positive aspect for the Supplier is that they are able to see what the current market value of a specific commodity is and whether or not the Supplier has been bidding too high or too low in prior programs. Remember that with a regular paper or sealed bid, the Supplier has no way of knowing where the current market price is. E-Bid was able to provide them with that valuable information.
E-Bid isn’t perfect. There are some obvious drawbacks for both the Buyer and the Supplier. For the Buyer you lose whatever face-to-face negotiating power you may have had. You lose a portion of the personal working relationship you built up with the supply base. And at a time in which supplier relations are key to program success, E-Bid sort of dilutes it during the quoting process. For the Supplier, E-Bid is sort of like playing poker, except for that fact that ALL the cards are turned up and everyone’s wearing a mask. Everyone else knows what you know, even though they don’t know “who” you are. At DaimlerChrysler we had our share of problems with Electronic Bidding. We had Suppliers get accidently disconnected from the website and we had to start the auction over again. We had Suppliers lower their price during the auction by pulling components and program requirements out so we no longer had an apples-to-apples auction taking place. In those instances we had to run the E-Bid again, minus I might add, the Supplier who cheated the system. We had Suppliers claim the website didn’t accept their last bid seconds before the auction ended. We even had a Supplier bidding on-line and going head-to-head against another bidder . . . until they realized that the “other bidder” was someone else on-line from their own company! We all got a good laugh from that one.
All in all, E-Bid saved a lot of negotiating time for both the Buyer and the Supplier, and it redefined commodity market values for everyone. It may surprise you that the majority of the feedback I received from the Suppliers was positive. Some suppliers absolutely loved E-Bid! Others did not. The question is, does E-Bid create an effect on the current market price for a commodity? Have E-Bid auctions been successful in reducing the price of a suppliers quote? We can all speculate but I don’t think anyone has the absolute answer right now because of the current economic environment we’re all trying to survive in. Whether a client uses E-Bid during an economic downturn or not, the price IS going to come down because that’s what the economic and financial market dictate. And that was verified by the handful of paper quotes received on the program that weren’t put through the E-Bid process. I believe time will indicate that E-Bid does have a tendency to lower the supplier price, though not as much as during an economic decline like today.
E-Bid isn’t for everyone. It’s not for every Buyer and it’s not for every Supplier. It’s certainly not for every commodity. There has to be a good fit. But there are four key factors in making a process like E-Bid work for both the Buyer and the Supplier: 1. The Buyer must be absolutely clear and specific as to what the Supplier needs to include in the E-Bid price, and exactly what is to be left out. The end result MUST be apples-to-apples. If the commodity is too customized, E-Bid is NOT the direction to take. 2. The Supplier MUST be allowed to opt out of the on-line bidding process and be allowed to simply submit a typical quote package without the fear of being penalized. It’s not to their advantage to do so, but it needs to be allowed. 3. The Supplier MUST be allowed to submit their best price even though they can’t beat the current low price. 4. The Supplier needs to know their absolute bottom line before the on-line auction starts. If the Supplier doesn’t know their bottom line going in and doesn’t know when to quit, that Supplier is headed for trouble! Then again, my Dad always said, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win. But those who never win and never quit, ARE IDIOTS”.
The future for E-Bid is unclear. I think in better economic times it will be better defined and show the true savings potential for the Buyer and the true market value of a commodity for the Supplier. I do believe that E-Bid will be around to stay in one form or another in specific commodities that make sense, especially when it comes to large programs or when a Buyer is procuring large quantities of a straightforward, well-defined commodity like a hammer or a fuse. But if a Buyer is only planning to purchase a few, highly critical, highly complicated items, then the process and setup of E-Bid, in my humble opinion, is not worth it.