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March 12, 2013 3:35 PM   Subscribe

How do you gracefully tell vendors they weren’t selected for the project? What do you say when they want to know why...and you don't have an easy answer?

I am tasked with helping to coordinate a remodeling project for my business. We are required by our headquarters to get three competitive bids for each major category (furniture, contractor, etc.) We’ve made our selections and my manager told me to start calling everyone tomorrow and tell them they had/had not been selected.

OK, sure, but…what do I say? I have never done this before. I’m also not good at conflict or being assertive, especially over the phone. I know some of these people will want to know “why didn’t you pick us?” and “who are you going with? Why did you pick them?”

The thing is, for a few of these we don’t have a solid reason why we selected one over another. The prices were similar and it honestly just came down to who we liked better on a personal level. I don’t have an easy answer like “well, their price was more in line with our budget," but to flat out tell them "we just got along with the other guys better," seems too harsh and also trivial.

I am worried I’m going to be pressured into a competitive sales pitch with someone trying to poke holes in my excuses and talk me out of the decision. I have a tendency to Be Polite At All Costs and that may be a problem here.
posted by castlebravo to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You're not really obligated to give concrete reasons, right? So don't.

"Company B was a better fit for our needs right now. Thank you for taking the time to present options to us. We'll think of you the next time we need services like yours."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

I simply don't answer those questions. Either I don't reply to that (if it's sent in an email, for example), or I decline to answer. Frankly, it's none of their business who you decided to go with or why. I say something like "I'm not going to disclose that" or "I'm not comfortable saying." Sometimes they get mad, but rarely, and that's their problem, not mine.
posted by primethyme at 3:38 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

"We appreciated excellent bid. However, we decided to go in a slightly different direction that was a better fit for us at this particular time. Thank you for your time and we'll be sure to keep you in mind for future projects/recommendations/etc."
posted by erst at 3:39 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

If they ask probing questions, just tell them your company has a policy of not disclosing that information. Thank them again and say goodbye.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:44 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Of course everyone will want to know why they weren't selected. Doesn't mean you have to tell them. These people are used to bidding and the rejection that often accompanies it. They know they are competing with others and they know they can't win every contract.

"We solicited bids from companies with good reputations and all the bids were very similar. In the end we still had to choose one company, though, and we chose Company X. If we solicit bids for similar projects in the future, we'll keep you in mind."

They're not going to try to sell you anything or talk you into reconsidering. They know you didn't make the decision anyway. Also, they are not going to blow a gasket because they hope to bid on your future projects.
posted by kindall at 3:44 PM on March 12, 2013

Sounds like it should be the same as telling someone they weren't selected for a job, which means all you have to say is "I'm calling to let you know that while we appreciated your bid for x, we unfortunately have selected another vendor." If they ask question, just say you are not authorized to disclose specifics about the other bids but give them an email address or something they can write to. Chances are, they won't bother asking once they aren't on the phone with you anymore.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:44 PM on March 12, 2013

I've found that giving concrete reasons only makes things more of a headache. "Their widget is $5 cheaper? WHAT??!?! (literally yelling. In my office). What if we come in at $5.01 below their price?" or some other argument about how you chose wrong. Definitely just give a generic response.
posted by jmd82 at 3:48 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

"I can't answer that."

It's true.
posted by mibo at 3:48 PM on March 12, 2013

Call the people who won - send letters to the people who didn't. The letters should be generic; Thanks for your bid, you're a great company, yadda yadda yadda, we selected someone else (there's no reason to disclose who won).

That way you don't have to deal with them on the phone :)
posted by Arbac at 3:51 PM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

As a person who has spent considerable time as a salesman/vendor, I can tell you that vendors aren't asking for reasons why because they are tender souls who need a rationalization that will satisfy their insecurities. They're looking for something they can argue with, to try one more time to get the sale.

You can skip the explanations and just say, "We went another way." They're not made of spun glass. They'll be just fine.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:54 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Tell them that HQ made the decision and you don't know the reasons.
posted by payoto at 4:01 PM on March 12, 2013

This is business, not personal, so you don't need to worry about feelings -- nobody's feelings are on the line here. "We went another way" or "I'm not able to disclose that information" are both fine answers that don't give sales people an in to argue with your decision.

And if they argue and seem upset, they're doing it to sell you one more time, not because they, personally, have been hurt by your decision.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:02 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

All excellent answers above .... They are used to this, really. And, by the third or fourth call/email, you'll have your script down, and it'll be pretty easy.
posted by Fig at 4:07 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a vendor to many customers and I always appreciate feedback, and preferably honest feedback, to no feedback, regardless of what it is. You obviously can't say tactfully "we didn't like you as much as the other guy", but you could say something similar like "I appreciate the efforts you made. I don't make the final decisions alone (or myself, whichever it is), but my understanding is we felt we had the best match with another vendor in terms of work style" (or "communication style" or something similar). If they press the matter, you could say something like "I don't know what else to add other than it just came down to subjective things and sometimes those fall one way and sometimes another. I assure you that each vendor got a fair shot and was assessed in the same way." After saying things like that, there's really not much more they can argue about.
posted by Dansaman at 4:07 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would have thought a letter is more common practice than a phone call, it removes any need for detailed explanation and keeps things professional:

"Thank you for your bid submission, we appreciate your efforts.... we have had a high number of submissions for this tender and regret that your application was not shortlisted... we thank you again for your submission.... Signed by you"

fwiw, I would assume in 95% of cases of receiving a rejection letter that our price simply was not competitive enough. Otherwise I might assume that other companies had either more experience or a preferred product.
posted by Under the Sea at 4:41 PM on March 12, 2013

Here's what I've said to contractors who didn't get the bid here at the house. "Thank you for coming out and taking a look at the project. I decided to go with another contractor, but if he screws it up, I'll be sure to give you a shot at bidding on the fix." It's true!

I've interviewed and hired writers for book projects (and for smaller projects) and it's usually a variation of: "We reviewed dozens of proposals and pitches and interviewed only a handful of qualified writers, of which you were one. We made our decision based on several factors and feel the writer we chose best matched our needs in terms of subject matter expertise, experience, writerly skill, and communication." Then I'd offer a few comments specific to the writer and our interaction and thank him or her for taking the time.

I realize that last bit may be uncommon, but 1) as an occasional writer pitching editors, I know I appreciate the feedback, positive or negative, whenever I get it ("Is there anybody out there listening?"); 2) in most cases the rejected candidates I interviewed really were well qualified, and more than once I've needed to hire a runner up to pick up the pieces after candidate #1 dropped the ball (leaving me with tight deadlines and no writer!). The personal touch in those rejections made my phone call a little easier.
posted by notyou at 5:02 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do this all the time. Nobody takes it personally, nor do we take it personally when our bid is not selected. It's just business. A polite e-mail saying "Thank you for your bid but we have decided to use another price" is all that is needed here.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:13 PM on March 12, 2013

I'm in Supply Chain and have previously been the vendor. The generic responses from erstwhile and these birds of a feather are fine.

Don't send out the Dear John letters until the contract is signed on the first choice though in case there are any last minute showstoppers.
posted by arcticseal at 7:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

These other vendors are keeping you honest. You need to do right by your company when selecting the best vendor. That means unadulterated capability and price serve the needs of your company above all.

You feel uncomfortable because the answer you have to give is not based totally on a sound business decision. Otherwise, you would feel very confident in having outside light shine in on your choice.

Let their questions serve as an opportunity to examine your vendor selection process and determine if you really are selecting the best for your company. Defending and explaining will come much more naturally thereafter.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:38 PM on March 12, 2013

Notyou's middle paragraph is very good.

They probably will not hassle or press you -- that's never happened to me. You essentially want to say you liked their bid, you're grateful they bid, but there was another firm that was a slightly better fit for your company's needs. Tell them you hope to get a chance to work with them in future: that should increase the odds they'll handle it gracefully.

Try not to stress about it. It's the first time you've turned down anyone, but it's not the first time they've been turned down. It's in their interest to be polite and gracious, and they probably will be. If not, it just validates your decision :-)
posted by Susan PG at 11:16 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

These are all good answers. You don't have to give them a reason. Just say "I can't discuss our vendor selection process" or something.

But yes, any who ask will be trying to find a way they can get a second chance. So, if you want one of the losers to come in with a second, lower bid, then tell them they were beaten on price.

I can't say I agree with this. I'm technical and my input on the buying process is purely about the technical abilities of product X vs product Y, and it infuriates me when I say "Product x is clearly superior" to the decision makers, but then they decide on product Y because they dropped their price by 10% at the last minute, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. If I was signing the checks, I'd be looking at things from a different perspective.
posted by Diag at 5:19 AM on March 13, 2013

To address your concern about it coming down to who you liked better. This is an important factor in the evaluation when all other things are equal.

We have various suppliers/service partners, and when the technology, service and pricing are equal, we'll tend to give the work to Company A rather than Company B. Company A and B are peers for about 90% of the technology, but we have a better working relationship when it comes to working out commercial questions with Company A, whereas Company B will nickel and dime each and every line item.

Also, note to all companies: if you're going to hire Account Reps/Sales Guys - please, please, please hire someone who actively listens and doesn't make me want to shower after meeting them because they behave like a dodgy used car salesman. People who behave like this are actively losing you work.
posted by arcticseal at 7:22 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a vendor, I've been rejected a million times. That’s just the nature of bid work. I always ask why I didn't get the bid, not because I want to try to get the business, but I hope to learn so I can make a better bid next time. You don’t owe them an explanation, but it’s nice. If it’s a case where you just didn't like them, just say you weren't in on the decision process and aren't sure how they selected the vendor. If your contractor is any good, as soon as you’re off the phone, she’s already thinking about the next job.
posted by iscavenger at 7:27 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a former sales person, here is something I learned.

You will get 1/3 of the business for no good reason, you will lose 1/3 of the business for no good reason, the other 1/3 is up for grabs.

So knowing it's a competative situation, the vendor will know that there's a chance that he won't get the business.

This is not something you want to do on the phone, you want to do it in email.

Dear Vendor,

While we really appreciated your time, we've decided to go with an alternate vendor for the Forrest Hill project.

Thank you for your time and we'll keep you in mind for future projects.

That's it. A good vendor will chalk it up to the breaks of the game. If anyone persists, or calls you, simply say, "It was a very close decision and we felt the folks we chose were the best fit for us."

You don't owe anyone an explanation. You really don't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:42 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they're a good vendor and you do lots of work with them; feel free to have an after-action/postmortem with them to address where the bid was deficient. The key here is that they want to do more work with you and should engage with the intent to learn rather than sell/change your mind.
posted by arcticseal at 7:51 AM on March 13, 2013

Thanks everyone- I come from a theater/writer background so I tend to view rejections as a bad thing, but it's good to be reminded that the sales rep at Bob's Furniture probably doesn't take it that personally.

Left to my own devices I would resort to email with the losers, but I spoke to my manager this morning and he does definitely want me to call everyone (both winners and losers). However, he's offered to lead a couple of the rejection calls to show me how he usually does it & bring in some managerial clout if needed. So I'm going to have him call a few that I think will try to push back, and I'll listen in. The rest I can probably handle on my own, I think the responses here will be more than enough for me to form a good script.
posted by castlebravo at 2:24 PM on March 13, 2013

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