Clarification Alarm Bells

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How to deal with a clarification question from the client after bid submission

Blissful Ignorance
It was late on a dreary Friday afternoon, the sort that makes one contemplate the meaning of existence. We were snug in the Head of Sales’s office. It had been a hard week. There we were, nursing cups of machine coffee that bore an uncanny resemblance to over-steeped tea, nattering about tenders and jealously feigning enthusiasm for his imminent skiing holiday.

We were interrupted by a rap on the door. Without waiting, a junior member of the sales team came in. He was brandishing an email printout as if it were burning his fingers. “Did you see this, Boss?” he said and handed over an email printout. The Head of Sales skim-read the email. “Just give this one to Eileen. She is the sales lead and tell her to get the response in before she goes home”, he instructed. “Tell her I trust her to reread the bid and make up any bits she does not know.” With that, we carried on chatting until leaving time, oblivious to what was coming.

A few days after that, we got the letter from the client telling us we had come second!

Of course, this client response would have to be related to that strategically important, must-win bid we submitted a couple of weeks before. Everyone was relying upon on this opportunity being won. After all, the vibes we had from the client until this point were that we should be clear winners. We knew we had an excellent solution and a very competitive price. How could it have got away from us?

What we had overlooked was that the simple clarification email was giving us a final chance to come top.
We had not heard the alarm bells ringing. Eileen had done what she had been asked. She had simply pinched a few lines from the bid, spruced them up a bit and dispatched the email response – job done!

I learned a serious lesson from this.

What we should have realised is that a clarification question at this stage signifies the evaluators are unable to choose a winner. They cannot be sure of what the right score is for an element of our proposal. We can, however, be certain we are in the very top echelon of contenders. They will not send out a clarification question unless we have a real chance of winning. What we respond with will genuinely alter our evaluation score, possibly enough for us to take the prize. Crucially, it’s our last shot to dazzle them and climb the scoreboard.

If we underplay the response to the client’s email, it will probably cost us everything we invested in this bid to this point. If we cannot use this opportunity to push our score up, our adversaries have a serious chance to eclipse us. And just like that, we’d be relegated to ‘runners-up’.

Exactly what had happened that Friday.


This article was written by Andy Haigh .

Andy is an expert in bidding and tendering, specialising in competitive formal bids into EU Public Sector organisations. He is an authority on EU procurement legislation and can bring all these capabilities together to initiate and drive major complex bids through to a successful completion.

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