Ask the Expert

Getting good operational information to enable you to answer questions.

Question by: Donovan Gosher

How do you ensure the operations responses give you enough information to answer the questions?


Hello Donovan

Ensuring operational responses provide sufficient information to answer customer questions is a complex (but not difficult) process. The first steps are:

  • Thoroughly reviewing the questions and identifying those which require specific operational input (e.g. questions on service delivery, quality audits, health and safety procedures, etc)
  • Determining which subject matter experts (SMEs) will be engaged for each operational question
  • Inviting the SME(s) to the kick-off meeting to integrate them into the bid team, clearly confirm their responsibilities and provide deadlines for their replies

So far, so straightforward.

However, there are other factors to consider to help ensure you receive quality information on time. These include:

  • Identifying which communication approach works best for each SME. Some are comfortable starting with a blank page and providing chapter and verse. Others need structure and guidance, e.g. a list of bullet points they can provide information against. Still others will prefer to talk through the answer rather than writing things down. Whatever works best for them will work best for you.
  • Acknowledging they have a “day job” which does not include bidding. There may be shouts of “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time for this!” Give the SME(s) the longest deadlines possible. Explain how vital their knowledge and/or experience is to the overall success of the project. Get support from their line manager where necessary to ensure they can briefly step away from their regular duties to participate in the bid. Recognise and respect they have other responsibilities.

But what happens when you get the information you requested but it’s not quite right?

Often your bid writer will be able to take the operational information provided and repackage it to answer the question. Where this isn’t possible, the easiest solution is for the bid writer to pick up the phone and call the SME.

Try a conversation along the lines of, “Your information was really good but I’m still a bit unclear on [name your subject]. You’re the expert, so I’d really appreciate if you could explain this in more detail.” Acknowledging the quality of their efforts and their expertise will bring both short- and long-term benefits (for this particular project and future projects that may require their involvement).

Overall, this process relies on communication. Be clear on what you require and when. Include the SME(s) in relevant video calls, meetings and emails. Check in regularly to identify any problems they may be having with the response. Work collaboratively to build rapport for the future.

While the bid itself will be win-lose, building good relationships across your business will always be win-win.