Getting feedback from the client whether a bid is successful or unsuccessful is vital for your organisation. You will have spent a lot of time and resources on bidding, so make sure you can learn from feedback as a key part of continual improvement and to increase your future bid success.
Internal lessons learned can be discussed in a post bid team debrief but direct feedback from the buying organisation is essential. This is often easier to gain from public sector clients than from private sector clients. This article considers your legal rights and the common practices across both sectors.
Feedback from the Public Sector
Within public sector you have a number of legal rights to specific feedback on your bid submission and even to question the bid outcome.
- Standstill Letter
The standstill letter informs you of the outcome of the tender and names the winning bidder. If you are not the winner it outlines what differentiated the winning bid and typically provides their winning scores.
It is called a standstill letter as the contracting authority does not award the contract until 10 days after issuing the letter (alcatel period). The letter will often include your scores along with a short explanation. The date for the end of the standstill period will be stated along with contact details if you want to request more feedback or ask further questions.
Feedback is based on the quality and price evaluation criteria stated in the bid. Comments usually reference specification compliance, delivery methodology and other specifics the buyer asked for.
- Asking for More Information
Before the expiry of the standstill period, you can issue a request for more information and a debriefing meeting. This is advisable for both successful and unsuccessful bids to enable maximum learnings.
You can also ask specific questions or seek clarification if you are unclear about anything in the standstill letter. It is better to come across as being a bit puzzled rather than have a confrontational tone as most of us will get defensive if we feel challenged.
Feedback is often sent in writing but where possible arrange for a telephone call, video conference, or face-to-face debrief. You will gain vital details when talking to people who were part of the decision-making process and may be willing to expand on feedback which is extremely helpful for your future bids.
Feedback can be generic and not enough to get you closer to why you did or did not win. Always request detailed feedback on both your strengths and areas for improvement, especially what it would have taken to achieve maximum scores.
If you feel the feedback is not as detailed as you expected you can review the client’s published Procurement Strategy. This will state what they do during the procurement process and what feedback they will give. They often commit to being open, transparent and to provide feedback, particularly to SME businesses who are perhaps less familiar with public sector.
- A Learning Culture
It is important that there is a learning culture within your organisation to focus the business on continuous improvement rather than blame. Feedback may highlight areas that missed the mark or mistakes in the bid, while you may know the team or individual responsible, it is not constructive to point the finger. Create a safe and supportive environment for your staff where they can explore criticism and feedback to move forward and improve. Like any professionals, your team take their jobs seriously and will want to learn and improve to be more successful.
- The Evaluation
The bid will have been assessed and scored by an evaluation panel of at least two people but in the public sector this can average five to six people. It is common for them to take the bid or specific questions and mark them, then hold a consensus or moderation meeting to discuss and agree final scores. This evaluation forms the basis of the feedback to your bid.
- Pricing Feedback
If you are not the winning bidder you can often use the scoring breakdown to work out the winning bidder’s commercial offer. Even though you will not have all the details you will be able to compare the difference in price point based on the score for the pricing element and the algorithm used should stated in the tender documents. This market insight provides your business with intelligence to influence future pricing decisions e.g. opportunities to find options to improve the efficiently of the deliverability and increase profitability.
- The Importance of Clarification Questions
Learning more about the client’s requirements is preferrable before submitting your bid so you can action it in your response. Clarification Questions give the buyer the opportunity to provide clarity and for you to structure your bid accordingly. It is better to ask questions during the tender process to identify any gaps rather than find out about them in post-bid feedback.
- Feedback on quality is typically set against the stated evaluation criteria. Unfortunately, comments in scoring feedback often refer to undisclosed sub criteria that were not clear from the original questions
- An incumbent may have access to information a challenger does not
Use clarification questions to request more detail to better tailor your responses to the exact requirements and sub criteria of the client and also to attempt to level the playing field with the incumbent.
- Using the Feedback to Challenge the Business
If the feedback you receive across multiple bids has common themes this raises some fundamental questions for your business. Are your systems outdated? Are you too expensive? Are your competitors overtaking you or leading the way? Are there new disruptors and trends in the marketplace? Are others faster, cheaper, better quality or safer than you? Can you tell a better story?
You may need to review and reposition your place in the market – overpriced, too cheap, old fashioned, heritage and history, new and cutting edge? You then need to reflect this in the way you present yourself and tell your story – more expensive but for better quality that is reliable with additional benefits and gets the job done.
You also need systems in place to review and discuss the feedback internally to ensure that you are using the insights effectively to improve your bids and your business.
Feedback needs calibrated, a winning bid for one client may not be right for another client and an area of weakness for one may be the winning solution for another. Feedback is subjective which is why truly understanding why you won or lost a bid is the key to understanding the lessons to be learned.
Private Sector Feedback
The private sector has no legal obligation to provide feedback so it can be harder to obtain but it is very worthwhile. Consider starting with procurement as they issued the tender. If they are committed to good practice, they should provide some feedback but this may not be as granular as you would like.
Another option is for the Account Manager or client relationship owner within your business to ask their contact to discuss things more informally. They may get a much clearer steer on why you were successful or unsuccessful and who has been awarded the contract and why.
Bringing in an external bid specialist can help you obtain truly impartial feedback. An external gap analysis service can provide insights into where you are now and what is needed to elevate your bids and raise your scores for all future responses.
Get as much feedback as the buyer is prepared to give and then make sure that you use it, appropriately calibrating it where necessary, and make the relevant improvements within your organisation to advance your bid tendering to win more contracts.