Most tender processes include a period during which respondents can submit clarification questions. These might relate to practical matters, such as the format of the submission, or to specific questions or components of the tender.
In putting together a compliant bid, you want to be sure you understand the questions and address them correctly, and you will probably spend a fair bit of time analysing the request. But should you ask clarification questions? And if not, why not?
Generally, our recommendation is “no”. It can be tempting – after all, you have been given an opportunity to do so, but there are rarely instances where genuine clarification is needed.
It is good practice to read carefully though each section of the proposal, several times, and to note areas that are not clear. But before rushing off to submit a clarification question, come back to the proposal after a night’s sleep, or seek the opinion of colleague, and you will almost certainly gain fresh insight.
Ambiguously worded questions are not uncommon, so remember that these can be worked to your advantage. They allow you to interpret and respond to the question in a way that is compliant, and also highly favourable to you.
If you still have concerns, remember that one of the dangers of asking questions is that you, and other bidders, may not like the answer you get! For example, we assisted a client with a tender that was strictly word-limited, but allowed for CVs to be submitted as an attachment. This offered a fantastic opportunity to present full CVs showcasing the client’s rich experience and credentials. We planned for multi-page CVs for key members of the team until… someone asked the inevitable clarification question: was there a word limit for attachments? And of course the tendering organisation decided CVs should be no more than half a page in length.
Other unintended consequences of asking questions may include making your firm look petty / annoying / uneducated / silly / stupid / choosy / difficult / unwilling to compete, and potentially making the organisation issuing the tender feel defensive. With some questions, you risk looking probity-unaware by even asking, and you draw attention to your firm, for all the wrong reasons, before you even submit your response.
On occasion, you may genuinely need to seek clarification, for example to cover a situation unique to your firm. But think twice before you do. Will getting the answer make a significant difference to the way you address the request? Can you work around the question in your responses in a way that keeps you compliant? If you can’t deal with it in your response, then by all means seek clarification.
Also, remember that if the information you need is absolutely necessary, it’s highly likely that someone else will submit a clarification question, and the answer will generally be shared with all bidders.
So, resist the temptation to ask questions, and use the precious time you have been allocated to creating a compliant, winning bid.
For more help interpreting or writing your next bid, please get in touch.
Contributing author Amy Burton-Bradley.
Tender readability remains a problem for some in the 21st century. I still see submission documents that cling to a handful of really old hat tender presentation and formatting techniques. I suspect this is because some of these ‘rules’ are viewed as being more appropriate to a ‘formal’ style of document such as a tender. […]