After a solicitation is published, questions to the customer should focus primarily on ensuring your organization’s ability to submit a fully compliant proposal. Responses to your questions and other potential bidders’ questions can yield new insight on customer thinking, competitor strategy, and larger industry forces. Your organization must manage this process swiftly and strategically to ensure a compliant, customer-focused response.
Assign one primary point of contact
All communication with the customer should be managed carefully to ensure that the customer receives consistent, rather than conflicting, information from your organization. Streamlined communication also enables you to relay important information from the customer to the entire team efficiently. Assign both a primary and secondary point of contact (POC) to communicate with the customer.
Remain aware of deadlines for questions and answers
Many solicitations specify deadlines for receiving vendor questions. After the deadline, no further customer questions will be accepted. In some cases, customers will set up Q&A calls for vendors to anonymously ask questions via phone. Take note of when answers to questions will be provided, as this can affect the scope of the proposed work.
Your team members must know the exact date by which they must ask questions. The primary POC is responsible for driving the vendor’s question generation and submittal process.
Engage your entire organization
Proposals represent a whole-organization commitment, which means professionals across your company have a stake in understanding the solicitation and the technical and business risks involved with proposed offers. As soon as solicitation documents become available and enter your proposal process, allow professionals on both the technical and business sides of your organization to review the documents and formulate questions.
In major proposals, schedule meetings that assemble the entire proposal team, including specialists, to review all questions before submission to the customer.The diverse organizational perspectives reinforce interteam communication and cooperation.
Use customer terminology or generic language
Using customer terminology allows the customer to answer in the way that is most comfortable and natural for them. It also shows good customer awareness and customer focus. Assume at all times that any communication you have with the customer will be relayed to other vendors out of process fairness.
If your communication contains the name or your organization, division, partners, or technology, that information may get distributed. Be extremely cautious in asking any question that goes beyond complying with proposal instructions or technical and business requirements.
Keep questions short and pointed
The main purpose of asking questions is to ensure that your organization fully understands what content will constitute a 100-percent compliant proposal. Focus questions on what information you really need to know to comply with the solicitation in your proposal response.
Try to ask only one question at a time. If your question has two, three, or four parts, then it may indicate your lack of understanding of the customer’s needs or it may be seen as an attempt to alter a solicitation requirement.
Finally, if you don’t have questions, don’t ask. More questions mean more work for your customer. Let customers know ahead of the question due date that you don’t have questions. This will allow them to focus on other matters.
Track all questions that your organization asks
Track responses using a spreadsheet or table that lists your questions and answers. You can also track questions and answers besides your own. These may yield insight on the approaches and strategies of other bidders.