Preparing for a Tender Debrief: End with the Start in Mind

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When preparing for your attendance at a tender debriefing session, plan, plan, plan.To turn an old saying on its ear, end with the start in mind. That i...

When preparing for your attendance at a tender debriefing session, plan, plan, plan.

To turn an old saying on its ear, end with the start in mind. That is, set out to learn as much as you can about the strengths and weaknesses you exhibited in the current bid, in order to start out on a stronger footing with your next bidding performance.

When I'm preparing a bid team to attend a submission debriefing session with one of its prospect or client organisations, I work with it to do what I'm about to recommend to you here:

•           Plan your approach and questioning outline in the same detailed manner as you'd approach preparing the outline for a tender response workshop.

•           Exercise both tact and strategy when framing the questions.

•           Practice "proactive" listening skills - and exhibit an open mind and broad shoulders.

Mapping Out Your Approach

If you're thorough in identifying all the areas in which you want detailed feedback, chances are you'll come up with more questions than you can ask in the time allotted for the debrief.

My advice is to prioritise these in accordance with the degree of value they afford you, in terms of:

(a) (if your bid lost this time) winning another similar bid or another bid with the same client, or

(b) (if your bid won) performing in a manner throughout the contract, that will ensure you of success in your project/product/service delivery, and favourable and robust positioning for future business with the client in question.

Framing the Questions

One of the most important considerations you can make in mapping out your questions, is to be cognisant that there are three categories of information in any given "debriefing" environment and the associated dynamics:

1)   Conscious and willing to share.

2)   Conscious and not willing to share.

3)   Unconscious, so can’t share.

It's easy to get the Category 1 information. That's what the client has prepared, and has come there ready to offer.

Category 2 is tricky, but this information is particularly valuable. Here's how to extract it - as painlessly as possible:

Minimise the evaluation team's discomfort by framing your questions, and pre-establishing the tone of the evaluators' responses, such that observations are delivered as constructive criticism. Make it easy and comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) for the client-side executives to speak their minds.

Here's an example in which a bid team that tabled a losing bid is dealing with one of the trickiest issues of all:  whether or not they lost on price. And whether or not the client is prepared to admit it.

"Obviously, when we prepare our estimates, our pricing is based on delivering the optimal result in every aspect of the project. It follows then, that in some projects there might be a connection between price and what we believe it will take to deliver that optimal result. It would be valuable for us to understand, from your perspective, how valuable (or otherwise) you feel that extra guarantee of satisfaction is, when we're up against someone that comes in with a lower price."

Category 3 requires a different type of prompt.

In this example, the bid team is endeavouring to determine where it hit the right hot buttons and where it didn't:

"We carried out extensive background research into this project and your stakeholders' issues, and we worked hard to pinpoint what appeared would be your top concerns and priorities. Then we worked our methodology and general approach around these. Could you give us some specific feedback on where we were correct with our assumptions? Could you give us some indication of where we focused on things that weren't as important to you?"

Perhaps you'd craft your questions a little differently. That's fine. The point is, it's critical to determine the specific insights you're after, and each of the aspects of the bid in which you want those insights, and then to frame your questions to draw out the most instructive answers, in the most productive manner.


Jordan Kelly is a bid strategist, writer and trainer/coach. She is author of 'Think & Win Bids: Winning High-Value, High-Stakes Bids through Superior Questioning, Listening and Thinking Skills'. Claim your free subscription to her newsletter - 'The Bid Strategist' - at


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