How incumbents should manage customer information requests during the rebid

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We repeatedly say in our articles, blogs and advice that incumbents have a huge advantage in their rebid because they hold information about the contract and customer that competitors just don’t have. So far so obvious (even if some incumbents don’t make the most of this advantage).

What can be less obvious is that often the incumbent holds more information about the contract than the customer does.

We often see, and we are sure you do too, the customer making information requests. Asking various people in the incumbent contract or business for information and data in the run up to a rebid.

What they are usually doing is collecting information to help them plan their scope, specification etc for the next contract and the rebid.

They are also potentially aiming to use this information in their Memorandum of Information, ITT or other documentation going to all bidders for the rebid. It will, for example, include the volumes and type of work that bidders are expected to bid and price against for the next contract.

Opportunity ignored, dangers created

Unfortunately what we often see is incumbents either unaware of or ignoring the opportunities this information gathering by the customer offers them for their own rebid efforts. And also ignoring the potential dangers of not managing the flow of this information to the customer.

The customer rarely asks the bid team for the information they require. More often they ask for the information in ‘bits’ over time. And from a range of people involved in the contract. Both those on the contract and those in the core business. The people in these different departments may not be aware of the reason why the information is being sought by the customer. And that can mean they give:

  • More information than required. Meaning if it is published as part of the bid documentation, your competitors get more of an insight into the contract than necessary or helpful to you as the incumbent.
  • Information out of context. Meaning the customer has to ask again to get what they need. Perhaps annoying them at a time you want them wholly positive about you as the incumbent.
  • Information that is out of synch with that previously reported to the customer in official reports. Again potentially raising doubts in the customer’s mind about your delivery.
  • Incomplete or even inaccurate information. Not deliberately, but due to their own department’s view of the contract.

This last issue can create real problems for you in the rebid. If the customer takes inaccurate information at face value, this may be what they base their requirements for bidders to bid and price against in the rebid. Whilst occasionally it can work in the incumbents favour (volumes are higher than the incumbent knows them to be so other bidders will put in higher prices), it can just as often work against the incumbent. For example being required to put in a bid for volumes lower than they know are real with no opportunity to increase prices once the contract is won to compensate. Even the option of asking Clarification Questions to ensure volumes are realistic is at best embarrassing. At worst the customer ignores them.

We have seen this exact issue happen more than once. In a recent rebid the customer published in their ITT the volumes of work that the incumbent team looked at and commented how inaccurate they were compared to what was actually being delivered. Only to find that these ‘inaccurate’ figures had actually been provided to the customer by another department within their own organisation. Without the bid team’s knowledge.

Making the most of information requests

There are real opportunities for you as the incumbent in understanding and effectively managing the information flow to the customer resulting from their requests. Not to unfairly tip the balance in your favour by providing inaccurate information. But in:

  • Ensuring all information provided by different parts of the business are consistent. With each other and with information previously reported in monthly reports for example.
  • Ensuring the information reported is accurate. And reflects what is actually happening on the contract so you are bidding against a ‘true’ position.
  • Ensuring you don’t give out unnecessarily detailed information that would overly help competitors in their solutions. A fine balance between being honest and open with the customer and your own commercial advantage.  But one that with thought can be ethically managed.
  • Gaining an insight into the customer’s thinking about the next contract from the information they are requesting.

Again, this last point can be important and offer a real advantage. By asking the customer for the reason or context behind why they are asking for the information (“in order to be able to give it to them in the most useful and relevant way”) you can learn a lot about their thinking regarding what they are looking to do and change in the next contract. And therefore the rebid. It also potentially opens up the opportunity for a conversation about the rebid that you may not have in other circumstances.

Getting organised

Because the customer often won’t come to the bid team for the information they are seeking, it’s important to be organised regarding provision of the information. These are some of the things you can do:

  • Start early. The customer is making decisions months before the rebid OJEU appears. Therefore they will be asking for information potentially months prior to the OJEU date (which itself will be months before the end of the contract). Make sure you are getting ready across your business at least a year prior to the end of the contract, and usually at least 6 month prior to the rebid start.
  • Make sure the contract team and other internal teams know what to expect and the importance of communicating to you when they are being asked for information. The customer might ask people on the contract for information, people in Finance, HR, IT or other departments. Make sure they all know to look out for unusual requests for information from the customer and who in the bid team to highlight these to.
  • Have a member of the bid team allocated to collate the requests coming in and, when appropriate ‘intervene’ to ask the customer to give more details regarding their request. And to make sure that the information provided to the customer is correct, coherent and cohesive.
  • Feed the information asked for by the customer, and any information extracted from the customer regarding their needs into your rebid preparation process and thinking.

Being more organised about what you give the customer in response to their information requests regarding the rebid may not be the single factor leading to a win. But being organised around how you react to customer requests, alert to what is being asked for and why, and ensuring you give the right information will certainly reduce the chances of unwelcome surprises in the specification and  customer rebid documentation. It is certainly part of an effective and well managed rebid preparation process. And it may give you a head start in understanding the customer’s thinking regarding the next contract requirements.

See how we can help you prepare your rebid to win here