For any sales professional that has worked with government departments they will tell you that, in general, lead times are long, communication is poor, paperwork is exhaustive but on the whole, the results can be worth it.
However, the modern day sales practice is one whereby sales professionals don’t want to have their time wasted, if they are not able to properly qualify opportunities then they don’t want to go in for them. For too long, sales professionals have been tendering for government business blind, with an outcome of feeling that they were only helping make up the numbers or providing a price comparison.
Therefore it would be of no surprise to many sales professionals that the debacle involving Virgin and FirstGroup for the west coast franchise has occurred, perhaps the biggest (and most welcome) surprise has been the government’s admittance to failure in this area. Hopefully both businesses will be compensated for their time and cost in pitching as we all know the costs involved here.
Our modern day obsession with celebrity has allowed Branson to make quite a noise over this case, but also demonstrates how visible the inadequacies were to his business. The response to ‘losing’ the contract was not about sour grapes, but a more informed voice that had genuine concerns.
A Virgin Rail Group spokesperson said: “We welcome today's frank announcement by the Secretary of State, acknowledging the flaws in the way the InterCity West Coast competition was assessed and launching a review into franchising more widely.
"We are ready to play a full part in assisting the review to help deliver a franchising system that better serves passengers, taxpayers and the interests of all bidders.
FirstGroup were quite rightly not so pleased with this outcome, stating; “We were notified late last night that the Department for Transport (DfT) has apparently discovered significant technical flaws in the way their franchise process for the InterCity West Coast was conducted and have consequently cancelled the competition for this franchise.
We understand the DfT has ordered two urgent independent inquiries into the West Coast competition and the wider DfT rail franchise programme. Until this point we had absolutely no indication that there were any issues with the franchise letting process and had received assurances from the DfT that their processes were robust and that they expected to sign the contract with FirstGroup soon.
We are extremely disappointed to learn this news and await the outcome of the DfT's inquiries. The DfT have made it clear to us that we are in no way at fault, having followed the due process correctly. We submitted a strong bid, in good faith and in strict accordance with the DfT's terms. Our bid would have delivered a better deal for West Coast passengers, the taxpayer and an appropriate return for shareholders.