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What you really need to know about a proposal you just lost

Are you asking yourself the right questions about why you lost your proposal?

After losing a proposal most companies request a debrief from their customer and hold a lessons learned meeting. Usually in the debrief companies either fail to ask the right questions or don’t get answers, and in the lessons learned meeting they focus on the wrong things.

This can only work if you are honest with yourselves and are willing to address issues that cross organizational boundaries without getting caught up in the blame game...

During the debrief companies tend to look for politically acceptable reasons for the loss, like losing on price.  When most people say they lost on price, it's really a lie. During the lessons learned meeting they tend to focus on the easy things instead of the things that matter. The easy things are cut and dry, like whether deadlines were met. They look for ways to improve their proposal process because that's something they can control, instead of looking to improve their customer engagement process, which is a lot harder to clarify but has a bigger impact on whether they win or lose.

Companies tend to ask the wrong questions about why they lost. The list below includes questions people might not want to look into. Sometimes this is because they don’t want to admit they don’t know the answers to them. Sometimes it's because it makes them look bad and they are afraid of being blamed for the loss. Sometimes it's because they don't want to change. Focusing too much on avoiding blame and finding something to CYA makes it easy to overlook the things you need to know to win your next bid. 

So here's a list of the hard questions to ask after losing a proposal:

See also:
  • Were your estimates off? Why?
  • Did you misunderstand the scope of what they wanted?
  • Did you select, design, or recommend the wrong offering?
  • Did the winner offer something the customer thought was better?
  • Did the winner bid less labor, lower rates, or do something else to lower their pricing?
  • Is your overhead too high?
  • Did you make the wrong trade-off decisions?
  • Did you assign the wrong staff to prepare the bid?
  • Did you hold your reviews too late to make a difference?
  • Did you review the wrong things?
  • Did you have too many or too few teaming partners?
  • Did your teaming partners turn out to have high pricing or poor past performance?
  • Did you bid the wrong staff?
  • Was your past performance worse than your own staff led you to believe?
  • Did you pay attention to the wrong person in the customer’s organization?
  • Was your customer relationship as strong as you thought it was?
  • Did you educate the customer regarding price reasonableness?
  • Did you start the pursuit too late?
  • Should you have even bid at all?
  • Did you follow the customer’s instructions?
  • Did you overlook or forget something in the RFP?
  • Did you intentionally ignore the RFP?
  • Did you misinterpret the RFP?

In a customer debrief, the answers to questions like these are what you really need to find out. Unfortunately, most of them are questions the customer won’t answer, at least not directly. You may be able to get some answers by focusing on what the customer is willing to tell you and asking something like which things had the most impact on your score and giving examples from the list above. It may help to let the customer know why you want to know these answers. So tell them. For example, if you are trying to determine why your pricing was so far off you can tell them you are trying to figure out if you have an overhead problem or an offering design problem. It may also help to position your company as one that wants to do business with them and will be submitting more bids in the future, so the better you understand the customer, the more they will benefit.

If you can't get insight by asking the customer questions after losing an RFP regarding why you really lost, you may have to resort to asking yourself these questions. As you go from identifying the problems to identifying solutions or preventive actions, you may be able to refine your process to address the weaknesses. But this can only work if you are honest with yourselves and are willing to address issues that cross organizational boundaries without getting caught up in the blame game.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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