I’ve always enjoyed proposals. Part of the reason is the immediacy of the work. It also involves a number of things I enjoy: collaboration between sales and marketing and when you’re done, you know whether you’ve won or lost–there is no gray area.
There’s been a huge increase in the volume of RFPs over the past 10 years. Still, it appears that many companies have no formal debrief process in place following their proposals to find out why they won or lost. It’s crazy to me that companies invest so much time and effort in developing proposals and then once they find out the result they simply say thank you and go on their way.
There are a number of reasons why companies do this. Often people feel what’s done is done and they want to move on. In many cases, people are afraid to find out why they lost fearing repercussions from senior management. This type of thinking misses a bigger opportunity: losing proposals represent a tremendous window into how your targets perceive your company and pitches. Most important, conducting a debrief puts you on a path to improvement and winning in the future.
A proposal debrief is a meeting between the key decision maker and someone at your company or representing your company to learn about what you did well and areas where you can do better.
When to debrief: In my experience most clients or targets are happy to participate in a debrief. It’s important to ask for this as soon as you are notified of the result.
Who should do the debrief: Someone who is not part of the proposal team or possibly an external consultant. The person conducting the debrief needs to know how to probe. If they don’t ask the right questions, people will be afraid of hurting your feelings and won’t be honest. Instead, they’ll credit their decision to price.
Key questions should include:
- Why they went to tender
- What they view as your strengths and weaknesses
- Where your company ranked at various points in the process
- Who won and why
Analyze the results: Based on the debrief, create a list of focus areas for improvement. Share your learnings accordingly.
Making a debrief part of your proposal process will not only provide insights on what you can do better, it signals to your target clients that you are a learning organization that is open and eager to to working with them in the future.