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Proposal Evaluation time – What If We Lose?

What to Do if Your Proposal is Unsuccessful

Get an unsuccessful proposal evaluation? It needn’t be a total loss.

Achieving a consistent 70% hit rate with your business proposals would probably keep you quite happy. Yet a 70% hit rate in the proposal evaluation process means losing half as many sales as you win.

Many people would accept these losses are the price paid for the wins they value so much, and simply write them off. End of story.

The challenge is to turn short-term failures into longer-term successes, to get some return on the investment of time, effort and resources.

If you can achieve this then losses during proposal evaluation become part of winning, contributing towards your goal of winning an ever greater share of the business you target – getting you closer to a winning proposal.

The single most effective tool for exploiting losses is the “De-brief” meeting.

The De-Brief Meeting

De-briefing is hardly rocket science, all it amounts to is returning after the proposal evaluation process is complete and asking the client why you lost their business – and using that information to reduce the possibility that you might lose that way again.

Even so, most sellers, even some of the better ones, do not employ any sort of de-brief mechanism – some because they don’t want to dwell on the negative aspects of a loss, and some because they don’t feel entitled to ask the client for such feedback.

If, however, you make it a goal to improve on the basis of lessons learned from lost business, then De-briefs are entirely positive experiences that move you closer to more and more successful business proposals.

As to your right to a client De-brief – think about it: you invested your time, effort and resources in trying to solve your prospect’s problem. Now that the proposal evaluation is complete surely the least they can do is help you to solve your problem now; your problem being that you need to improve what you do so that a similar loss is unlikely to happen again.

You are entitled to a De-brief. Ask for one, every time.

Benefits of the De-brief

Besides the obvious benefits of offering you an insight into the reasons you may have lost the business, a De-brief ironically also offers you the opportunity to develop your relationships within the lost account – something which will be extremely useful should you decide to continue your efforts with them.

Many people do not like to disappoint, and some client contacts may even feel bad about not giving you their business despite your hard work and professionalism – a negative proposal evaluation can be as tough on a client who has to deliver it as it is on those who are being rejected.

This can be a great opportunity to develop closer relationships with account contacts.

Running a De-brief

Keep your De-brief meeting short, focused, to-the-point and professional.

You want the reasons why you did not win the business, pure and simple.

Have a number of questions ready and take copious notes. At a very minimum include the following:

  • Can you detail the particular factors that prompted you to select the successful bidder?
  • If these factors had been present in our proposal, would you have been prepared to do business with us? If not, why?
  • How else would you suggest that we might have improved our chances of coming out of the proposal evaluation better and winning your business?
  • Would you be prepared to give us copies of non-proprietary parts of the successful vendor’s proposal to allow us to more closely analyze why their bid was more successful, helping us to address any shortcomings in our approach to winning future business with your organization? (Don’t be shy of asking for this sort of material – many clients will provide this valuable input to your competitive analysis).
  • Are you prepared to consider us for any future business that might arise? (and if not, why not?)
  • Are there any other current requirements that we might be able to help you with?
  • Can we stay in touch to you to keep you informed of developments with our company and offerings?

You will find that even the very general questions above will drive the meeting sufficiently to allow you to build a good understanding of why the proposal evaluation didn’t go your way.

Have a Professional Approach and Attitude

One of the key to a successful De-brief is attitude.

If you feel too disappointed to follow these following general guidelines, then you might do well to forget the idea of a De-brief altogether – you might do more harm than good. So:

  • Be pleasant.
  • Hold your head high
  • Be consummately professional
  • Be seen to run the De-brief
  • Be careful not to come across as aggressive, bitter or defensive. (Disappointed is OK!)
  • Pursue discussion of the reasons for your loss until you have a clear understanding
  • Be positive, particularly in your objective that you would like to do some future business with them
  • Don’t be argumentative, stay away from unnecessary detail of any contentious aspects of the prospect’s handling of the proposal evaluation process.
  • Don’t be over-friendly; don’t crawl.
  • Don’t allow the conversation to move away from the job at hand to easier general chit-chat until you have the answers you came for.

Just get the information you need to ensure you win next time.

Use the Outcome of Your De-brief

A De-brief is only as useful as the use to which you put what you learn. Be sure to:

  • Share these results with anyone who had input into the unsuccessful proposal and with anyone who may have input into any future sales, particularly in the same account.
  • Brainstorm with your team on how best to address these shortcomings in the future.
  • Put a formal plan in place to address any problem areas, and work it.

Lost sales are the clearest signal that you may be doing something wrong.

Problem is, you don’t usually know just how wrong until the proposal evaluation process is over, until you’ve invested a large amount of time and effort.

Don’t just accept losses, use a De-brief to question every one – using anything useful you uncover to reduce that they might happen again.

Win or Lose – De-brief

A final thought: why do this only when you lose? After all, there may be many reasons you win business that you’re simply not aware of. Be sure to take this same de-brief approach every time you have winning sales proposals too – you’ll always be surprised at how much importance the client put upon aspects of your offering that you didn’t consider at all critical

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what really drives your wins so that you can capitalize upon all of your strengths next time around.

So, whether you come out of the proposal evaluation process successful or unsuccessful be sure to know why!

Return to the Business Proposals Course