But all is not lost, through adversity comes triumph, in much the same was as Ulysses in the Odyssey.
Tempting RFPs are like the Sirens, projects-by-committee are like Scylla...
If you've been following our blog articles regarding Requests for Proposals you are familiar with our repeated philosophy of being selective in the RFPs you respond to as well as developing an objective means of selecting the right RFPs to respond to. If you're following the advice in these two articles, you're already on your way to establishing a foundation for performing a post-mortem on your proposal.
Do you know why you lost?
Sometimes we go into a project knowing the likelihood is that we have no chance of winning. We put time into a proposal because, well, even though the chances are slim, we could pull an upset and win! Not to mention that there could be secondary benefits to us simply taking the field. But even if you think you know why you lost it is still beneficial to you in the long run to complete a RFP post-mortem because every failure is a good opportunity to learn.
There is no failure except in no longer trying.
Have you asked them?
Don't be afraid to ask why another company's proposal was chosen over your own. They might not always respond or give you any real answer, but it can't hurt to ask, and the knowledge you gain might be extremely useful in future proposals. It also reiterates to the client that yes, you were very interested in the project, in more than a casual way.
Were you too expensive?
We included this because, when you lose a proposal, you immediately assume you were too expensive. Don't make this assumption! For all you know you were the least expensive and that led them to disbelieve your proposal. Again, don't be afraid to ask details about the winning proposal. Ask targeted questions and you should receive targeted responses.
Even if you were more expensive than the selected proposal, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should lower your rates. In your proposal you should always be pitching the rate that you want to receive and feel your value dictates. If you lose to a lower-priced competitor, it means one of two things: either the client didn't have budget for your increased project cost, or you didn't do a good enough job of justifying your value as it related to your pricing. And if you had properly pre-qualified the lead, that leaves your proposal coming up short.
Was it something you didn't do?
One of the most common reasons for rejection is one that you can easily avoid: non-compliance with the RFP. Font size, length of proposal, required questions, number of copies of the proposal... all of these are simple things that could have stood in the way of you and winning your project. The good thing is that once you realize that non-compliance is the reason why you lost a proposal you'll likely never make that mistake again!
Was it something you didn't say or how you said it?
You're intimately knowledgeable about the product or service that you're proposing; the problem is often that the recipient of your proposal might not be as up-to-speed on the topic. Without knowing it, your proposal could be losing because you failed to mention something so simple and obvious to you that the client was looking for but didn't see in your documentation! While the conversation might be like "We were looking for xyz in your proposal / Didn't you see that on page 9 in the section discussing vwx?" it'll bring this issue to your attention and enable you to fix it in the next proposal.
Are you capturing their attention?
Some people learn this the hard way. While not a recommended practice as most clients prefer you deliver all of the proposal material to them instead of making them go get it, in this case it clearly articulated that the client only gave their proposal a cursory glance. How many of your proposals have only received a cursory glance without you even knowing it? The right solution shouldn't be to spy on the client, but perhaps ask follow-up questions such as "what parts of our proposal were considered winners? which parts of our proposal did we lose you on? did we articulate the cost-benefit-analysis of our product/service sufficiently?"
What to do next?
Learn from your mistakes and make the next proposal better. Evaluate the reasons why you lost and re-factor them into your go/no-go decision tree. Revisit your "default proposal"; is the format and content working in your favor or working against you? It might be convenient, but if it doesn't provide results, perhaps it's time to revise it in some major way. And lastly, consider bringing in a specialized consultant to review your proposal materials and perhaps help you craft stronger presentations.