Double Whammy – Losing a Bid and Learning No Lessons!

Win or lose, a debrief can arm sales and pursuit teams with best practices that could be leveraged for future opportunities and with knowledge of landmines to be overcome moving forward. Without a process or drive for continuous improvement, businesses will remain trapped in a trough with no lessons learnt, continually reinventing the wheel and getting caught in a never-ending cyclical swirl.

A lack of willingness to learn lessons from losses can be perilous for any company in a milieu where new players are emerging rapidly with disruptive offers that can shake leaders off their pedestals.

Celebrate Wins, Learn Lessons from Losses

Lessons Learned sessions are designed to capture the full gamut of the pursuit process spanning preplanning activities, bid strategy, execution, risk mitigation and, importantly, stakeholder management. They are just as imperative as celebrating morale-boosting wins.

Without these, areas that need improvement will be brushed under the carpet. Errors made will escape scrutiny without a chance to keep them at bay in subsequent opportunities. It will be a lost opportunity for discovering and resolving missteps that make wins slip away.

That will be a double whammy – a lost bid and no lessons learnt. Even best practices will remain with the pursuit team without the opportunity to document and share them with other internal sales teams.

Lessons Learned graphic

Key Questions for Customer Debrief

When a bidder ends up at the losing end, it is crucial to request a customer debrief for a grip on such questions as:

  1. What were the decisive factors that clinched the deal for the winning vendor?
  2. Where did we fall short? What are technical gaps that weighed us down?
  3. Did our compliance responses meet your expectations?
  4. What are the strengths that gave us a good score?
  5. Did we miss addressing any of your core business drivers in our proposal?
  6. What could we have done better both during early engagement and post-submission?
  7. Did our proposal adhere to your instructions? Was it clear and did it facilitate easy navigation?
  8. How would you rate our post-submission deliverables — solution demonstration, clarifications to questions on our proposal, etc.

The book, Powerful Proposals that I find a compelling benchmark (along with the Shipley Guide), authors David Pugh and Terry Bacon suggest asking the evaluators / decision-makers the extent to which the following influenced their decision:

  • Pre-proposal activities
  • The Proposal
  • The offering
  • Post-proposal activities
  • Individual or organisational behaviour

I will assume the winning bidder will already have a good grasp of factors that helped them close the deal. If not, the above can be applied to them as well.

Internal Review

Once the customer debrief has been completed and answers for the above questions gathered, an internal review must be organised to validate the feedback for meaningful learning. That will give teams a third-party and authoritative perspective on why we lost, so any technical gaps can be relayed to the product team, so they can keep any key missing functionality in the roadmap.

While the bid manager will drive the internal lessons learnt session, participation from the sales leadership is key. Each of the contributing members of the pursuit team must share their perceptions on what worked well and what did not, offering suggestions to fix any gaps.

All documented lessons and best practices must then be reviewed, approved and uploaded to a central database for sales teams to tap for their upcoming opportunities.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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