Why Didn’t We Win?


You spent a lot of time and effort to prepare your proposal – what happened?


A lot of work goes into preparing a proposal, but you don’t always win the contract.   Take a deep breath, acknowledge your disappointment….and learn what you can from the experience.


Request a Debriefing – But no Whining!

This is not the time or place to complain about how life is unfair. This is a chance to learn exactly where your proposal missed the mark.  The original RFP document contained a section on how your proposal would be evaluated and the weight given to each factor. The debrief meeting allows you to discuss this evaluation, your company’s strengths, and where there is room for improvement.

You will NOT learn how your competitors scored….the debrief will focus solely on your proposal…..but you might learn how you ranked among the bidders – for technical approach, managerial experience, quality control, past performance and so on.


Some factors are surprisingly common mistakes, and should be easily corrected:


Follow the Instructions… Exactly.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) can have very specific requirements regarding the format, layout and order of documents in your proposal.  There may be a requirement for multiple volumes; sections to be outlined in a certain format; even a specific font and page margins.  Follow the instruction exactly.  It doesn’t matter how wonderful your proposal is, if they ask for three separate volumes in two-inch 3-ring binders, with specific tabs and subheadings, with one redacted copy and several flash drive or CD copies – that’s EXACTLY what you give them!   It may seem like a minor point, but it can mean your proposal won’t even be considered.  Read the Instructions to Offerors section, then.. READ IT AGAIN.  Have someone outside the proposal team go through it as well.


Sign and Return All the Forms.

This is a similar problem – leaving out a required form, or failing to sign and/or initial in 156 different places may seem like overkill, but it will have your proposal rejected.  Include every form, even those that are Not Applicable (just put N/A and sign it). No exceptions.


Be On Time.

Even though many proposals can be submitted electronically, there are still a lot that require you to submit in a hard copy format. Some forms need to be notarized, so check this out early in the proposal writing process, to give yourself enough  time to prepare.  Allow more time than you think you’ll need to print, collate, fill binders, label, address and mail any hard copy proposal. Add in time for the printer inevitably breaking down or jamming; running out of toner or paper; or even someone spilling coffee! Double check the due date and time–you might be on Central time but the agency’s office might be on Eastern. Even a minute late will disqualify all your hard work.


Corporate Experience.

You have experience in this field; you’re well-known in your industry; you’ve built a reputation for quality work; your staff has all the qualifications and experience required. Don’t assume the agency’s evaluation team knows who you are and what you’re capable of.  The person you spoke to at the agency who loved your work, or the guy you talked to at the Industry Day won’t be the only people looking at your proposal – they many not even be part of the evaluation team! Make sure your proposal spells out your corporate Managerial and Technical expereince clearly and accurately.


Past Performance.

The agency doesn’t care about your great work on a project unrelated to this one. Make sure any experience you include relates directly to the work in this project. If necessary spell out exactly how this experience relates to the proposal.



Obviously pricing can be one of the biggest determining factors in awarding the contract.  Check out the Evaluation section of the RFP. Is Price listed as the main factor, or does Technical Expertise count more? Will this RFP be evaluated as a Lowest-Price-Technically-Acceptable contract, or as Best-Value?  Be clear about your pricing – lay out your overall costs, overheads, and profit (you are allowed to make a profit remember!) in your response.

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