Monday, January 12, 2015

Debriefings: How to Find Value in Losing

Business owners and marketing/sales professionals often ask me about the process of debriefings.  The questions I receive most often are:
"How do you ask a client to give you a candid appraisal of your proposal in a debriefing?" and  "How can you use what you learn from a debriefing to win future work?"
My approach to debriefings is simple and direct:
  • Tell the client that the sole reason for requesting a debriefing is to learn how to improve your next proposal.
This ensures the client that you will ask questions related only to the improvement of your next proposal document – and will not debate their evaluation or defend your proposal.
  • During the debriefing, let the client talk.  Save your questions for the end of the discussion.
  • Have a list of questions ready.  The three most important: 
    •  How was the proposal scored and ranked? 
    • What did they like the most about the winning proposal?
    • What are the two most important recommendations they could make to improve your next proposal?
  • At the conclusion of the debriefing, always ask:
    • Will there be new contract opportunities in the near future?  If so, who is the best contact within the organization to call on about the opportunities?
  • If there is an opportunity to provide the client with additional information about your company, offer it – and send it along immediately after the debriefing.  If the client offered some especially helpful advice during the debriefing, be sure to thank them for it, and let them know that you will put their advice to use in your next proposal.  A letter of thanks will be remembered.
The lessons learned from debriefings can be very valuable – not only to you as a business owner or marketing/sales representative – but to anyone involved in the preparation of your proposals.  If you share every detail of the debriefing (in a written summary) with your colleagues, everyone can benefit from the information – and so will your next proposal.

I had one client tell me that they could see the results of their debriefing in my next proposal – and they rewarded it with contract.  They appreciated the fact that I listened to their suggestions and applied them to the next proposal they received!