Why Did We [Choose One: Win | Not Win]?

At the end of an intense and arduous proposal effort, you – and the team – may feel that you’ve put forth your best effort. Designed a great solution for the customer, pulled out all the stops, written compelling text and included gorgeous pictures depicting the utter beauty and elegance of your solution….

And then:

You win.

Or, worse, you lose.


We Won!

Be careful what you wish for – now you have to implement! (Didn’t make any promises you couldn’t keep, right?)

Why did you win?

  • You were cheap. In public sector bids, we see price trump almost everything. Why almost? Well – many requests for proposal that we see have scoring or evaluation criteria that weight technical capability above price. Others flatly say: if technical capability is equivalent among competitors, or technical capability is simply adequate – lowest price wins. And we saw a rather surprising one recently, where pricing was included in the same binder as the technical proposal. (Instead, these are usually requested as separate sealed envelopes or binders.) What’s the evaluator going to do? Turn to the numbers first.
  • The customer loves you. What kinds of relationships did you build before the request for proposal (RFP) came out? If it’s for a state agency, were you telling everyone that would listen – governor, legislators, agency directors, community leaders – why you would be good for them, and for their constituents? What did you give back, in terms of community services?
  • You have a clearly superior solution. We have become jaded about this – but occasionally, someone offers something so unique and compelling that it raises the bar for the competition. Have that thing – and make it hard to match.
  • Your proposal made all of this so obvious that it was an easy decision. Evaluators have other things to do besides read proposals. Make yours enjoyable, easy, and compelling.

We Lost!

Unfortunately, now begins the search for scapegoats.

What’s not so obvious to those on the search is that many of those scapegoats were in plain sight before the proposal was submitted.

Here are some reasons why you might have lost:

  • Your price was too high. This is pretty easy to detect in public sector competitions, but may be hard to know beforehand. But – I have seen instances where a losing bid had a price seven to ten times that of the winning bid. Did both firms read the same request for proposal?
  • The customer hates you/doesn’t know you.  Perhaps your reputation precedes you. How are you doing on other contracts for this customer? Or, someone associated with your team said the wrong thing at a legislative hearing, agency meeting, or bidder’s conference.
  • The customer hates one of your subcontractors. What’s the saying about “being known by the company you keep?”
  • Your solution is inadequate. Did you read the requirements?
  • Your solution contains elements that the customer cannot believe. For example – and I have seen this in the realm of medical claims payment systems – you claim that information system ABC can be easily adapted to look exactly like information system XYZ.  The customer says: “you’re dreaming” and writes off your bid.
  • Your proposal was incomplete, unclear, hard to read, etc. The customer cannot find what they are looking for, or have to work so much to understand what you’ve said – and whether it meets their requirement – that they finally just give up.

That list is just a start, of course.

Here’s another tip: most likely, you did not lose because the word “the” was misspelled as “teh” on page 267. In fact, more of the public agencies are including language in their requests for proposal that allow the agency the right to overlook “inconsequential errors” or “immaterial errors” or something similar. While you want to work hard to try to eliminate those mistakes, they pale in comparison to having the wrong price, program, or relationship with the customer.

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