I received an e-mail from Mark Wainwright of studio Meng Strazzara in Seattle, WA this past week asking me for some thoughts on debriefing after submitting on a proposal: “I’ve done many of these in the past with no specific formula and mixed results, so I’m looking to tighten things up and create a much more successful process.” Thanks for the great question Mark, let me share with you my personal philosophy on proposal debriefs. In addition, I hope that others will feel free to jump in with any of your “lessons learned” in the comments section at the bottom of this post.
Proposal Debrief Philosophy
I am not a fan of proposal debriefs. I work in an industry where it is common place to ask potential clients to rethink and reiterate why they didn’t select your firm for a particular project. I personally believe that interaction with potential clients should always be about building a relationship, and the way that most firms approach debriefs is counter productive to that end goal. With that basis, let me share with you two great ways to debrief with a client after you have submitted a proposal:
The First Right Way to Debrief
Debrief on a project that you were just awarded. This gets at the question of “We know why we think you should have hired us, but why did you hire us?” The post-award debrief serves two main objectives: 1) it shows you what factors will help you win your next proposal and 2) it helps you understand your clients’ expectations for you going into the project. In my opinion the second of these is even more important than the first, as repeat clientele and client referrals account for the majority of work in many firms.
The Second Right Way to Debrief
Debrief by focusing on your relationship with the potential client. Never walk into a debriefing with the goal of finding out what you did wrong. Rather a debriefing should focus on understanding their needs rather than how they interpreted your proposal submission or interview. It is by showing a potential client that you are truly interested in them that you will win them over for the next project.
Should you debrief?
If you can’t debrief in a way that builds your relationship with the potential client, do not debrief.