Proposal Debrief

studiomengstrazzaraI 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.

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3 Responses to “Proposal Debrief”


  1. 1 Tim Klabunde February 3, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Ford Harding posted “Learning from Loss” this morning just minutes after this was posted. His thoughts are well worth reading:

    http://www.hardingco.com/blog/2009/02/02/learning-from-loss/

  2. 2 Mark Wainwright February 4, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Hey Tim –

    Thanks for the article and the mention. I had my debrief yesterday with the lead interviewer (a loss, unfortunately), and it went well. I called and left him a message, so he was prepared for the conversation when he called me back. He was very clear on what we did well, and most of it coincided with the messages were were trying to reinforce.

    He also talked about what he had wanted to hear that he didn’t. He mentioned that he didn’t get a satisfactory answer to his “big question” (related to managing subconsultants) from any of the interviewees, so he essentially deferred to the other interviewers for their opinions. In the end, I got the impression (even though there was a scoring system) that the voting was done based on with whom the panel felt a strong connection and rapport.

    The conversation was a good one – he actually mentioned that the debrief call was a “good business move” on our part and that it served to position us well for future work, increasing our understanding of the client and building the relationship.

    I had most of my “formal” questions answered during the conversation without needing to ask, underscoring the need to have a loose structure when entering into a debrief conversation.

    One other thing to note – I was not part of the actual interview, but was the lead in the preparation. I made this clear during the conversation, mentioning that it was a conscious decision to have someone from our firm, but not in the interview, do the debrief to avoid any potential conflicts (or hurt feelings!).

    All in all, it was a great move and it will absolutely become part of all of our wins and losses in the future. It is a great tool and serves to “close the loop” after interviews.

    Thanks again for the help.

    Mark Wainwright

  3. 3 Tim Klabunde February 4, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Mark-
    It sounds like you succeeded at building the relationship. I like your use of the call, and I found it interesting that you chose to hold the debrief without your interview team (even noting it to the client). Long-and-short it seams that you were able to create success through the debrief process!
    Thanks for being apart of Cofebuz, I look forward to keeping in touch!
    Tim


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