Firms do a lot right when working on bids. But by fine-tuning their processes they could transform win rates, writes David Yeoward.

You and your colleagues have worked hard on a bid, followed best practice, done everything you can to understand the prospect’s needs on both a corporate and individual level, produced a highly tailored document and pitched in a way that is energetic and engaging. You even rehearsed the Q&A, so nothing wrong-footed you during the presentation meeting.

But you still got the message: ‘Thank you, but not on this occasion.’ The natural reaction is to put the whole experience behind you, blame the process or other external factors and let the healing process begin. But on this occasion, mother’s warning of ‘don’t pick that scab’ is the worst advice you can follow.

Generally, professionals get the bits in the middle of the bid process about right, most of the time. They could be better at the fact-finding meeting or on clarifications, spend less time polishing the proposal document and more on rehearsing the pitch, but at least these happen. Sadly this is less true for the first and final phases.

Too few firms have a proper bid/no bid evaluation upfront, and too many fail to conduct proper win/loss debriefs both internally and with the prospect. Working on these first and final phases can have a transformative effect on your win rate.

Focusing on the debrief with the prospect

How do you get in front of the prospect, who attends from your firm and what do you ask?

How do you get in front of the prospect? To maximise the chances of the prospect agreeing to a face-to-face debrief meeting, you should request it during the proposal process when you are in front of them. The prospect is compelled by the rule of reciprocity to agree. Studies have shown that time affects the perception of value of something given (which triggers reciprocity).

As time passes, the giver (you) places a higher value on the gift (participating in the bid), whilst the recipient’s (the prospect’s) perception of value declines. This, combined with the prospect’s weariness of the process by the time the decision has been communicated, means you are less likely to get agreement to a face-to-face meeting if you leave the request until the process is over.

Who attends? This will depend on what your objectives are for the meeting. Some believe that the partner who led the team is best placed to conduct the debrief because they know, first-hand, what happened. That may well be the case, but as a result they will also be emotionally affected by the prospect’s decision. If they’ve lost, they may take their hurt pride along to the meeting.

If they’ve won, being either demob-happy or in kick-off mode could mean a proper debrief doesn’t happen.

For these reasons, having the debrief conducted by someone independent is often the best approach. Some firms use a third party to gather this feedback, others choose a senior partner, firm leader or department head. All of these options give the prospect the message that you take their feedback very seriously – you’re not just going through the motions because it’s supposedly best practice (which, of course, it is!).

What do you ask? Perhaps the best way to think about this is to consider the anticipated outputs from the debrief. Ideally, you want to know what you did well; what your firm needs to improve; and, crucially, what the competition were doing, in particular the winner.

It makes sense to ask these questions for each step of the process: from the prospect’s pre-bid view of your firm (how you responded when the invitation to tender or request for proposal was issued); via the fact-finding meetings, proposal document and pitch presentations; to the way each firm acted between presentation and decision.

Don’t assume that the prospect will necessarily remember your document and presentation. Make sure that copies are taken to the meeting so that the feedback given is as accurate and targeted as possible. Where the feedback highlights a shortcoming on the part of a particular team member, that would be a prompt to work with the individual to help them improve or, occasionally, trigger a reprimand. And that goes for all other aspects.

If the prospect tells you that your document was poor – whether that means light on content, or badly formatted or proofed – you should explore that with the client-facing and support team members responsible for producing the final version. What went wrong? It’s unlikely to have been down to one person’s actions, so learn the lessons rather than pointing the finger.

And to counter the impression you might get that the debrief process is all negative, think of what you’ll learn about the things you did well and what others in the market are doing that you could emulate. Following up on the prospect’s feedback can often result in work that wasn’t part of the tender, because you have shown them that you are good people to work with.

That way you get a return on your investment and a valued new client despite losing the original opportunity.

David Yeoward is a consultant – winning bids and writing proposals, Law Society Consulting