Two reliable ways to improve your proposal success rates

How do you go about continually improving your proposals? You may be missing out on valuable insights that could really make a difference to your win rates. Most people I talk to only pay attention to losses. That's understandable, but it is rarely helpful.

Yes, it hurts to lose. Your boss is probably breathing down your neck for answers. Maybe you want to argue with the prospect in the hope they'll change their mind.

Unfortunately, in most cases there is little value in seeking feedback on a lost opportunity.

If you're not the winner, the prospect has no interest in giving you rational feedback that you can actually use. You aren't the supplier they chose. They just want you out of their office and out of their hair. In a government tender debriefing, you will get the least possible information designed to protect the department’s probity position.

If you think that sounds a bit disheartening, it is. There's no way to sugar-coat it.

The truth is that there are only two reliable ways to build your proposal success rates.

1. Get feedback when you win. Every win contains a lesson and your mission is to figure out what that lesson is. We often tend to skip this step due to a little habit called "confirmation bias" which - according to Bri Williams, a specialist in buying behaviour -  is our tendency to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs. In other words, to assume that the reasons why we won the business are the reasons why we thought we should win it. Never assume; always ask. You may well be surprised at the things that the client liked most about your offer.

2. Get feedback from a friendly, long-standing client, even if they passed this time. They probably still like you and feel they owe you an explanation. For example, one of my most successful clients recently lost a bid that they were fully expecting to win. Yes, it hurt, but they were able to pull themselves out of the post-loss quagmire and really listen when the customer told them where our bid had missed the mark. These insights were the benchmark against which the bid team assessed everything we put into the next bid. The customer was impressed, and three months later my client was rewarded with a huge contract that was widely considered a long shot before we got the wake-up call.