One Approach To Proposal Debriefs That You May Not Have Considered

Proposal Debriefs

Today, I want to share another excerpt from The Magic Of Winning Proposals that illustrates an important point. While this book is largely about proposals, it also gives you the answers for everything from capture planning to presentations and debriefs. It’s really a total solution.

But for now, here is another excerpt. This one relates to debriefing after a proposal loss (or win).

—Begin Book Excerpt—

One Approach To Proposal Debriefs

Put yourself in the client’s shoes. They want the best service or solution, but they’ll have no interest in giving you an unfair advantage over your competitors. Likely, your clients have debriefed many consulting firms and have established a common script they recite to losers. It’s not in their best interest to give one losing firm more information than another.

One approach is to come at them with open-ended questions they are not expecting. If you make them pause and think, you’ll either break them from their script or get them to admit there is someone else you should be talking to.

One good question to ask is, “If you could only point to one thing that set the winner apart, what would that be?” Another question you might ask is, “If there was one key area we came up short in, what would that be?”

Questions like that force them to think. When you force them to think, you’ll break them from the script. If they can’t answer these questions, you might ask them if there is someone else who could.

Always Fact Check Client Debriefs

Take what your client says at face value, but always try to verify that their comments correlate with how your proposal was scored. For example, if they tell you the winning firm had better qualifications, but scored your qualifications higher…you can be sure there is more to the story.

On the other hand, if they said your technical approach could use some work and they scored your technical approach low, you’ll have to admit that technical approach hurt you.

Remember to ask for a debrief even if you’ve won. You’ll need to know the information they provide for future proposals.

When you have the debrief information and have verified it (to the extent you can), put it through the same process you did with your internal debrief.

If you choose to “skip” the debrief process, the lack of improvement will eventually catch up to you and hinder your success rate.

—End Book Excerpt—

I’d like to hear from you. Shoot me an email or post a comment below about your WORST proposal debrief experience. I read every email and every comment!


  1. Bernie Siben says

    You are so right about the lack of improvement catching up with you at some point. In addition, if you don’t ask for a debrief, the client might assume your proposal was just a “kneejerk” kind of response to an RFP, but that you didn’t have any particular desire to work with them.

  2. Many of the debriefs that we have had in the past several months have been a written narrative sent via email, no one on one conversations. We have asked to get clarification on points raised in the written response, but have had strong resistance to having a conversation. We have been reluctant to push.

    We have used very similar open ended questions on one on one sessions that we had for a recompete of a very large IDIQ with great success. We asked questions like “What work on the past IDIQ do you think was not represented that you feel will be utilized more in the new contract?” and “Are there any recurring mistakes that you see in proposal responses that we should avoid in response to this competition?”. Both of these questions lead to discussions that provided fantastic insight into the acquisition strategy that was being used for the recompete.

  3. Marion Thatch says

    When asking for a debrief it helps to share that this is a step in your overall process to elevate your services. It us also important to have someone who was not involved with the process and make the client aware so the information gathered is not personal but rather data gathering I work with a couple of firms as a consultant inducting debriefs for them. One client declared I can’t see spending more than 5 minutes on the debrief. Being respectful of this, I planned to ask what we wanted to know first rather than the standard list of open ended questions. The client not only provided valuable feedback, but spent an extra 10 minutes to elaborate AND then provided information on additional work the firm might position themselves.

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