How can losing a bid help you win?

One characteristic of a winner is the ability to use a setback to gain humility, strength, and experience out of a defeat.   No one in the business wishes to lose a bid, but in a competitive environment everyone experiences this, no matter how well-prepared a proposal or appropriate a technical solution may be.


Losing a bid should not be regarded as a failure, but rather it is an opportunity to receive constructive criticism and feedback on your proposalthat you can apply to make your next efforts stronger and more competitive.  Without question, it can be hard not to take a loss personally, especially if you are working with a large bid you were confident would win.  But don’t forget- it’s not personal.  It’s just business.

We have compiled eight questions that you will always want to answer with YES.  If followed carefully, then you can count on staying in the game, win or lose:

1. Are you prepared to put together a proposal to a new customer for the first time?

Even if you are an experienced Contractor with a proven ability to write strong proposals, special attention may need to be given to a new customer.  New customers may already have a preferred contractor and you will need to differentiate yourself– convince that customer to choose you for the first time.  You need to provide an overwhelming case to break conventions and take the risk of giving you business.

2. Did you offer the lowest price possible without the prospect of losing money?

As budgets shrink, it has become more important than ever to balance a high-quality product or technical solution with price with product. The term “Lowest Price Technically Acceptable” is heard more frequently. In fact, in some cases the customer will go straight to the competitor offering the lowest price.  The first cut of proposals is to eliminate those “outside of the competitive range” (within 10% of a target price) even before the technical merits may be considered.

3. Did you give the requested solution without irrelevancies?

Resist the urge to over-qualify yourself. Respond compellingly to what is asked for, but no more.  A winning bid focuses on meeting and exceeding the requirements of the specific solution being requested, without getting lost in irrelevant details.  Inserting unnecessary add-ons to your Past Performance documentation, no matter how impressive, is a quick path to disqualification.

4. Was your proposal compliant?

It is essential that you follow the proscribed format and instructions (Section L of Federal proposals) and address the evaluation factors (Section M).  These two considerations trump all others.  If you don’t follow the directions or respond to the criteria used to evaluate proposals, you are certain to lose.   Preferences in formatting and graphics layout are a secondary consideration to meeting the Government’s requirements.

5. Did the proposal make it to the evaluation committee?

Proposals are eliminated before they ever reach the evaluation committee if they are nonresponsive to the established instructions and requirements. Special attention needs to be given to the avoidance of glaring errors, such as incorrect font, text size, or typos on solicitation numbers.  These types of errors will prevent your proposal from being considered compliant.  This not only takes yourself out of the running for the individual proposal, but can be detrimental to future proposal attempts.

6. Did you communicate your qualifications well before the bid was posted?

Soliciting Government business should not be considered a last-minute endeavor.  It is critical that you communicate your qualifications and capabilities through presentations and meetings months, or even years, before submitting a proposal if possible.  You can directly respond to a posted opportunity or you can spend the time beforehand building the groundwork for a solid working relationship. Thinking ahead gives you a much better chance at success!

7. Did your references give a strong enough endorsement?

When submitting proposals, the voice and true feelings of your reference must  never be overlooked.  Customers are not looking for satisfactory bids, they are looking for outstanding bids.  Never assume that a customer will provide a ringing endorsement, confirm past customer satisfaction and let them know that they will be contacted as references for a given proposal opportunity. Correspondingly, the voice of your references should ring boldly with superlatives.  Past performance references should communicate excellence, not merely competence.  High reference ratings do not entail words like “good” or “sufficient.”  Don’t be shy about coaching your references to use the strongest possible words when endorsing you.  After all, you’ve worked hard to obtain these references and keep them happy.  They should be delighted to return the favor and will often enthusiastically do so.

8. Do you have the experience required?

Customers are going to desire more information about the team that will be working on the project.  Just as you want your references to describe your work in superlatives, you will want your team to be described in a similar fashion.  Establish both your company’s experience as well as the relevant experience of each of your key team members.  Government customers do not pay you to train your staff.  Individual team member references may be good and their resumes may be compliant, but you want to market them as dedicated, experienced, and committed to the work required to satisfy the customer.  Emphasize their accomplishments and why they stand out from the competition, and you immediately place yourself at a competitive advantage.

How many of the eight questions were you able to answer with “yes?”  All eight? Half? Less than half?  As the number of “yes” questions increases, you will find yourself at a correspondingly advantageous position to win more work.  From there, you are likely to experience significant gains in customer loyalty as long as you consistently deliver upon your obligations.  You will always have to provide your best effort to remain competitive.  However, good fortunes are much easier to come by once you have established yourself by saying “yes,” even when the customer occasionally says “no.”

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