Win or lose, ask for the debrief

Asking for a post-award debriefing might be the smartest thing you’ll ever do for your win rate. A debriefing is provided by the prospective client or agency and provides a proposer with the rationale of the selection decision. On almost all government proposals, you have a right to request a debriefing. And even on private proposals, owners are often willing to explain to a losing proposer why they were not selected.

Debriefings are a great way to learn what you did wrong in understanding a client’s needs and in communicating your offer.

But here’s a key factor that few proposers take advantage of: Debriefings are not limited to the losers.

Debriefings aren’t just for losers.

My friend Ellen Bonner hits this home in her guidebook Post-Award Federal Government Contract Debriefings. Ellen, a federal contract and proposal lawyer, has successfully litigated and advised on multi-billion dollar healthcare and other federal contracts. Ellen recommends a debriefing regardless of the outcome.

According to Ellen, “Awardees should always request a debriefing. If a disappointed bidder files a bid protest, it is important for the awardee to have the debriefing information to intervene in the bid protest.”

In other words, the facts you’ll learn that support your winning selection might be needed as evidence to defend your selection if a losing bidder decides to protest that you were not the best of the bunch.

There is another good reason to request a debriefing even if you win. No matter your prior knowledge of the opportunity and the client, your proposal is going to include some measure of guesswork as to what the reviewers consider important. A debriefing can reveal how accurate your guesses were.

And almost always, something will emerge that will surprise you. It could be an emphasis on a fact you thought was not important. Or it might be that your favorite differentiator isn’t mentioned as a strength. Regardless, what you hear them say will help you hone your proposal writing skills.

So at the outset of your next major RFP response, go ahead and plan to request a debrief—no matter the outcome.