So You Lost the Bid Competition. Now What?

Your team spent countless hours crafting a big proposal for an exciting government opportunity. But, after weeks of crossed fingers and bated breath, you get some disappointing news — your business didn’t make the cut. Sound familiar?

Losing a bid competition can be really discouraging, especially when you’re just getting started with public sector bidding. You know your solution could deliver amazing value for the community, but you’re up against some tough competitors and highly experienced bidders.

Was all the effort you put into perfecting your proposal a giant waste of time? Where do you go from here? 

If you’re feeling discouraged or ready to give up, it’s time to take a step back. Because guess what? It’s not all bad news. Those hours you put into writing your proposal are an excellent learning opportunity.

In this post, we’re looking at the silver lining of lost bid competitions and how you can use the experience as fuel to supercharge your next proposal.

Requesting feedback on your proposal

The best way to turn lemons into lemonade after losing a bid competition is to request a post-award debriefing from the contracting authority. While asking for this feedback might feel like you’re imposing or calling in a favor, it’s actually an established part of the bidding process.

Government entities are legally required to provide feedback and share your bid score when you request this information within a specific period of time following the award announcement.

Getting feedback on your submission is a critical step in the journey toward winning more government contracts. Feedback helps you quickly understand where you missed the mark and how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

What to expect in a post-award debriefing

In a post-award debriefing, the awarding agency typically provides a summary of their selection process, reviews how your proposal scored against the evaluation criteria, and explains the rationale for the selection.

You can expect to have open discussions about your proposal submission specifically, but the agency may also share the overall evaluated cost and score of the successful bidder.

Most government agencies want to establish strong relationships with vendors and encourage healthy competition, which enables them to find the best value for taxpayers. They want vendors to stay connected and engaged, so you’ll submit a competitive bid on the next relevant opportunity. That’s why it’s in everyone’s best interests to provide quality feedback that’s honest, constructive, and focused on both the strengths and weaknesses of your proposal.

Common feedback

While the comments you receive may vary depending on the government agency, there are some recurring issues that government buyers often see in proposals. Here are some examples of common feedback:

  • The proposal repeats the requirements from the RFP rather than showing a deep grasp of what’s needed
  • The approach, resourcing, or pricing (or elements of these) doesn’t align with your understanding of the requirements
  • The proposal is disjointed or difficult to follow (as is often the case when large proposals are completed by several different subject matter experts or offices)
  • There aren’t enough details around tangible products, outcomes, or deliverables to determine the strength of your proposal
  • There aren’t enough details around the hours, staffing, or resources required to complete the project
  • The project or portfolio samples are not relevant to the requirements of the project and do not demonstrate your capabilities in key areas

Questions to ask

Along with hearing the posting agency’s analysis of your proposal, you will also have the opportunity to ask questions. It’s a good idea to meet with your team ahead of the debriefing to create a list of topics you’d like to discuss.

Here are some questions to consider asking if they haven’t already been addressed in the debriefing:

  • Who is the successful bidder? Getting familiar with your competition can help you position yourself stronger next time.
  • What is our score compared to the winning score? Knowing where you stand can give you a sense of how tight the race was and where you can improve.
  • How many bids were considered and where did our proposal rank? Having some context around the scale of the competition can help you understand the market better.
  • How can we improve our approach for next time? Procurement teams have read through a lot of proposals. Collecting their insights on your strengths and weaknesses can help you focus your efforts in the right places.

Prohibited information

By law, government entities are required to safeguard certain information and are not allowed to disclose it in a post-award debriefing. The following sensitive or confidential topics are off limits:

  • Trade secrets
  • Privileged or confidential processes, techniques, commercial information, and financial data
  • Names of people providing references

While you’re likely itching to know how your proposal compares with your competitors’, government agencies can typically only share the successful bidder’s total cost and score. Point-by-point comparisons of other bidders’ costs are considered proprietary, confidential information.

Conducting a post-bid analysis with your team

Now that you have quality feedback on your proposal’s performance, it’s time to regroup with your internal team. Sit down together to share and digest the feedback provided by the contracting authority, review your bid in detail, and understand where it missed the mark.

Here are some things to look out for, in addition to the common issues we highlighted above:

  • Did formatting errors, missing content, spelling or grammatical mistakes, and other small details add up to impact the professionalism and readability of your proposal?
  • Are there places where you may have cut corners because you ran out of time or staff resources to provide a more thorough response?
  • Did you fully understand the challenge and demonstrate how you can meet all bid requirements outlined in the RFP?
  • Was your level of experience a stumbling block? If so, could subcontracting help you fill gaps in your expertise and craft more competitive bids in the future?

Turn failure into growth

While losing a bid certainly stings, it isn’t always a bad thing. Approaching the experience as a constructive learning opportunity can lead to better bidding outcomes and, eventually, more government projects under your belt. After all, failure isn’t the opposite of success — it’s all part of the process of achieving great things.

Ready to streamline your bidding process and improve your chances of winning lucrative government projects? Sign up for Bonfire Premium Vendor today to find your next big opportunity.