A team I supported lost one recently. It was an important one. They had a great team and worked hard to position and compete. I hate that. My clients pay me to help them win, and my track record is good. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less when we lose.
It got me thinking about the importance of a fearless debrief. I had lunch recently with a good friend who moved from the consultant side to a large public agency. He knows how expensive, time-consuming and emotionally difficult the competitive selection process can be for consultants. He bemoaned a recent selection where his preferred firm blew their lead in a less than stellar interview and lost. He suggested to the firm’s PM that they should call him for a debrief. He said the losing difference was fixable and he would hate to see them lose another one for the same reason. They never called.
He also told me about another selection where the winner nearly lost it over some small issues that were also easily fixed. They won but did themselves some damage in the process. He offered to provide them feedback about their proposal and interview details. They never called.
So here is my advice. Ignore it at your peril. Get a debrief on every selection, not just when you lose, but every selection. You spent your time, money and sleepless nights working to win this pursuit. You can’t afford not to ask for feedback. Here are a few suggested guidelines.
- Use both official and “off the record” debrief channels. Many public (and some private ones as well) have set processes and will give you specific data, criteria, scores etc. They may have procurement rules that limit what they can share, officially. This type of debrief has value but it is not the real story. An “off the record” debrief from a trusted friend who will not pull punches is much more valuable.
- Get more than one. Information that can not be triangulated can not be trusted. Period.
- Do it in person. Phone calls, email, video and other communication channels are fine for some things but not for debriefs.
- Don’t send the project manager or the project champion. Principals, marketing managers, or and independent third party make better choices. The person who sweated blood to compete is not likely to be a very good or unbiased listener. And as soon as you argue, justify, complain, etc. the information flow stops. Your only goal is to listen and learn, not change their minds.