Learn by losing out

Most government agencies offer formal debriefing sessions for companies who have submitted for government contracts and not been successful. The key is you have to ask for it. So when you lose some government business – and you will – immediately request a debrief session. You won’t regret it.

The primary goal of these sessions is to give potential Government suppliers some insight into how they can submit more competitive bids in future. If executed correctly, they can offer meaningful information pertaining to the strengths and weaknesses of your small business’s submission and by doing this provides vital information that will make your future submissions that much better.

Most government agencies offer these debrief sessions as part of the overall process. Most small businesses aren’t aware of this.

There are some rules that you must abide by in these meetings. The major one is that you aren’t allowed to discuss, question or compare your submission to the company that was successful.

Honing your proposal

Here are a few ideas on topics you could include in the debrief which will help you hone future proposals to government:

  • Some indication in relation to your costs – ie – are you far too expensive for this piece of work?
  • The strengths of your offer.
  • The weaknesses.
  • Resource issues or deficiencies.
  • Issues around aspects of sub-contracting, if applicable.
  • Issues around your experience or qualifications.

Following my very first debrief, I was able to uncover some very valuable reasons why my small business had lost out on a tender I initially believed we were perfectly placed to win:

  1. I’d addressed the mandatory requirements well; however, we’d not outlined any value-adds of note.
  2. We lost some points because we weren’t listed anywhere as a “government approved” supplier.
  3. We were very “highly-priced”.

On their own, none of these factors was complete deal-breakers. It simply meant that we lost criteria points for each of them. When everything was added up, we weren’t the highest-ranking bidder.

However, I had something to work with. I understood what the business needed to do to put itself in a better place to win Government business.

We already had a list of value-adds we could offer, though in hindsight I realised I’d not been putting too bright a spotlight on them in our submissions. Easy fix.

Upon investigation, it took me about two hours to fill in a form, pay a $60 admin fee, and two weeks later receive a formal letter that we were now a “government approved” supplier. Even easier fix.

It’d been spelt out that we were more expensive than our suppliers. For future bids, I knew we’d need to sharpen our pencils a bit more and make us more competitive. Future fix.

Request a debrief

Assuming you have the resilience and fortitude to continue bidding for government work, treat every debrief you have as solving one more piece of the puzzle that is winning Government contracts. Treat every debrief as a forum which will refine and perfect your proposals. Treat every debrief as a way of really drilling down to finding out what government really wants.

You must turn the disappointment of losing the business around and instead consider the resulting debrief as a key plank moving you closer to securing regular and profitable Government work. Until you do this you’ll constantly be submitting the same or very similar responses for government contracts. You will offer the same or similar pricing and solutions. And you will receive the same or very similar result.

You will lose. Learn from your losses, and you will start winning.

Thomas Pollock, CEO, THINQ Learning and author of “Winning Government Business: the 6 Rules and 9 Absolutes”

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