Redefining What It Means To Win

Winning, or should I say the significance of winning, has been ingrained in us from when we first opened our eyes at birth. “Yay! You did it. Congratulations. You did it better than anyone else ever could have.” There are tons of articles that look at how the drive to win is either innately biological or driven by society. But, we’re going to skip all that.

It is irrefutable that we are under an infinite amount pressure to win. But winning looks different for everyone. Everyone applauds the winning team. But, perhaps, the team who “lost” doesn’t see that game as a loss at all. Perhaps they learned something from that game that allows them to win the next five games after that. Maybe they feel they won just by being able to say they’re a part of the team. 

When it comes to defining what “winning” looks like for Proposal Teams, a lot of organizations want to tie it back to revenue – because most companies always want to tie everything back to money. “Getting the contract” isn’t always the best measure of winning nor is it the only metric. And it certainly may not be the best way to measure the success of your Proposal Team. Here are a few ways to redefine winning for your Proposal Department.

Success Metric #1:
Did We Make It To the Second Round?

A proposal is only one part of an overarching business development and sales process. As a best practice, substantial pre-sales activity (e.g., opportunity capturing, price-to-win strategy sessions, competitor analysis, etc.) should take place prior to the release of and response to a Request for Proposal (RFP). The proposal is a formal way to feature all that pre-sales work on paper and deliver it to the client in a succinct, readable, and digestible way that positions your company as the best pick.

The goal of the proposal is to catch the interest of the client enough to get your company a seat at the table for the second round presentation stage (i.e., the shortlist). If you make the shortlist, the proposal team did its job well. Making it to the second stage means your Proposal Department put together not only a 100% compliant proposal but also a compelling proposal with substantial proof that your company is the best choice. During the presentation stage is when the Sales or Business Development Lead is supposed to seal the deal – a key metric of success for them. 

How can you measure how many RFP opportunities have made it to the second round? If you’re using CRM software, you can simply add a checkbox to mark off that you’ve made it to the shortlist. If you’re using an Excel spreadsheet, the same concept applies.

Success Metric #2:
Did We Follow An Established Process?

Establishing and following a proposal development process can be a struggle. But when all the proper steps are followed and your team did their due diligence, that’s an absolute win in our book. Ask yourself these questions when thinking back on how you tackled your last RFP development effort:

  • Did you use a go/no-go process?
  • Did you hold an effective kickoff meeting?
  • Did you set status meetings and schedule review cycles?
  • Did contributors to the proposal response understand what was expected of them?
  • Were all internal deadlines met?


Take some time to reflect on the steps that your team followed and how these steps not only saved your team some headaches during the process but also streamlined communication for the rest of the organization. Hold an internal debriefing call with the proposal development team to solicit their feedback and suggestions for improvement.

As a Proposal Team, one of the goals is to help make RFPs less daunting and painful for the other departments involved. Another metric of success is if your organization is happy and satisfied with the way your Proposal Team conducted themselves in the midst of an active RFP.

Success Metric #3:
Did We Learn Something New?

During a loss, the greatest mistake you can make is to not reflect on lessons learned and ways to improve. Evaluating your internal proposal development process is a continuous learning journey – or at least it certainly should be! There are so many ways to be better, more effective and more efficient.

Post submission, be sure to hold debrief sessions. One of the best ways to improve your internal proposal development process is to discuss lessons learned with the broader team. Conduct internal debrief sessions, creating a safe space for your team to share what their biggest pain points were and how the process can be improved. Once your proposal team is comfortable sharing and improving, you can invite sales and business development teams, SMEs, legal, and other stakeholders so that they can share their experiences as well! 

Another great way to learn ways to improve not only your process but specifically your content and positioning is to review competitor proposals that were submitted along with yours. If it was a public/government procurement, they may make all the proposals public, or you may submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request (often called an open records request) asking the government entity to share electronic copies of all proposals received. [Note: You must wait until the contract is awarded to make this request.] When making your FOIA request, we recommend requesting copies of the government’s evaluation/scoring documents for each RFP response as well. Review how your competitors are positioning themselves, what they are including in their proposals, and especially look at their pricing (if available). This will shed some light on how you need to improve your proposals to start winning more contracts.

Success Metric #4:
Did We Leave A Lasting Impression?

The good thing about RFPs is that you get some sort of contact from within the organization even if it’s strictly the contact information of the procurement officer. Should you not be awarded the contract, always make sure to reach out (if you are allowed to) to the procurement officer to get some insight as to why you didn’t win and use that window as an opportunity to speak to them about your company, your serious interest in working with them one day, and get some insight into whether they may be releasing another RFP in the future. This should be done by someone on your Sales or Business Development team.

If during your go/no-go decision process you decide to not bid on an RFP, consider writing a No Bid letter stating why you have decided not to bid and express interest in working together one day in the future. Always strive to leave a lasting impression.


Winning doesn’t always mean having a big golden trophy handed to you at the end of a game nor does it always mean securing a contract. Look for the “silver lining.” As many ways as there are to quantitatively track metrics of success, there are many other qualitative ways to measure the success of your Proposal Team. This will take the stress off your Proposal Team from strictly worrying about revenue to allowing them to think more strategically about the strength and quality of your proposals, which will set you up for more and better success in the future!