Part 1: Requesting a Debrief – Why You Should Almost Always Do It and How to Request One

Not winning a bid is never ideal. It can feel defeating as well as disappointing, especially when you and your team put so many hours, days, and even weeks into putting together a compelling proposal. While there are many other ways to measure success aside from winning the contract, losing a contract could have implications on your bottom line. Luckily, most of the time, you can request a debrief from the client to determine why you were not awarded the contract.

What exactly is a debrief? By definition, a debrief means to question someone in detail to get useful information about something you have done for that person. Essentially, you are seeking critical feedback, criticism, and commentary into your proposal response.

Why Request a Debrief

Despite debriefs being a well-known practice in the industry, many people and organizations still do not request them from clients. Requesting a debrief can feel awkward and embarrassing because it forces us to acknowledge that we lost. However, to learn, grow and increase future wins, we must overcome those feelings and push out of our comfort zone.

Requesting a debrief will:

  1. Provide Feedback for Improvement – The client will most likely give you some great objective feedback into how your proposal was received by their organization’s evaluators. This will give you insight into how to strengthen your proposals moving forward.
  2. Prove Your Interest to the Client – When you request a debrief, the client will realize your interest in working with them. It demonstrates your commitment and investment in their future as well as your ability to take criticism and make immediate improvements. 
  3. Help Build Strong Relationships – A debrief meeting carves out time for you to sit and meet with the client, which will help continue to build and improve your relationship with them. During the debrief, you will also be able to better understand what is most important to them, their pain points, their objectives, and what they look for in partners and vendors.
  4. Enable You to Gain Insight into Your Competition – During a debrief, it is more than okay to ask who was selected and why. This can give you some insight into how you stack up against the competition in terms of service offerings, price, etc. For government bids, oftentimes, they will make the submitted proposals available for others to download and review, which is called a FOIA.
  5. Uncover Protest Possibilities – It is possible that, during the debrief, the client states that you were not awarded the contract due to a missing critical RFP requirement. If you did, in fact, include and fulfill all requirements of the RFP and the evaluators missed this when reviewing your proposal, you have the right to protest the award.

When to Request a Debrief

As soon as you receive the letter or notice that you were not selected or awarded the contract, be sure to read the notice in its entirety to see if there are any instructions included about requesting a debrief. Federal and other government procurements may allow a certain number of days (usually three days) in which to request a debrief; this is because the protest period can start only after all the requested debriefs have occurred. The government is required to fulfill your debrief request whether you win or lose.

In most cases, you are able to request a debrief immediately after receiving the notice that you were not selected. You do not want to wait too long as there are most likely other firms who are requesting a debrief as well. Additionally, it’s better to have the debrief sooner rather than later so evaluators better remember your proposal and can give more insightful and constructive feedback.

When NOT to Request a Debrief

While RFPs are meant to be a formal process to help organizations select the best vendor for the services they need, the process may not always be as impartial as they should be. In some cases, bias toward an incumbent may be made clear either through the general RFP process (e.g., the specific types of information and pricing they are looking for) or through other intel (e.g., a tip from a lobbyist or another rep from the firm). In these cases, it may become so clear why you were not awarded the contract that you decide a debrief is not worth pursuing.

Who should Request a Debrief

Probably one of the most highly debated parts of the entire debrief request process is the assignment of responsibilities—Sales Team vs. Proposal Team. However, when it comes to requesting a debrief, it truly depends on the client relationship as well as the structure of the organization. If a Sales Lead is assigned to the client and manages the relationship, then it’s best to have the Sales Lead request the debrief; the Sales Lead currently acts as the client’s main point of contact and is a familar face. The conversation may be more informal and, because of their rapport, the Sales Lead may be able to dig deep and ask some really insightful questions. If a Sales Lead is not assigned to the client and/or this is a cold-lead or government RFP, the debrief request can absolutely be made by your Proposal Manager or Proposal Team.

Just be sure that, no matter who makes the debrief request and receives the debrief intel from the client, the information is passed on to the Proposal Department so they can make the necessary changes to proposals moving forward. Always pass along the client’s feedback to the Proposal Department in a respectful manner. Debrief sessions should not be used as an opportunity to fingerpoint at the Proposal Department for losing a bid. They are opportunities for the entire organization to learn, grow, and win more business.

How to Request a Debrief

Always be sure to check the RFP for specific instructions regarding submitting a debrief request. If instructions have not been included, then a formal written request is always the best way to go. A Sales Lead may want to extend a warm hand by making a phone call to their contact. However, always be sure to follow up in writing, with an email requesting the debrief. For government RFPs, a formal letter on your organization’s letterhead should be submitted as an attachment to your debrief request via email to the designated procurement officer.

Key Takeaways

Always be sure to request a debrief, especially if you’re unsure of why you were not selected for an opportunity. Any insight, feedback, or comments from a debrief will help you improve your proposals moving forward so you can win more business. Be sure to request a debrief sooner rather than later, especially with government entities. A debrief can be requested from either a Proposal or Sales Lead, but be sure that the person requesting the debrief shares the feedback internally. To request a debrief, be sure to make a formal request on your company’s letterhead or through email. Putting it in writing is always best.

Be sure to read Part 2 of this blog to get a list of questions you can ask during a debrief.