The Value of Debriefings – When You Lose

The Contracting Officer has just sent you the bad news – you were not selected for award. You get your team together to give them this news and you still try to give them the feeling they have done a great job. But, they start to ask, ”what did we miss?” “what segment/section was not compelling enough?”, “we couldn’t have been vague, we went through the Red Team and recovery process exhaustively”, “how could the government have scored the competition higher than us?”, “was our price too high?” These are questions that require specific answers. You turn your mind to trying to give open, honest answers, but you know you need more information.

Let’s back up a step here in your process. The first thing to do upon the announcement of an award is to request a debrief – immediately upon the Contracting Officer’s notification – BEFORE you get your team together. Ask for a specific date for the debrief and provide general topic areas you want to review with the Contracting Officer. Then, you can inform your team you have asked for a debrief and will get them back together with additional information. You will be better able to answer their questions and start preparing for your next proposal with fresh, key insights on how to improve.

For sure, you want to learn as much as you can about the weak areas of your proposal that caused your non-selection. However, you want to know the same level of detail about the strengths as well. Your objective should be to continually improve upon those strengths and develop strategies to overcome the weaknesses on future proposals.

Of equal importance, you’ll be able to tell your team more specifically what did and did not work for each proposal evaluation factor. The insights you gain will help you coach, counsel or mentor your team members. You also might find you need to change the composition of your team to strengthen or add depth in specific areas based on the information provided.

Ultimately, you will have immediate feedback that will arm you to prepare, organize and manage your next proposal for a win.

Luanne Smulsky’s previous blog ( about debriefs showed several questions that are critical to getting substantive feedback. I offer a few more below:

    • Did our graphics reinforce the narratives – did they provide a “picture” that reinforced the narrative?
    • Did our process descriptions show a logical progression from start to completed outcome (product or service)?
    • Did each of our volumes interface/transition with each other?
    • Did we repeat terms or phrases too much so that the scorer lost focus on the substance we presented?

These answers reinforce ClientView’s proposal development strategy and style. We’ll continue to use the same good practices in the future to help more of our Clients keep winning.

If you need help developing a winning proposal, reach out to me at

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