How to Get Consultants to Provide Feedback on Lost Bids

My previous blog entry, “To Bid or Not to Bid: That Is the Question” received a number of comments, and I would like to take this opportunity to respond to one of them here. Please note that this comment is edited for brevity. You can read it by clicking on the hyperlinks.

Loren Dupree wrote…I have had many bid situations where I have responded thoroughly and timely and lost the bid. When I have asked for feedback, I was not given any information at all. I feel that if a consultant is willing to accept your bid response, he/she should realize they have a responsibility to provide feedback to the losing bidders when requested.”

When we write RFP’s, we tell prospective bidders what our evaluation criteria are up front. We also tell them that we will not be able to provide information to them as to why their bid was rejected, except in those rare cases where we are permitted to discuss this with them. But in most cases, our client prohibits that type of review — and rightfully so.

There are many reasons for this, but I believe the most prevalent is time. Our clients are busy and they don’t have time to defend their decisions to all of the bidders who were unsuccessful. It takes more time than you’d think because many people don’t take criticism and feedback well. When working with the U.S. Postal Service, we conducted a number of debriefings with unsuccessful bidders. Even with ground rules spelled out clearly up front, many bidders felt this was an appeal, an opportunity to plead their case, or a chance to take a shot at the successful bidder (“You’ll be sorry…”). After a lengthy bid process, the end user wants to move on with the project, not continuously defend their decision to people who have a vested interest in disagreeing with it.

So this brings it back to the consultant, as Mr. Dupree suggests. If our client tells us we can’t discuss it, that’s often the end of the story. We’re paid for our time, and we need to maintain the trust of our client. Both of those reasons will ordinarily prohibit us from providing a candid response to a third party. But there’s a way around this, and it may be easier than you think.

Try giving the consultant a call. Tell him/her you were an unsuccessful bidder on the XYZ project and you would like to speak off the record and not specifically about that particular project. Tell the consultant that you value his/her opinion, explaining that you would like to bid on future projects and hopefully win them. You will agree not to contest the bid or object in any way, and you certainly won’t make an effort to go around the consultant by speaking to the client. You just want to know, in general or specific terms, what you can do to improve your bid. In turn, you are willing to provide constructive criticism on his/her RFP — well, maybe leave that last part out.

In this manner you are appealing to the consultant’s ego – everyone likes to be asked his/her opinion. You are agreeing not to be a pest, and your willingness to improve will ultimately benefit the consultant. If they have no criticism, you lost the bid because of price and/or a preferred vendor was on the inside track. If they are willing to talk, it’s OK to ask for clarification, but don’t argue. Remember, you asked for an opinion. You don’t want to talk someone out of his/her own opinion. And if you think the consultant is an idiot, don’t bother. His/her opinion won’t help you anyway.

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