Be the best loser

Feb 18, 2024

Losing out on a bid could present you with an opportunity to turn a “not this time” into fuel for your pipeline and processes.

Imagine losing a multimillion dollar public infrastructure project after months of preparation. The impact of the loss can lead to not just financial implications but also a significant dent in team morale. (Maybe, if you’ve lived this experience before, you don’t have to just imagine it.)

The fact is that facing a lost bid or proposal is not just common; it’s an inevitable part of the business. Every AEC firm across the world loses. From small firms working on local projects to large corporations handling international contracts. And, if they’re pursuing a healthy amount of work, then they’re likely losing more often than they’re winning.

The typical response involves moving quickly past the loss. This might mean immediately jumping onto the next project or pushing the team to do so, often neglecting to address the loss constructively. Many firm leaders avoid discussing the setback with their teams or seeking detailed feedback from clients, focusing instead on the pipeline of future opportunities.

This approach is harmful to every AEC firm.

Repeated mistakes and missed opportunities for learning and growth are common outcomes. Without engaging with clients or teams post-loss, leaders lose out on critical insights that could refine their strategies and approaches. For example, if a firm consistently fails to effectively communicate their value to prospects, they are likely to continue losing proposals for as long as the issue isn’t addressed.

A constructive approach to losing. There are two valuable components of loss that shouldn’t be ignored. The first is maintaining a strong relationship with the prospect, regardless of whether they move forward with a competitor. A “No” now can turn into a “Yes” later and you want to be top of mind when opportunity strikes. The second is refining your business development process based on feedback from prospects. If you don’t understand where the misalignment occurred, it’s likely to happen again.

Here are six strategies that address both components:

  1. Personalized notes. After a loss, take the time to send a personalized note or email expressing gratitude and acknowledging the opportunity. This small gesture can differentiate your firm and lay the groundwork for future interactions. Be genuine in your communication, and try to reference specific aspects of the engagement to show that your interest is sincere and informed.
  2. Constructive feedback. Make a call to gather detailed feedback on your proposal. Approach the conversation with an open mind and be prepared to ask specific, thoughtful questions that can provide insight into your firm’s performance. This feedback is a treasure trove for improving future proposals and understanding client expectations.
  3. Proactive follow-up. Several months after the project begins, check in with the client. This can be a simple message or call, expressing your continued interest and willingness to provide support. This proactive approach can lead to unexpected opportunities and keeps your firm in the client’s mind for future projects.
  4. Competitive congratulations. Make a personal call to your competitors to congratulate them on their win. This approach not only shows sportsmanship but also builds bridges in the industry. It’s a chance to connect, share insights, and even pick up a few tips from their success.
  5. Documentation. Create a “lessons learned” document or spreadsheet for all proposals, focusing on what worked and what didn’t. This should be a living document, regularly reviewed and updated with insights from new experiences. It serves as a valuable resource for continuous improvement and strategic planning.
  6. Analyze and adapt. Conduct a thorough analysis of the feedback received and look for trends or recurring issues. Develop a plan to address these in future proposals. This might involve training for your team, revising your proposal templates, or reevaluating your business development methodologies. Implement the changes and monitor their impact on your success rate.

Losing out on a bid doesn’t just mean waving goodbye to the time and energy you put in. For AEC leaders, how you bounce back from these losses will continue to shape your firm’s future.

These strategies aren’t just about damage control, they’re about turning a “not this time” into fuel for your pipeline and processes. It’s about getting back up and doing so with a clearer direction and a bit more wisdom. 

Tyler Suomala is founder of Growthitect. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.