The ideal outcome from a debriefing is that you receive useful feedback that improves your proposals, process, proposition and people. It should also provide a launchpad for a good future relationship with your prospect – assuming one doesn’t already exist. Don’t forget, there’s always next time.
The purpose of a debriefing is not to dispute the decision or pick holes in the reasoning. That boat has sailed. Now you need to find out how they felt about your bid, how you can improve and how you can win the next time around.
More often than not a client will try and get rid of you with vague and procedural responses to your questions as they don’t want the hassle or are afraid of winding up in the high court. Assuming that your prospect is willing to grant a debriefing, never mind take it seriously, what is the best way to ensure that you get the best feedback possible?
The answer is to have a third party conduct the debriefing on your behalf. Why? Well I can think of three reasons of the top of my head.
Ideally an independent party will be briefed in advance on the background and the type of feedback required. They may also be provided with a prescribed list of questions to ask. This is fine, but a competent professional will be able to use the questions as a guideline and probe to get the real meat and detail – or as George Smiley would say, the gold amongst the chickenfeed.
As they have not been involved in the heat of the battle they will find it easier to listen for actual facts and possibilities in the feedback, as opposed to being triggered and listening to validate their own biases and assumptions. The absence of emotion means that the independent party has a much better chance of actually fulfilling the brief to the letter.
A client may be more willing to open up and offer valuable feedback to someone who was not directly involved in the process. If the person attending was actively involved there is always the possibility that they may take negative feedback the wrong way and adopt a more confrontational approach.
The final reason is down to internal politics and stakeholders trying to protect themselves after a poor performance. Ideally an independent party will have a clear brief, reporting lines that are transparent and a deliverable that is readily available to the people involved in the process. This setup makes it more difficult to bury the bad news – if indeed there is any to deliver.
It’s important that the internal stakeholders who contributed to the bid see the value and benefits of their contributions. It’s also important that they are made aware of what the client liked and where there was room for improvement. They are more likely to trust feedback elicited by an independent party than from someone with a personal stake in the outcome.
Making them aware of the feedback and giving them a stake in any solution will make it far more likely that they will add value to the bid process next time around.