You may be wondering why I am not writing about how to win RFP proposals and instead, I am writing about why proposals lose. Well, I’ve written a lot about winning so I thought I’d write about losing — as I’ve discovered when I’m conducting proposal debriefs — that there are a few common and often-seen reasons as to why proposals lose.

Before I do this, however, I’d like to say that clients are often very willing to grant you a debriefing session as to why your proposal won or lost.

I recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity as a way to improve your proposal win rate.

There are three main reasons why proposal lose:

  1.      Not demonstrating knowledge of the company;
  2.      Not proving industry knowledge; and
  3.      Not answering the clients’ questions.

The first reason, not demonstrating knowledge of the company is surprisingly common. If the proposed client is not an existing client it is important to research the organization. The internet likely contains plenty of information about the company and its management team. However, even incumbents, although they have a leg up in this area, still need to reiterate that they understand the company, its processes, structure and needs. One way to do so would be to suggest improvements to existing processes that would enhance efficiencies that would then in turn improve work flow and fees. Also, when providing a list of representative work the matters you cite should match the size of the company. For example, a midsize company does not want to see all the representative work you’ve done for huge corporations or companies much smaller than themselves.

The second reason, not proving industry knowledge is another big one. Partners have lots of expertise in a particular industry, but often their bios are not up-to-date nor clearly demonstrate their understanding of how industry trends will affect their client or prospect in a proposal. We take for granted that our clients know the state of the industry, but in reality they depend upon their legal counsel to gauge the impact of external influences such as regulations, foreign policies, and major shifts in the industry.

The third key reason proposals fail is simply because the law firm does not answer the clients’ questions. If you don’t believe this is true just go back to a proposal you wrote about a year ago and see how you responded to all of the questions. Sometimes answers are purposely vague because the firm does not want to look weak in a certain area. However, by the time the company has read several proposals they will come to understand what a good answer looks like. This is why you need time to have a third party review your RFP responses.

Those are the most common reasons why proposals fail. Other reasons include:

  1.      Too partner heavy — not enough balance in teams between the number of partners and associates;
  2.      Pricing — suggested billings or alternative fee arrangements not appropriate for what was expressed in the RFP; and
  3.      Marketing boilerplate — just get rid of it!

Addressing these concerns will likely go a long way to improving your RFP proposal, and increase the likelihood that clients will look favorably on your proposal.