I enjoy meeting with business development managers, principals and marketing managers and talking about the current state-of-the-industry, upcoming events and exciting opportunities. I find it fascinating to learn what each type feels is important to winning work. Marketing managers talk a lot about proposals and graphics, owners are more focused on design and why they are better, while business development managers seem to keep their scores by how many people they know.  I appreciate all they do in generating new work, but have to say, the most important task is rarely done. In my opinion, the most important thing you can do to win work is to understand why you lose work.

In a year’s time, we review about 60 RFP responses from architects and contractors. On average, we get calls for feedback from approximately five firms. As a colleague who also submits proposals, I respect that it is difficult to make these calls, and sometimes it’s hard to hear the truth, but, it is important for growth. Here are some tips:

  1. Follow up. Upon receiving notification of non-selection, immediately respond that you would like to set a time to learn from your contact how you can improve.
  2. Be respectful. Remind your contact that this project was very important to them. Let them know you are hoping to respond to their feedback so you are well-positioned for future similar opportunities.
  3. Be nice.  Make sure your contact knows you are not upset or out for blood. Acknowledge that you know you won’t win every project and that you respect the process that they have managed.
  4. Be subtle.  Don’t overload the call; this is an intimate conversation, not a conference call.
  5. Be present.  If possible, meet in person. This approach reduces the threat to the client of knowing who they are speaking to.  If you have ever been called upon to serve as a reference, you know what I am referring to.
  6. Listen.  Of the few people who make the follow up call, the majority are doing it because they were told too, few want to hear the news or appear to react to it. Don’t waste the opportunity to grow, engage in authentic conversation.
  7. Ask questions. Rarely is anyone going to offer up feedback without being prompted. If you were trying to differentiate, ask if it succeeded. If you had a concern about a staff member, ask if the committee did too…think of it as the hot / cold game.
  8. Be prepared.  If everyone called for feedback it would be extremely time consuming, be focused as to not waste time.
  9. Wish them the best.  We have had more than one occasion where we lost a project to later have another shot at it.  Keep the door open by being professional…never hang up on someone.
  10. Who should call?  Some of the most productive calls have been with business development colleagues.    It’s a lot easier to tell a business development manager who you trust that the proposed designs flopped or the site superintendent sucked. Telling an owner this would not be appropriate but the right person can utilize this information in a productive way.

This is not an easy call to make and rejection stings, but pick yourself up and prepare for the next opportunity.

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative