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It's time to share. Why clients owe agencies and specialists a post-proposal debrief.


Very recently I had the extreme good fortune to be asked by an agency to contribute to a research proposal for a new client. We weren't appointed. Hey, it happens. But it would be good to know why.


In many ways this type of situation is even more important to me and my business than pitching on my own account.


Why? I have to be concerned not only about my own reputation but that of the agency who have put their trust in me. It’s a real responsibility.


Now, as I say, in this instance it so happens we weren’t awarded the project. That’s disappointing but both the agency and I would naturally like to understand why. Actually, it’s stronger than that, we both need to know why.


A clear client debriefing after a marketing, research or creative proposal has been rejected or awarded to another agency is often an overlooked part of the pitch or proposal process. But for us, it is a crucial step in ensuring the success of future projects and campaigns.


Here’s why.

Firstly, debriefing after a win or loss can help us to identify what worked and what didn’t. This information can be used to inform future strategies and proposals, allowing our team and partners to learn from any mistakes and build on successes.


We are interested in anything that can help shed light on why the proposal was unsuccessful. For my agency partner, understanding the whys and wherefores can help them understand the decision making process of the client. For me, it’s important for my future relationship with the agency partner; after all, I want them to ask me to pitch alongside them again. Without knowing why we weren’t awarded the work maybe they won’t ask me again. In this instance, this shouldn’t concern me as we have a long standing relationship but for other partners this may not be the case.


After all, maybe we as a team didn’t fully understand the client’s needs. Our briefing may not have got to the heart of the problem. It happens.


Maybe we were too expensive or didn’t explain the cost to value relationship. Value for money or perceived value for money is a common reason for losing business. But we really shouldn’t be losing business because of cost. In most cases where this appears to be the case it is a misunderstanding around the cost value equation.


Or perhaps our proposal didn’t clearly communicate our value proposition, we may have failed to explain just how our research approach would answer the questions they had of their customers. Again, it can happen.


However, it is only by identifying our own shortcomings that we can take steps to improve our approach for future proposals.


It’s always good to talk

A full debrief, ideally in person, can help any team maintain a positive relationships with clients, even after a proposal has been rejected. Everyone appreciate receiving feedback and appreciate the effort that goes into a thorough debrief, regardless of the outcome of the proposal.


For an agency client relationship this can help build trust and credibility, invaluable in the long term.


Finally, a debrief can help us improve our own overall performance. By analysing the strengths and weaknesses of our own proposal, we can identify areas where we can improve, whether that’s in our approach to the client question, the quality of our thinking, or our ability to articulate our value proposition. In any organisation, these insights can be used to guide ongoing training and development, helping use become more effective and competitive in the long term.


We have asked for a debrief in this latest instance and sadly, are still waiting for a response. Now, of course we can draw our own conclusions as to why we didn’t win but we may be wrong in those presumptions. Debriefing after any proposal has been rejected or awarded to another agency is a critical step in any ongoing relationship.



What’s the way forward? It's Time to Share

I don’t know what the answer is, perhaps we should all be asking and insisting on a debrief. Maybe we should all ask for the client to agree to a debrief at the time of the initial briefing and as a condition of preparing a proposal. After all, in most cases the client is not paying for that proposal. The very least we can expect is an explanation for not awarding us the project; after all, we have poured our expertise and experience into a proposal tailored to answering their specific needs. But this will only happen if we all agree it's in all our interests, it's time to share.

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