The winning bid that didn’t win..?

“This is an excellent proposal” exclaimed the team leader as the major bid was completed, and about to go to the client. Indeed, the bid was of a high technical standard matched with all the right experience, case studies and the finesse expected from a high profile services business. The team felt that their response was of a very high calibre, and had all the hallmarks of a winning bid. But some weeks later, the team was bitterly disappointed to learn that they were not successful, even though their proposal was considered as excellent by the buyer. What went wrong here?

Sadly, this situation plays out every day across so many organisations in the services arena – in accounting, consulting, legal, advertising and technology just to name a few. The warm inner glow from a good technical proposal is alive and well, and team members feel that a good job has been done.

But here is the problem. Buyers generally don’t just buy a technically excellent proposition. They don’t just tick the box for meeting the terms of reference or the requirements for the work. In fact, most buyers expect that service providers in a bidding process should be able to supply a strong technical bid, and be reasonably price competitive. It may not always work out that way, but it is a reasonable starting point. In a sense, the technical proposal is really the table stakes in the game, and is only one facet to be considered albeit an important one.

The other factor that is often ignored the matter of buyer comfort. That is, does the buyer really want to work with your organisation vs your competitors?

Consider this. Assuming all bidders can do the work, the buyer may well be considering some or all of the following questions:

  1. How much does the buyer like or dislike your organisation? Is there some prior history to understand?
  2. How much does the buyer like your people? Have competitors had more positive experiences?
  3. Is the buyer comfortable to work with your organisation or are they just going through the motions?

The chart below highlights the right mix by mapping the two factors of technical capability (the “what”) and buyer comfort (the “why”).


Winning in Quadrant #A is too often assumed to be the a guaranteed path to success. There is no doubt that technical capability is a key factor, but it is not the only one. The team mentioned above was very focussed on this quadrant.

Quadrant #B can be the real sleeper in a competitive selling situation. If there is no major difference between technical capabilities, the stronger position in regard to buyer comfort can win the day. Understanding the smarter game here can make the significant difference.

Our exuberant team leader from earlier was right to be pleased about the excellent proposal the team had prepared. But in this case, the bigger picture had been missed on how the buyer looked at the decision through a wider lens.

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