There is nothing quite so exhilarating as the call from a prospective client saying, "We chose you." It's not just the fact that your business will benefit from the income; it is as much about a personal triumph, an affirmation of all the work you've put into your proposal.

Then there's that other type of call. It usually starts out friendly enough. Then the bottom drops out: "I'm really sorry, but " And that's usually all you hear. The rest of the conversation, it would seem, is pointless.

But don't stop listening. We all lose at some point. And while your natural tendency is to retreat, lick your wounds and soothe your hurt feelings with some ice cream or decaf mocha, there is something more positive you can do: You can lessen the blow of rejection by learning from the experience.

The smart business leaders know that a systematic and ongoing process of proposal debriefings can glean value from the times when your prospective clients say no. Debriefings allow you to obtain useful feedback that can help you increase the number of times that you get that good, "we chose you" call.

You probably don't have time to thoroughly analyze all your proposals, so choose the ones that you feel have (or will have) the most impact on your business. The simplest method of debriefing is asking the decision-maker or key influencer at your prospective client's organization why you did not win the proposal.

For more important and extensive proposals, you'll want to have a methodology that, over time, could bring you results. You may decide to debrief all proposals over a certain dollar amount or those that are in a particular service area or industry.

Debriefing begins at home, so your first step is to debrief your own firm's proposal participants. The spectrum of their observations can be valuable. Ask them what aspects of the presentation they thought went well and what they would have done differently.

Maybe there was body language, glances or other physical cues that clued them into a possible loss. Why do they think the firm lost the bid? Also, ask about any other challenges or needs the prospective customer has that your firm might be able to address.

Your next step is to interview the decision-makers and influencers at the target company. Most business people are open to giving you their opinion and feedback, even if it's because they feel badly about having to tell your company that you lost. Ask the person on your team with the closest relationship to the client to call or write a note requesting a brief interview.

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