A&E marketing and business development guest post: How to leverage second place

Every A&E firm’s goal is to win more business.  What if you come in second?

This is the second in Deltek’s A&E marketing and business development blog series.  Expert David Stone, founder and President of Stone and Company, talks about the importance of learning from the First-Runner-Up status.  With this insight (backed by Deltek Vision CRM and the integrated suite of Vision marketing solutions), Deltek’s goal is simple: To help your firm win more work! Enjoy. To learn more about Deltek Vision CRM, check out this demo.

How to leverage second place

You’re the first of the losers. You won on the wrong day. You’re too good for this game.

No matter how you candy-coat it, some other firm won the project and you didn’t. What do you do now?

The most common response to coming second is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on to the next RFP. But that strategy will miss out on a number of opportunities to leverage your First-Runner-Up status. Rather than licking your wounds, think about these options:

Conduct an internal debrief

While the proposal effort is fresh in everyone’s memory, have a quick conversation about what went well and where you dropped the ball. Did you follow your standard procedures for proposal development? Did everyone meet their responsibilities on time? Was the document the best you’re capable of producing? In retrospect, was it really a project that you should have pursued? Are there lessons-learned that can be applied on the next effort?

Conduct a debrief with the client

Whether you win or lose, always ask the client for a debrief on your proposal. It builds a stronger relationship, raises the quality of future proposals and drives up the odds of winning in the next round. But ask the right questions. Asking, “Why didn’t we win?” will give you useless answers such as, “Yours was one of many good proposals,” “It was a tough decision,” “Please continue to submit,” etc. Instead, give your client permission to be constructively critical. Ask specific questions that invite real feedback:

  • Tell me the three things you liked most about our proposal.
  • Tell me the three things you liked least about it.
  • What would you like to see changed that might increase our chances of winning next time?

Ask to review the winning proposal

In most public sector selections (and many in the private sector too, if you just ask) the client is either happy or obliged to show you the other submissions. Review them with an objective eye. Was the winning proposal easier or more engaging to read than yours? More attractively designed? Did it address issues that you neglected? If you combine your review with your client debrief you can also ask:

  • What did the winning firm include in their proposal that put them over the top?
  • What are the common traits that have made recent winning proposals stand out from the rest?


Robert Heinlein was an American science fiction writer who famously said, “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”Much the same can be said for protesting the results of a selection process. While the procurement rules in many public sector arenas allow you to protest, I’ve never seen this course of action end well. Of course, if you feel that a serious injustice or malfeasance has been committed, you should act. But even if you succeed in getting a change in the outcome, you won’t have made any friends.

Ask for another project

This is a particularly smart idea. If you were shortlisted and the choice between your firm and the winner was close, ask the client to share the wealth and award you another one of their projects. Most clients have an ongoing program that requires a steady stream of design services. If you impressed them enough to make the decision tough, ask if you can show your stuff on another project. While it’s an unusual approach, I’ve seen it work and it ought to become more common.

Stay in touch (and wait for the winner to trip)

One construction company I know came second on a major hospital renovation. After a year of preconstruction the winner started into the project. In week one on the job they cut a major power line, flooded part of the intensive care unit and thoroughly annoyed the chief hospital administrator. In week two the second place team was called in to take over from the firm that had just been fired.


Projects are like buses – there’s another one coming along in about five minutes. You will never have a one hundred percent hit rate and there are some factors that you simply can’t control. After you’ve held your debriefs, reviewed the winning efforts and reinforced your relationship for the future, take a deep breath, go home, hug your kids and relax. Tomorrow’s another day.


About Jon Bornstein

Jon Bornstein manages Deltek's marketing in the A&E industry across North America. His job is to ensure that firms understand the many ways they can drive business value using Deltek purpose-built solutions.
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