There may be many reasons why your proposal did not make the final cut.
If you are new to creating proposals, try to look upon each proposal submission as a learning experience, and be prepared to adjust your strategy and presentation as needed along the way. After you've been informed that you didn't get the job, you should attempt to politely interview the potential client or customer. If possible, speak directly to the person responsible for selecting the winner.
Explain that you want to understand why your proposal was not selected so that you can improve in the future. Thoughtfully consider what the person has to say and thank them for speaking to you. Keep in mind, however, that the person may not tell you the real reason behind the decision. Some people may be wary of sounding too critical, and of course there are always those instances where a friend or relative was selected for the job instead of using a true competitive process.
Although you can learn from failure, you should try your best to succeed with every proposal. Don't let sloppy mistakes keep your proposal from rising to the top. A failure to land the job or get the grant is often due to the following common reasons:
1) Writing style: yours did not appeal to the reader.
To avoid a mismatch, do some research to find out about the style of the person and/or organization you are targeting. For example, if you are creating a proposal for a financial institution where all employees dress in formal business attire, it would not be a good idea to write your proposal in a folksy, casual style.
2) Incorrect target: your proposal was not sent to the right person.
Take the time to call the organization and find out the correct individual to address your proposal to. Make sure you spell that person's name correctly and get his or her title correct, too.
3) Bad timing: your pitch was not made at the right moment.
Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to send a proposal 'out of the blue.' The best proposals, of course, are those that are solicited through RFPs, but if that's not the case for you, then try to link your pitch to something concrete like a recent event or news article so it will seem relevant.
4) Slipshod writing: your spelling or grammar was incorrect.
If your proposal doesn't look or sound professional, why would the prospect think that your work would be any better? If spelling and grammar are not your strengths, then hire someone to perfect your proposal language before you send it.
5) You failed to address the prospect's fears and objections.
Your prospective client wants to be confident that you will do what is right for his organization. Prove that you have listened to his concerns and have the solution for each of his problems.
6) Your personal appearance and presentation did not match the prospect's 'style'.
Take the time to scope out the organization or individual you will pitch to. Does the decision maker wear a suit, or jeans and casual shirt? Show up similarly dressed and that person will automatically feel comfortable with you.
7) Internal politics at the prospect's company influenced the decision.
There's not much you can do about this one, but if you are aware of internal issues before presenting your proposal, try to address them within the proposal.
8) Hidden agendas at the prospect's company influenced the decision.
Odds are that you'll never even find out about this reason.
9) Your project estimate was too low or high.
Many clients simply choose the least costly proposal. But more experienced ones may actually reject a proposal with an unreasonably low estimate, because they fear that the proposal was made by someone who didn't truly understand the project or was too inexperienced to estimate accurately. An estimate that is too low may also indicate to an experienced client that substandard materials will be used or quality will be sacrificed.
10) You were too persistent or not persistent enough with the prospect.
It's never a good idea to harangue a prospect; you wouldn't appreciate someone who called you or showed up every day, and neither will your potential client. But it's also not a good idea to simply mail a proposal and never make contact again. If possible, call or set up a meeting in advance to get as much information as you can, and then, after you've submitted the proposal, call to make sure it was received and ask whether the prospect has all the information needed from you to make the decision.
11) Your proposal didn't instill confidence.
First of all, be sure your proposal looks and sounds professional. Next, let others speak for you. Be sure to include references, referrals, descriptions of similar projects that you have previously accomplished, awards, professional certifications and memberships, etc. - in other words, include everything that demonstrates that others believe you're trustworthy and professional.
Read more on how to win proposals by instilling trust.
12) Your proposal did not show a clear understanding of the client's needs or business.
Do your research. If possible, interview the client and ask specifically about needs. If you received an RFP, read it carefully and make sure you address each of the requirements listed. Find out all you can about the business so that the solutions you propose will match their needs.
13) Your solution was not the best value for the price.
Another proposal may have offered more for the same price. If you discover this, consider whether you can match the winner's offer in the future.
14) The competition outdid you.
This might be in terms of presenting a better proposal, or simply a better package for less money. Consider how you could do better next time.
15) There was miscommunication between you and the client.
Be sure you understand what the client wants, address the client's concerns, and present the information she is looking for.
16) Competitors trashed your solution in their proposals.
The only defense against this is to keep your proposal as confidential as possible, and as professional and complete as possible.
17) A consultant working with the client had ties to one of your competitors.
Again, presenting the most complete, most professional proposal you can is your best protection against this result.
18) The client wanted the "safe" choice, not the "best" choice.
Sometimes this means that the client wants to work with someone he's worked with in the past; sometimes it means that he wants to work with the most well known organization for that project. Make sure you include your experience, awards, referrals, and credentials so that the client will understand that you too are a "safe" choice. Sometimes this means the executive who awards the winner does not want to risk their job and goes with the solution that is the safest for their job position.
19) The RFP was written to favor a particular bidder.
There's nothing you could do about this. The decision was made before the requests were ever sent out; the RFP was only for appearance's sake.
20) You did not follow the instructions given.
If you are given specific instructions to follow when submitting a proposal, especially an RFP, make sure you follow all of the guidelines to the letter. Many government agencies and businesses issue RFPs that allow you some leeway in how you write your proposal as long as you follow the guidelines they provide. If you violate the RFP guidelines your proposal may be disqualified regardless of how well it was written.
This list is by no means a complete list of every possible reason why you may have failed to land the client. There will always be situations that you have no control over. You may never know the reasons why either. Focus on the things that you can control, and use good common sense. Sometimes the key to winning can be as small as a personal touch - in a world that is increasingly becoming automated.