Our 28 day program recently lost a bid on a big contract with a government agency. This is the third bid we’ve lost in this particular county in the past two years. We’re competitive on price and have all the required services, but for some reason the award goes elsewhere. Ideas?”

I’m assuming you’ve made your request to inspect the winning bid (if that’s possible). Don’t be shy about that – if anybody asks, just say it’s part of your quality improvement process.

Now for your question. Failing any additional info, all I can do is hazard a guess. But I suspect it’s a pretty good one.

Here it is: Somehow you’re not standing out from your competitors. Maybe you make a convincing case that you’re every bit as good as they are. But to win, you need to be better. Not in every respect, of course, but in one of these three areas: price, product, or service.

Price – meaning you’re the low bid while meeting all the contract requirements.

Product – you’re providing a program that is clearly superior to your competitors, and you can prove it.

Service – from the customer’s perspective, your superiority rests in your ability to accommodate any and all needs.

Of course some bids are mainly about cost. But others place extra value on the technical requirements and are willing to pay a little more to obtain the program or service they want.

If you don’t stand out in any of those three areas, it’s pretty difficult to get a new customer to take a chance on you. The bigger the contract, the more likely that is. Government can be pretty risk averse. How would you like to be a bureaucrat faced with monitoring a five year contract for a significant chunk of the agency’s budget? Answer: you wouldn’t. Too much potential downside.

At this point, your company represents the devil they don’t know.

Borrow the eyes of your customer and take another look at who your organization is. Maybe there’s a way you can increase your appeal with respect to future proposals. Or maybe you will decide to move on to other customers in other areas.