Four Reasons Why Companies Lose Contracts They Might Have Won

Feb 25, 2019

Sure, companies lose contracts because of faulty pricing, unqualified key personnel, lack of customer insight, a flawed strategy or approach, or some other technicality or non-compliance. But too often, these maladies are only symptoms, not the root causes for a loss. 

There are four underlying reasons why companies lose contracts that were otherwise winnable.

Reason 1: An Appalling Lack of Purpose.

Too often, losers ignore a proposal's karmic element. A proposal whose only, or even primary purpose, is to win a government contract misses the point.

More than just perspiration, winning requires aspiration. Winning is the means to an end, not the end itself. Absence of a genuine purpose breeds mediocrity among team members, and invites cynicism among writers and evaluators alike.

A pursuit of a contract demands a never ending search for the greatest or highest good that can be delivered at reasonable price points. Companies forget that meritorious service is a prerequisite for genuine purpose. Something other than stale coffee and cold pizza must be at work to engender the team's dedication and long hours required to write a winning proposal.

Under these conditions, corporate greed or desperation is not a purpose.

Reason 2: The Near Total Absence of Positivity in the Proposal.

After purpose comes positivity. Positivity is defined as the art of being or remaining affirmative, confident, constructive, encouraging, helpful, optimistic, positive, resilient, and upbeat in the face of the government customer's challenges, issues, and problems.

Your proposal must be grounded in a belief in your company and colleagues, in your solution and yourself. You must believe you can make a difference. But this requires a long term, enduring commitment and a willingness to be accountable for what you write in the proposal.

Imagine your customers' delight if your company met this definition. Positivity can only come about in an atmosphere of truth-telling and transparency--discerning evaluators will not be deceived by guile.

purpose.posititivity. a new measure for success in govcon

Reason 3: An Inability or Unwillingness to Look Beyond Winning as the Ultimate Measure of Success.

Winning a contract is a necessary, but not sufficient, prerequisite for a company's future. Success must be measured by more than win rates.

Ultimately, it must be measured by impact, positive change, sacrifice, giving back, and paying it forward. It is these factors that ultimately determine the fundamental health of the bottom line.

How many companies fail that societal scorecard? Answer: those who chase profits before purposes.

Reason 4: Confusion Between Success and Significance.

Significance is defined as a positive result. Significance is characterized by its perceived importance, key consequences, high impacts, noteworthy improvements, lasting legacies, varying degrees of permanence, and the delivery of substantial value to individuals or society.

Buried deep inside every person--and thus every company with a conscience--is the unrelenting drive to find significance.

Through acquisition and merger, some say our industrial base is shrinking. As differences among companies narrow, the delivery of significance may be the only enduring discriminator left.

In order to gauge significance, companies must grapple with the existential question of "why" they are even in business. Fighting crime, combating terrorism, improving the quality of life, safeguarding our nation's interests, and caring for those in need, are intrinsically significant.

Making money, consolidating power, growing market share, and prevailing over competitors--these may be elements of success. But they are not significant.


Purpose. Positivity. A new measure of success. A commitment to achieving significance. Try these on for size before your next bid/no-bid decision.

Key Solutions is focused on winning for our clients—but winning the right way. Principle-Centered Winning (PCW) is a collection of proposal ethical best practices created by our founder, Jim McCarthy. 

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Jim McCarthy

Written by Jim McCarthy

Jim McCarthy is the Founder of Key Solutions. He has 35+ years of GovCon experience and leadership—first on Capitol Hill, then as founder of Key Solutions, a leading government contracting consulting firm which has helped clients win over $185 billion dollars in government contracts. He also hosted the CBS/ WUSA9 television show Government Contracting Weekly from 2012-2014.

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