There is an interesting discussion over on Attorney at Work about how a firm should deal with losing a competition. Merrilyn Astin Tarlton provides some solid advice on dealing with such a situation. First, get over it. Then, contact the decision maker(s) and seek information on why you lost (in a non-threatening way, of course), and share that information with the members of your proposal team. Finally, put things in place to do a better job next time when you “get back up on that horse!” as she puts it.
The comments to her piece included a couple of ways to pose the question as to why the firm lost. One is to ask what the firm could have done better, and the other is to ask why the other firm won. I prefer the former approach myself, since the latter comes off more as a challenge to their decision making IMHO. But, one should use the approach they are most comfortable with. The important thing is to ask.
As I mentioned in a comment to that discussion, not only should a firm do a post mortem when it loses, but when it wins a competition as well. The reason is simple. You may not have won for the reasons you think, and you may not be so lucky the next time. So, it is important to know why you won (or why the other firm lost).
Back in 2008, I did a blog post relating to such an experience when I was in-house. We won a competition, but not for the reasons we thought. We were told that the other firm had a better proposal and why, but they lost because they sent an uninformed attorney to the oral presentation. Oops. We were happy and enlightened, but not so cocky after asking.