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The best example of bad proposal writing I've ever seen

Don’t write a proposal that sounds like this sample of proposal writing

Here is an example of proposal writing for you to consider. I review a lot of proposals and see this style of writing all the time. In fact, a lot of people try to emulate it.

How does this sound to you?

Our company is based on the belief that our customers' needs are of the utmost importance. Our entire team is committed to meeting those needs. As a result, a high percentage of our business is from repeat customers and referrals. We would welcome the opportunity to earn your trust and deliver you the best service in the industry.

It sounds perfectly ordinary. Lots of business documents sound like this.

Actually, it sucks.

Any one of those sentences is bad. Together it could be the worst proposal paragraph I have ever seen.

The big problem with it is that it doesn't actually say anything credible. Well actually there are a quite a few problems with it. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the whole thing is a problem. There is nothing redeemable about it. And yes, it's that bad. And it is way too common. Consider:

See also:
Customer Perspective
  • No one cares what your company "is based on." They care about what your company will do or deliver. If being based on something increases your ability to do or deliver, they care about how and not the fact that it was based on something.
  • No one cares about your "beliefs." They care about what you will do. If there are reasons about your beliefs that produce better results or make your offering a better alternative, then they care about those reasons.
  • Of course the "customers’ needs are of utmost importance." The very first sentence is not only a statement of the obvious, it’s also true of every other company bidding and does nothing to differentiate you.
  • No one cares about your commitment. Or believes it. If you really are committed, let that show in what you do. If your commitment doesn’t lead to you doing things differently or better, then what good is it? You don’t need to say you are committed. You do need to be the best alternative.
  • "...meeting those needs." Is that the best you can offer? Meeting their needs? Won’t everyone bidding be meeting the customer’s needs? Or at least claiming it with equal enthusiasm?
  • "A high percentage of our business..." Does the customer really care about how you make your money? If they did, they would have asked about it in the RFP. If this was an important point, you’d quantify it. A percentage of repeat customers (as opposed to percentage of your revenue) might be a good thing, but it’s not going to impact your evaluation one bit. And oh by the way, if you are a government contractor the percentage of repeat customers had better be pretty darn high or you’re losing your recompetes. In the unlikely event that the customer does bother to think about it, it’s probably also true for all of your competitors.
  • "We would welcome the opportunity..." This is not only a statement of the obvious, but it’s a self-serving one. Of course you welcome any viable business opportunity.
  • "...to earn your trust." You’ve already missed one opportunity. Your introduction actually hurts your creditability. A promise from a vendor to earn the customer’s trust has very little value. But the actions you take to prove that you are trustworthy don’t. Transparency, oversight, accountability, quality assurance, past performance, testimonials, and more count. But this statement doesn’t.
  • "...best service in the industry." Not only is this an unsubstantiated claim, it’s not believable. It’s a big industry. I question whether the firm writing this, or any of their competitors, has the best service in the industry. They might be pretty good. They might even have happy customers. But promising something that you probably can’t deliver does not help your credibility. If you think the quality of your service is something worth bragging about, then provide proof. Don’t brag. But do cite the evidence. And don’t make it about you, make it about what the customer will get as a result of selecting you.

Take those parts out and there is nothing left.

This paragraph is written to please the writer. It is not written to please the customer. It’s about how the writer wants to see their company and not about what the customer needs to see in order to make their decision. Lots of people write about how they’d like to be seen rather than what the customer cares about.

Just so you know, I’ve written most of those sentences or their equivalents at one time or another. But never all at once. And not in the last decade or two. Learn faster than I did.
How would I rewrite it?

I wouldn’t. I’d delete it and start over. There is nothing in the example above that I’d bring forward. It says nothing of substance about the customer, company, or offering. 

How I'd structure the replacement introduction would depend on the RFP, customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. But typically, I would:

  • Write an opening sentence about what the customer will get by selecting my company.
  • Write a sentence introducing my company in terms of its most significant differentiators.
  • Write one or more sentences linking our differentiators to the most significant evaluation criteria.
  • Possibly reference proof points in the following paragraphs, if it can be done without being redundant.

Think about what the customer needs to see in order to make a decision regarding what their best alternative is. Then help them make that decision with substance that goes beyond beliefs, commitments, statements of the obvious (no matter how grandiose), and unsubstantiated claims. Don’t write your proposal to sound good. Write your proposal to help the evaluator make a decision.


PDF Download for PropLIBRARY Subscribers: Sample Proposal Introductions. A document with a dozen versions of the same paragraph, with more than 50 things done wrong and how to correct them. Click here to become a PropLIBRARY Subscriber.
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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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