18 lies that companies tell in their proposals

How many of these lies are in your past proposals?

If you tell lies like those below, you hurt your credibility. Even when you tell them with good intent they still hurt your credibility. Yet it seems like everyone does it. And if you tell the same lies that they do, your proposal will lack differentiators. Even though people know that customers only buy from people they trust, they still say things like these that the customer can see straight through.

The point here isn’t to hold a trial over the offense of lying, degrees of untruth, or whether it's true when you tell them. The point here is to realize that there are better ways to articulate why the customer should select you than to say things with such glaring credibility issues like:

See also:
Great Proposals
  1. We’re better because we have experience.  The fact that your company has experience is not the lie. But whether it makes you better probably is. None of the people who had that experience are still with the company, and even if they are they probably won’t be working on this project. Besides, the odds are that nothing tangible was created from that experience that the company owns or will use on projects for other customers. Experience proves what a company did, and not what it can or will do. 
  2. We can staff this project because we have [#] employees. But because they are all working on other projects, we’ll have to do just as much recruiting as smaller companies. Contractors can’t carry staff who are not assigned to projects for very long, if at all. Since those staff are all working on other projects full time, the idea that they could somehow consult with or involve them is unlikely. For all practical purposes, a company’s total staffing count has approximately zero impact on their ability to staff new projects. 
  3. Your project will be of the utmost importance to us. Just like all of the other projects and competing priorities we have. “Utmost” in this context has no meaning. The importance of a project to a company has more to do with its revenue, profitability, and impact on past performance.
  4. We are fully committed to the success of this project. We’ll only pull our punches if that’s what we need to do to make this project we underbid profitable. We say we’re committed because we’re not at all sure how we’re going to or if we’re going to be able to achieve success on this project. If we knew, we’d say that instead. But we are really hopeful. We intend to be successful, whether we are or not.
  5. Customer satisfaction is our highest priority. So long as we're not distracted by all those other priorities that are actually higher.
  6. Quality is our highest priority. We do great work, except when we don’t. We have good reasons when we don’t. But it’s not like other things were higher priorities.
  7. We will comply with all the requirements in the RFP. Unless it would not be profitable to do so. Or we can’t figure out how. Or things take longer than we expect. Or…
  8. As a small business we are more nimble than larger companies. We’re all wearing 10 different hats, but we can turn on a dime.
  9. As a large business we have all the resources needed. They are all fully committed to other projects and you’ll never see them. But we do have them.
  10. We are ready to start on Day One of the contract. We’ll start by signing the contract. After that, we’ve got some recruiting to do, some credentialing, a project management office to get set up, and a bunch more action items before we can actually do productive work. 
  11. As the incumbent we can start immediately. Never mind those pesky contract, staffing changes that require onboarding and training, and requirement changes. They won’t slow us down one bit!
  12. We have a successful track record. When you only look at the successes, it’s quite a record! How is it that companies with successful track records who prioritize customer service and quality don’t have perfect past performance scores? Just sayin’.
  13. We have a [insert your preferred lie] turnover rate. Just don’t ask how we calculated it or if we included incumbent contracts, voluntary or involuntary terminations, contract loss terminations, staff reassigned to other contracts, promoted staff who have to be replaced, medical leaves or disabilities, recently added positions, closed positions, etc…
  14. We bring capabilities in every aspect of the statement of work. We’ve even done some of them before. Technically this one is not a lie, because we have infinite capabilities because we can do anything we can hire people to do. And we always deliver on time. Oops. That one may not be true.
  15. Our staff have a combined total of [insert large number] years of experience. If you have 10 staff who worked for one year on something, is that the same as having 10 years of experience? So while the math is accurate, it’s a lie because it’s a substitution of something that’s not the same.
  16. Most of our business comes from repeat customers. If this is not true, it’s a sign that you’re losing most of your recompetes. In other words, every contractor does most of their business with repeat customers. So a better claim would be that we have never lost a recompete. But that probably would be a lie.
  17. Our mission is to [fill in the blank]. Your mission is really to win new contracts. Contract growth is the source of all opportunities in a company. Maintaining a high past performance score is a more powerful motivator than a mission statement. You only get to do the things you have in your current mission statement if you win new contracts. Nobody in your company is held accountable for mission statement fulfillment. But if you don’t win new contracts, heads will roll.
  18. We understand… When we found out about your needs because you released an RFP, we immediately checked out your website after deciding to bid and now feel so confident that we understand your needs that we’ve copied and pasted your mission statement into our proposal to prove it. We understand you so well that we’ll fully comply with all RFP requirements in our proposal even though our project team won’t even read it before starting the project. Well, maybe the project manager will. We're so good and understand so deeply we don’t even have to prove it, we can just state it.

Do you think your customers don't realize any of this? What might they be thinking when they read your proposal?

Behind each of my snarky comments is a hint at what to say instead of the lie. Every negative can be rephrased as a positive. So dump the lies that hurt your credibility and say something direct and authentic. Acknowledge the issues that make these statements lies and tell the customer what you do about them. And have fun ghosting your competition who are still saying these tired clichés.

If you need help taking your proposals to a higher level, just let me know. I promise you will be my highest priority as I will achieve the utmost in customer satisfaction while delivering the best quality to my repeat customers through my amazing capabilities of being committed to the success of your proposal.

If any one of those is good to use, then why isn't it better to use them all?

Check out your past proposals. If you find you’ve made these mistakes in the past, reach out to me and I’ll show you how to write a much better proposal. And if your competition continues to make the same mistakes, your win rate will go way up.


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Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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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