12 ways to turn proposal weaknesses into strengths

This is an article about doing proposals The Wrong Way. That is what you have to do when you are required to submit a proposal your company is not prepared for and you don’t have the information you need to win it. Maybe your company shouldn’t be bidding it at all, but that decision isn’t up to you. The best practices are all about preparation and won’t help you in adverse circumstances like these.

So you’ve got some challenges. It’s too late to fix your weaknesses, and you’ll just have to write around them. Ugh. That’s no way to win. But you’ve got to get something submitted and survive the experience. We feel your pain, and have been there ourselves, too many times. So here’s a list we put together with a dozen examples of how to take those weaknesses and turn them into strengths in your proposal:

See also:
Dealing with adversity
  1. If you lack relevant experience, explain how the experience you do have will give you unique insights.
  2. If you don’t have the required staffing at the time of submission, then talk about how that enables you to right size the project or seek new expertise.
  3. Insufficient knowledge becomes a strength when you focus on what you do know. Who, what, where, how, when, and why. Make your proposal about the ones you know and skip the rest.
  4. When you aren't sure which to choose, you can still position as an expert on how to choose. Simply focus on both the pros and cons and leave the trade-offs unresolved.
  5. If you can't know anything about the customer's needs beyond what they've told you, you can still position as an expert in relevant matters.
  6. If you can't be an expert, be experienced. If you can't be experienced, be insightful. If you can't be insightful, be capable. If you can't be capable, be compliant. If you can't be compliant, be fun.
  7. If you lack information about the customer and opportunity, position as being innovative (and risk conscious at the same time!).
  8. If you're not sure what your win strategies should be, steal your competitors' win strategies (or what you imagine they might be) and be more of whatever they are.
  9. If you can't give the customer what they want, give them what they should want. Maybe they don’t know what they want and will like the way you describe it better.
  10. The relevance of your past performance is what you make of it. If you don’t have relevant past performance, that just means you haven’t thought hard enough about how the experience you do have is relevant. Just hope the customer goes along with your rationalization.
  11. If the customer does not know you, then make it all about reputation. Focus them on the fact that others know you and think well of you. Make the evaluation about your reputation so that they have to think about you. By thinking about you, they are getting to know you. Make them doubt how well they know the incumbent.
  12. If your weakness is time and you just don't have enough of it, focus on compliance. Roll as many requirements into tables as possible. If you can't describe how you comply, then simply state the RFP requirements that you comply with. This can get you thrown out, but (especially when the proposal pages limit is much lower than the length of the Statement of Work and the evaluation criteria emphasizes price) sometimes you can get away with it.


If all of that fails, then go all Sun Tzu and the Art of War on them. Instead of confronting on ground where you are weak, go somewhere else. If you have less technical capability, emphasize management, and vice versa.

The trick is knowing when to do proposals The Wrong Way. If winning is your highest priority, you should do things the right way by preparing and following the best practices. If you do things The Wrong Way on a bid you think you have a shot at winning, it just might ensure that you lose instead. If the biggest risk you face is that you might miss your deadline or not have anything to submit, then doing things The Wrong Way may keep things from falling apart.

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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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