What the evaluators want to see in your proposals

Is the way you write your proposals getting in the way of what they really want?

Claims are lame. After having sat through countless debriefs, especially the ones where the customer evaluated based on strengths and weaknesses, I’ve realized some things that explain a lot about proposals:

  • I have never seen a customer agree that any of the thousands of claims made in those proposals were a strength. 
  • The strengths cited by customers are almost always simple facts, like something you have or have done. 
  • The weaknesses they cited were usually things that weren’t said that the customer thought was important.

It’s as if they didn’t even read your claims. It’s as if they only read your proof points. 

See also:
Customer perspective

That’s because the proof points are what they write down to justify giving you the award. They can’t take your claims to The Powers That Be and say they’re why they want to give you a contract. They need proof. That’s all they are looking for.

Claims are statements of identity, self-descriptions, or self-assigned attributes. They are usually about your company or about what you are proposing. Any sentence starting with “We are…” is probably going to end with a claim. The worst claims are comparisons or statements of superiority, like “We are the industry leader in…”  Or the dreaded “Our unique solution will…“ They often are slogans or sum up what you want people to believe about your company or solution. They are usually unsubstantiated and commonly used as introductions. 

Don’t. Just don’t. Don’t make claims. Don’t introduce yourself that way. It’s okay in commercials or in a brochure. It’s not okay in proposals. That’s because there is a difference between selling like you see in a commercial or in person, and selling in a proposal. Selling to an anonymous person who will make their purchase some uncertain day in the future is different than selling to a specific organization who is investing time to read the details and compare you to their other alternatives. Here is an example so you can see for yourself.

Proposals get scored and not read. Claims get in the way of the things the evaluator can score. Claims detract. They hurt your credibility. From the evaluator’s perspective, they amount to saying a bunch of things that don’t matter instead of saying what does matter. As proud as you are of the things you claim, those claims are not going to increase your score, but they may reduce it. The details that prove your case, if they are also differentiators, are what add to your evaluation score.

What about making a personal connection?

If you drop all your claims, you can still show emotions, have charisma, and make a personal connection in your proposals. You do that by how you present your facts and proof points and not by making claims about customer satisfaction, commitment, understanding, or anything else. You can make an emotional connection by explaining why you do the things you do. The reasons why you do things demonstrates your understanding and intentions far better than claims of understanding or intentions.

What about influencing the evaluator on a subconscious level?

Most proposal evaluators don’t want to be there any more than most proposal writers do. What do you think they are concluding at a subconscious level if they have to read through a bunch of claims to find the details they can evaluate?  

Besides, why put effort into trying to “make an impression” or influence their subconscious when you could spend that effort focusing on the details they need to perform their evaluation? I think it’s the companies that don’t know how to prove their case that try to make nothing into something through some kind of subconscious influence. Trying to subconsciously influence the evaluator who has published their evaluation criteria and is required to follow it is demonstrating that you don’t listen and would rather try to talk yourself in the door than to do your homework.

Besides, most claims will at best get an eye roll. I imagine the eye muscles of some proposal evaluators must get tired from all the claims they see. Try it. Read one of your past proposals, and every time you see a claim, roll your eyes. See how tired you get.

What about branding? 

Branding takes on a different form in proposals. While in most places, branding can be described, in a proposal branding must be demonstrated. In a proposal, part of the evaluator’s job is to not take your word regarding who you say you are. Slogans will not hold up to that level of scrutiny. However, you can demonstrate your branding by how you position what you are offering the customer and how you deliver it. The reasons why you do the things you do can add up to what you’d normally claim in your branding, without ever making the claims. The proposal evaluators will assess what you will do, why you will do it, its relevance to them, and what it all adds up to. If you merely claim your branding, it will not be scored as a strength. But if you demonstrate your branding it can contribute to winning.

What about making an impression?

You have to at least be in second place before there is any hope of an impression making the difference in whether you win or lose. On the other hand, you can have a poorly formatted but well written proposal and still win. I’m not saying don’t try to make a good impression. But I am saying not to bother until after you’ve made your case. Proof points make your case. Once you’ve achieved the top score by proving your case, it’s nice to remove any doubts that might be lingering by having a polished presentation. A polished presentation can help demonstrate that you are the competent, quality minded company your proposal indicates. But a polished presentation can’t prove your competence or replace having a solid quality methodology.

What should you do instead?

Instead of making claims, make proof points. Proof points can turn your claims into strengths. For each claim you might be tempted to make, start over and make it a proof point. The need for the claim might even disappear. Do this in every section and every paragraph. Make a point that is proven in every one. Try it and see what it adds up to. Compare that to a past proposal that made a bunch of claims. Your customer’s proposal evaluators will silently thank you.

In proposals, we talk a lot about making it easy for the proposal evaluators to do their job. We focus on structuring the proposal to put things where the evaluators expect to find them. But if you really want to make their jobs easier, give them the proof points they can score instead of a bunch of claims.
 

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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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