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31 reasons you would not accept your own proposal

A lot of companies write stuff in their proposals they'd never accept from a vendor

People spend too much time thinking about what to say about themselves in their proposals and too little time imagining what it must be like as the customer reading what you are submitting. Most people wouldn’t even accept their own proposal if it came from another vendor and it was their decision. Here are 30 reactions the customer might have to your proposal that could result in your losing. 

  1. Do I know you? Have we ever talked? 
  2. All they have to say is that they have experience. I get that they’ve done it before, but how does that translate into the future? My future.
  3. The proposal is a description of them. Why are they talking about themselves? What does that have to do with me and my needs?
  4. The company currently doing the work is insulting me by claiming that I can’t live without them.
  5. They claim to be trustworthy. They claim a lot of things. The whole proposal consists of unsubstantiated claims about how great they are. They never actually give me any reasons to trust them. Their proposal sounds like an empty sales pitch and sketchy.
  6. Instead of saying what they’ll do or deliver, it’s about how committed they are.
  7. They talk about their values and mission. They sound... generic and undifferentiated. In any event, I'm the customer and I've got goals of my own. What I want is someone who will help me achieve mine.
  8. They say they’ll support our mission. They restated what was in the RFP about our mission, showing no real insight. They didn’t say anything about what my actual goals are within my organization’s lofty mission statement, let alone how they'll help me achieve those goals better than their competitors.
  9. They state my needs as if they are the authority on what my needs are. It’s patronizing.
  10. They think saying they understand me makes it so.
  11. They didn’t follow the instructions I gave them in the RFP. If they can’t follow my instructions to get the work, why should I believe they’ll follow them after?
  12. Do they speak the same language we do? This matters both on a functional level and on the proposal level. If the words in the proposal don’t match up with the words in the RFP it’s hard to evaluate it.
  13. Do we share the same vision? Do they have any vision? Does it match mine? Does it sound exciting? Is it feasible? Or is it so watered down that it's meaningless?
  14. What should I do with the information they’ve provided? How will my organization made this decision? Does what they’ve given me match up with what our decision makers need? 
  15. What is my best alternative for the future? Is what’s in this proposal it? Does this proposal tell me what I need to know to determine whether they are my best alternative? 
  16. What’s the difference between this proposal and my other alternatives? Is there one? Does the proposal help me understand my options?
  17. Do the promises in the proposal match up with the terms and conditions of the contract?
  18. Do the vendor’s staff who will be responsible for fulfillment even know what it says in the proposal? Will they deliver the what they've promised?
  19. Do they talk about approaches without actually saying what they’ll deliver?
  20. Do they describe approaches in a way that sounds generic, like they could apply to any project? Or do they talk specifically about how they would be applied to us and our project? Does it sound like they just recycled the text?
  21. I wanted a proposal and what they sent sounds like a brochure. 
  22. All they sent is a contract. That’s not very friendly. Why should I sign it? What does this say about what they’ll be like to work with?
  23. From their proposal, I can’t tell what they’d be like to work with on a daily basis or what they’d be like to have around.
  24. They talk about their extensive capabilities, but they haven't said anything insightful. In fact, they haven’t proposed anything I couldn’t figure out for myself. What do I need them for? Are they more than just resources?
  25. Does their pricing account for everything it should as well as everything they’ve promised?
  26. Is what they’ve proposed affordable?
  27. Is it even worth discussing? What questions do I have?
  28. My contracting department put out the RFP. Does the proposal give me a way to get what I really want?
  29. Headquarters, the field offices, my department head, and I all have different agendas and preferences. Who does the proposal talk to?
  30. Would I only accept it because I have to accept something? How does that make me feel about them? Or would I accept it because it’s compelling and how would that make me feel?
  31. Do I agree with what they've said?

If you turn them around, each one of these gives you hints for what you should say in your proposals and how you should say it. If you look a little deeper, they also give you hints for the pre-RFP process and how to approach your customer relationships. Taken together they show why proposal writing is not about what you want to say and all about what the customer needs to hear.

You can also treat this list like a checklist or a test. Did you pass? Would you accept your own proposal?

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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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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