6 examples of bad proposal writing and how to fix them

Are these common proposal writing mistakes killing your win rate?

Proposal writing like these examples can turn a great proposal into one that is merely ordinary. You might not get fired for sounding just like everyone else, but it's also no way to win your proposals. I see these issues so frequently when I review proposals for companies that they are like clichés. The good news is that the opposite is also true. Learning how not to write like this can turn your good proposals into great proposals. Correcting bad habits like these can help your proposals stand out from the pack. More importantly, correcting bad habits like these can help you win.

See also:
Great Proposals
  1. Instead of reading my proposal, first read what’s going to be in my proposal.
    Before example: The following section discusses… It is followed by…  And in conclusion…

    Just say what you have to say. Don’t redundantly say what you are going say, say it, and then say what you told them. It's annoyingly not helpful if you’re the proposal evaluator. Remember, people don’t read proposals, they score them. They want to go to one place to score what they are evaluating. Not three places that overlap. Focus on making sure you put things where the customer expects to find them.

    After example: ABC Corp brings [results] to [customer] by [proof]. 
     
  2. We do exactly what’s required. You should pick us.
    Before example: ABC Corp is fully compliant with all RFP requirements. Here is how we meet each one…

    Doing the minimum does not make you the customer’s best alternative. Even in a low price, technically acceptable evaluation. If the customer picks you, it will not be because you were compliant with the RFP. If the customer picks you it will be because in addition to RFP compliance you offered more of what they want than your competitors, and did it in a way that translated into a higher proposal score. So being compliant, while required, is nothing to brag about. And definitely not all you should offer.

    After example: In addition to fully meeting all RFP requirements, ABC Corp… 
     
  3. We exceed RFP compliance.
    Before example: ABC Corp exceeds the RFP requirements.

    Your claim to exceeding RFP compliance will not impact your proposal evaluation score. In fact, it will be ignored. The things you do that exceed RFP compliance might. Focus on them and not the claim. Exceeding compliance must be proven. And once proven, the claim no longer matters. Skip the claim and go straight to the proof. How much exceeding RFP compliance matters will directly depend on what the impact of it is. So make sure you demonstrate that the ways you exceed RFP compliance have an impact that matters.

    After example: By exceeding the requirement to [specification] through [proof], ABC Corp will [enable|deliver] [improvement] to [customer].
     
  4. We do things our way, but if you think about it, it’s fully RFP compliant. Maybe even better.

    Before example: Our approach is… [in our own words, ignoring the RFP wording, but delivering something functionally similar].

    If you are being evaluated according to the RFP, then the evaluation will not consider whether what you are saying is functionally equivalent to the RFP. If it is not what the RFP asked for, then it is not what the RFP asked for. Similar is not the same. The evaluators expect to find what the RFP requires, in the terms used by the RFP. Don’t say things the way you want to say them and arrogantly expect the customer to adapt to you and recognize your superiority. Put the effort into saying things the way the customer expects to hear them. Don’t make it difficult for them to score against the RFP by using wording that’s different from the RFP. Once their requirements are satisfied and the connection to those requirements is established, you can go beyond the RFP terminology in order to differentiate yours offering.

    After example: Our approach to [using RFP terminology] uses [features also using RFP terminology] to deliver [benefits]. The result is [benefits] because we [now that they’ve found their requirements satisfied you can exceed them or introduce new features or terminology to differentiate your offering].
     
  5. We’re the incumbent, so of course we can do it. 

    Before example: As the incumbent, ABC Corp will continue to meet all requirements.

    Whether you are capable is not the issue. It’s whether you outscore your competitors in your proposal. A statement that you are capable earns you no points during evaluation. Simply being the incumbent earns you no points. You must turn your incumbency into better approaches that deliver more value in order to beat your competitors. 

    After example: As the incumbent, ABC Corp will be able to quickly incorporate requirement changes and turn our attention to making improvements instead of merely getting up to speed on the status quo.
     
  6. We’re beneficial. (Just like everyone else.)

    Before example: ABC Corp will complete all RFP requirements on time and within budget.

    Yawn. I’m sure no one else will offer being on time and within budget. Putting sarcasm aside, every single company who makes the competitive range will have shown they are capable of that. If your proposals talk about the benefits you deliver, that’s a good step towards better proposal writing. But it’s really just a first step. Do your benefits differentiate your proposal? Everyone is offering benefits. Probably the same ones. What benefits are you offering that no one else is or can offer? Differentiators are what really separate you from your competitors. So once you’ve started including benefits in your proposals, don’t stop until you have differentiated and compelling benefits.

    After example: In addition to completing all RFP requirements on time and within budget, as shown in [proof], ABC Corp will [differentiated benefit].

 


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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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