Are you making these common mistakes in your proposals?

Are you making these common mistakes in your proposals?

Tore Medhaug
21. Nov 2019 | 5 min read

Are you making these common mistakes in your proposals?

You and your team spent weeks creating your proposal, and you submit it, confident that you would land the deal this time. But once again, the proposal got rejected.

You’re bound to ask: What’s wrong with our product/service?

The answer is ‘probably nothing’.

What you should be asking is: What’s wrong with our proposals?

More often than not, it is not about the quality of your product/service or the compatibility of your offering to the prospect's criteria. It is about the proposal you submitted.

There are a number of things that can go wrong with proposals. Usually, they fail because of a mistake (or mistakes) that could have been avoided with a little bit of attention to detail and strategic preparation.

Here are 6 of the most common mistakes companies make when creating a proposal. Avoid them and increase your chances of winning more business.


You use a check-in/check-out system

Standard document management tools built on Word are designed for file sharing, and organizations often mistake file sharing capabilities for co-authoring. In reality, however, the process is really a check-in and check-out system. This means you’re breaking down your document into multiple files, and co-authors don’t really work on the same document in real time.

Unsurprisingly, a check-in/check-out system typically causes confusion and difficulties battling version control, and hassling with formatting layers and numbering. It all adds up to wasted time and undue risk.


You write documents that consist of many different parts

Version control – the bane of many a proposal! Version tracking issues and problems compiling multiple formats and parts into one consistent document often result in caffeine-fueled all-nighters and – worse – unmet deadlines.

Due to the fragmented approach, key pieces of content are disjointedly scattered in multiple documents and repositories across multiple systems and locations. With multiple stakeholders and contributors it can be easy to lose track of the original content and hard to manage the many different versions.

You end up juggling six versions while wading frantically through a stuffed inbox, looking for the latest changes. Comments end up lost in emails, and you have no idea if the comment has been incorporated into the latest version. Approved documents still have errors in them, and the clock is ticking mercilessly toward the ‘moment of truth’.

This doesn’t merely stress you and your team out, it can lead to missed business opportunities and wreak havoc on your bottom line.


You lack good structure

Proposals need to be clearly organized to present the information in a persuasive way, and to make sure your prospect understands everything you have to offer.

This isn’t the case with many proposals. Surprisingly often, businesses submit proposals that lack any organization. Information is thrown in at random, in no particular order. What happens then is inevitable; the prospect gets confused before they have a chance to understand your pitch. If your proposal lacks a well-thought-out structure, most prospects aren’t going to waste their time with the document. And it’s sayonara.

Another mistake businesses make is failing to present the information in the most persuasive way possible. A winning proposal structure generally starts with the basic offerings and then drills down into the benefits the potential client can expect.


Read more: Collaboration is more than just sharing your proposal document


You use too much jargon

Some people feel that using jargon makes them sound smart or knowledgeable, but what it really does is obscure meaning.

We have all seen a proposal or some other kind of business document that is jam-packed with “uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax”, the very definition of jargon.

Jargon, acronyms, buzzwords and other hard-to-understand language can leave your reader confused or just plain put off. You end up coming across as confusing and unfamiliar, and therefore untrustworthy. The purpose of your document is to convince your prospect that your offer is the best one, so why use lingo that ensures the exact opposite?

Instead, use plain language.


You don’t proofread your proposal

Nothing will kill a potential deal quicker than the basic kind of grammar mistakes your third-grade English teacher scolded you about. In your client’s mind, a sloppy proposal full of typos is a reflection of how you’ll treat their project. Typos = You don’t care.

It may sound incredible, but a common mistake in proposals is to accidentally leave in the name of a past client instead of the current one you’re pitching. All it takes is copying a paragraph from Client A’s proposal and pasting it into Client B’s proposal… and forgetting to change A to B. Disaster! Wastebin next.


You forget that people buy benefits, not features

One of the golden rules of writing winning proposals is that clients “do not buy what it is; they buy what it does for them.”

As Dr. David Pugh writes in “A Bidder’s Dozen: Golden Rules for Winning Work”: – Nobody needs a better mousetrap. Nobody. What they need is fewer mice. If the ‘better’ mousetrap cannot deliver that, why would anybody buy one?

Your prospect’s main objective is not to have a problem solved, but to achieve a certain business goal. How will your offer get them to their bottom-line goals?

Many proposals lack clear and specific benefits to the client. If your client needs to assume what they have to gain from choosing you, they will most likely choose your competition.




Tore Medhaug

Tore Medhaug

Tore holds a Technical degree and has a variety of business courses from BI Norwegian Business School. He has previously worked for different oil service companies and IT companies. Tore used to be Norway's biggest self-proclaimed golf talent, and also has a big passion for Ice hockey.

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