How to write a losing proposal

How to write a losing proposal

Silje Stensland
17. Mar 2020 | 5 min read

How to write a losing proposal

If you’re a proposal manager, you’ve probably read tons of material and attended a few seminars on the dos and don'ts of creating winning proposals. You probably know all the ins and outs of what wins them.

However, when did you last stop to think about what actually loses them?

Most businesses tend to focus solely on elements that improve the chances of writing a winning a proposal. You should spend more time trying to understand why you lose proposals. What went wrong with the proposal you submitted?

Lessons from losses will always have more impact on future success than lessons from winning. After all, a high-quality proposal won’t guarantee a win, but a low-quality one can guarantee a loss.

So after a loss, always drill into what didn’t work, and do it differently in your next proposal.

As discussed in a previous blog article, proposals usually fail because of mistakes that could have been avoided with a little bit of attention to detail, a few tweaks and some strategic preparation.

Here’s a checklist of what to do if you want to guarantee losing your next proposal.


Show little understanding of the prospect's problem

The only reason the prospect is asking for a proposal is to have a problem solved or a need taken care of. So if you want to be relegated to the bottom of the pile, ignore what the prospect tells you in the RFP documents. Then submit a proposal that doesn’t make it clear that you understand their needs and how you’re solving their problem.


Do little or superficial research

Another surefire way to lose the proposal is to use superficial or generic information as part of your solution and technical response.

Make sure to not demonstrate a solution that’s better than your competitor’s. Avoid details, key phrases and terminology that show you understand the prospect’s needs, and have done your research and gathered background information.


Demonstrate insufficient expertise or experience

To increase the chances that the prospect will consider somebody else, fail to demonstrate the expertise and experience they expect from you.

Make it clear that you lack the experience necessary to provide the solution to the prospect’s problem. Or if you do have sufficient experience and expertise, make sure to stuff your proposal with jargon and sloppy writing – so that the evaluators struggle to see how your experience and expertise support the solution you’re offering.


Fail to respond to the prospect’s needs

The prospect has asked for proposals specifically to address their needs. If you want to not meet the basic requirement for winning the proposal, do not describe how your services and solution will solve the prospect’s problem.

Avoid specifically addressing and discussing their needs. Instead, keep it about you, not the prospect. Focus more on your own abilities and attributes. Keep it generic by including a typical boilerplate solution and material that isn’t customized to the prospect’s specific requirements and situation.


Read more: Are you making these common mistakes in your proposals?


Make it hard to understand and evaluate

Forget about communicating your ideas and your solutions to the prospect. Seize the opportunity to impress – using long, complex sentences, and words that they will probably have to look up in the dictionary.

Or better yet, make the evaluators search for information, or skim over important information because the text is difficult to read and chaotically formatted. This ensures that they won't be able to find the information they need to score you properly.

And finally, today’s last recipe for failure...


Submit an inconsistent proposal response

Your proposals typically have different sections written by various internal team members and external contributors such as SMEs, subcontractors or suppliers.

To make sure your prospect will question your ability to provide products, services or solutions that are cohesive and integrated, include tables without appropriate headings, a missing table of contents, inconsistent margins, a shabby pie chart with sections adding up to a 112%, and so on.



The key factor to diminishing your chances of winning more business, is to ignore all proposal best practices, avoid learning from past mistakes, and never look for solutions to improve and optimize your proposal management process.


download winning proposals


Read more: Everything you want to know about proposal software

Silje Stensland

Silje Stensland

Silje is Marketing and Communications Director of Xait. She holds a Bachelor in Marketing Communication and an Executive Master in Business Administration. She is an analytical, efficient and results-focused marketing and communications professional and her career spans over 15 years within real estate, oil & gas and IT. When Silje is not busy growing the Xait brand, you can find her at her family cabin in picturesque Sirdal, Norway, hiking, trekking and cross-country skiing.

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