17 Tips to Writing a Losing Proposal – And Spending a Lot of Money in the Process

Writing losing proposals is an easy route and an expensive proposition

You’re always reading ways to improve the chances of writing a winning a proposal. You attend seminars so you can learn the latest techniques to help you win more. However, nothing seems to stick. So, here are 17 tips on how to write a losing proposal (and spend a lot of money in the process).

  1. Bid on all the opportunities in the pipeline – If you bid on everything, you dilute the power your bid and proposal dollar; if it takes a certain amount of money to win a typical bid, spending less than that assures a loss.
  2. Do a terrible job capturing the opportunity – Make your customer engagement meetings and strategy sessions count; ask the right questions, test your solutions, and cover all your gaps with a great team.
  3. Assume there is no competition – If you can make money on the deal, competitors will be able to make money too and they’ll figure a way to beat you.
  4. Get a bad case of incumbent-itus – The number one way incumbents lose; they get lazy and think they cannot be beat.
  5. Skimp on proposal resources – You know you need a good proposal manager; but without a dedicated team, including a solution architect/program manager, it’s hard to go from compliant to compelling.
  6. Wait until the RFP is announced on FedBizzOpps to start the proposal process – There’s precious little time after the RFP is released to develop a winning strategy, create a unique solution that provides value in the eyes of the customer, build a great team, and write a compelling proposal.
  7. Submit the proposal late – Late proposals do not get evaluated; you lose, period.
  8. Wait until Red Team to develop a compliant outline – The content may be there, but if the evaluator cannot find it, you cannot expect a favorable evaluation.
  9. Submit a non-compliant proposal – Non-compliant proposals have deficiencies and cannot be awarded a contract.
  10. Parrot back the work scope requirements – Replacing “contractor shall” with “we will” in your proposal is a deficiency and cannot be awarded a contract.
  11. Submit a non-compelling proposal – Proposals that focus on your company and what you do lose to proposals that focus on the customer and how you meet their requirements.
  12. Have a bad staffing plan – missing the staffing numbers on services proposals hits on two evaluation factors: technical and pricing.
  13. Ignore the evaluation criteria – A proposal focused on customer “hot buttons” may feel good, but does not score points.
  14. Trust me – Verify that your writers are delivering the quality content you need to win; waiting until the 11th hour to review content derails proposals.
  15. Copy and paste – Having great content from other proposals is a great way to reduce the writing time, however it needs to be customized to the new opportunity and the new client.
  16. Price to lose – If you do not know the winning price, you lose money on the deal or lose the proposal.
  17. Don’t request a debrief – Win or lose, request a debrief so you can learn what you did well and not so well; trust me, your competitors are getting one so they can beat you (again) next time.

Okay, these 17 tips are written a little tongue in check. Nobody sets out with losing in mind. However, the actions you take, or fail to take, greatly influence your chances of winning. Writing a winning proposal takes great planning, flawless execution, and money. Writing a losing proposal requires less planning and less than perfect execution, but it also consumes a lot of money. Prioritize your pipeline, concentrate your resources on the best deals, and “follow” these tips. You’ll increase the chances of winning and maybe make some money in the process.

Kenneth Merwin
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