August 1, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing

A recent article talked about schools that are improving students' test scores by "teaching the test." In other words, they're showing them exactly what to do and what to avoid in order to get better scores on standardized tests.

There's some logic to that approach. Knowing the biggest problems in advance can help a person avoid them. So that's what this attachment is about. It describes the "seven deadly sins" of proposal writing. The biggest mistakes people make. I hope that by making you aware of them I can help you avoid them.

Clients will judge you in part by the quality of your sales proposal. It may be subconscious, but they look at your proposal for indications of your ability to handle a project professionally.

Here are the seven most common mistakes that can destroy your client's opinion.

It's time to confess: Are your proposals committing any of these sins? Put a mental check mark next to the ones you think might apply to you.

  • Fail to focus on the client's business problems
  • No persuasive structure
  • Full of jargon, making them difficult to understand
  • Too long, overly detailed, too technical, disorganized
  • Inconsistent in appearance, content, or pricing
  • Inaccurate or incomplete information
  • Credibility killers--misspellings, grammar mistakes, etc.

Some sins are worse than others. If you checked either of the first two, your proposals are in serious trouble. Next time we'll talk about how to identify the client's business problems, and the message after that will discuss persuasive structure.

The third, fourth, and fifth sins are not quite as serious, but they will probably make it difficult for the customer to understand your message. The customer may "tune out" of the document, start skimming and skipping and flipping pages. An inconsistent format or contradictions in content or pricing causes additional confusion and raises doubt in the customer's mind.

Inaccurate or incomplete information can result in bad, unprofitable business. One telecommunication firm found that sales people were building proposals with information drawn from "orphaned" Web sites and databases. In fact, they were offering proposals for products and services that didn't even exist any more!

The last sin is a basic one and the main damage it does is to your credibility. Misspelled words, errors in grammar or punctuation, typos, and similar errors may not change the meaning of what you say, but they will definitely undercut your professionalism in saying it.

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