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 6 Seemingly Harmless Ways You're Sabotaging Your Proposals

6 Seemingly Harmless Ways You're Sabotaging Your Proposals

Whether truth or myth, the story goes that the famous architect Philip Johnson once answered an RFP with the shortest response possible.

His winning proposal simply said, "I'll do it." 

Too bad we all can't rely on this simple approach to writing proposals that win new business. But, you can do more to make your investment in time and effort pay off by turning your proposals into the strategic selling tools they're meant to be. 

How to Write a Great Proposal by Avoiding Common Bad Habits

How to Write a Great Proposal by Avoiding Common Bad Habits

Imagine a couple of common scenarios - an important RFP has just landed in your in-box. Or, an important client has just asked you for a proposal that will significantly expand the amount work you do for them. Do you...
...tangle yourself in boilerplate language that you've recycled from a past proposal?
...jump in without a clear content strategy?
...suffocate your language with esoteric terms that the client can't relate to?
If any of this sounds familiar, you might want to check out my recent guest column on Agency Post. I've noticed that ad agencies get into some bad habits that, if broken, would make proposals not only easier to write but also more effective at what they’re meant to do - win you more business. 

New Year's Resolution: A Disciplined Approach to New Business

Not everyone loves process, but when you’re managing the chaos of a new business pitch, it can really help. Process is especially important in unwieldy situations (think of a global pitch at a big agency with dozens of stakeholders across continents), but it’s just as useful for a small one-office agency. Working within a standard process gives everyone the reassurance that they are all playing from the same playbook. It can also empower your new business team to make decisions that will save time, limit confusion and keep things moving forward.

For these first weeks of 2014, I’ll be focusing on new business process and its operational components – what they are, why they’re important and how to use them.

Step 1 in any new business process: qualify the opportunity.

For this post, let’s start at the start. You’ve received an RFP. What’s your first reaction? Maybe it’s “let’s go for it!,” but is the opportunity right for you? Maybe you’ve even received multiple RFPs, all probably due at around the same time. Are they equally important and do you have the resources to tackle them effectively?

Persuasive Writing Tip: Tell Your Prospects a Story

The idea that storytelling is an important part of the sales process is nothing new (in fact, if you’d like to read more on the subject, I’ve included three good sources at the end of this post).

Successful advertising agencies tell stories all day everyday on behalf of their clients – great stories about brands that capture the imagination. Ironically, this skill often doesn’t get translated when the agency writes its own case studies. I’ve observed an almost contradictory tendency to say too much without ever really getting to the most important point. Here’s an example, paraphrased from countless case studies I’ve seen from my clients (names changes to protect the innocent):

Ban these words from your next new business pitch

When talking about their capabilities, advertising agencies fall prey to using broadly descriptive terms like "the relentless pursuit of ROI" or "a passion for creative excellence" in an effort to paint a positive and impressive picture.

Instead of over-used words and phrases that are devoid of meaning, point to actual examples - successful client case studies, industry benchmarks or testimonials - that paint a more accurate, authentic image of your agency. If you can't back up your statements, then they're probably not true, and that will hurt you in the long run.

It's hard to sound fresh in a crowded and competitive market. But take some time to step back and look at your achievements. Or ask an outsider for a fresh perspective (you can always call me).

In the meantime, here are some words that I would gladly ban from all agency pitches and RFP responses:

  • Relentless
  • Passionate
  • Superlative
  • Driven
  • State-of-the-art
  • Proven
  • Renowned
  • Nimble
  • Thrive (as in "we thrive on a relentless and passionate pursuit of...")

Any others that you would prefer to see never used again?