Some of our clients find they need help to update their proposal writing strategies, especially when they are seeking to enter new niche markets or make other changes in the way they market their services. These assignments are always unique, and the conditions reflect the values of the firm’s leadership. PSMJ reviews current strategies and assumptions, compares those to what we know about current markets, and provides advice on how to better “tap into” current market expectations.
There are four common mistakes that design professionals make when writing proposals, which nearly always result in otherwise good proposals being downgraded or discarded. They are:
- Hiding from risk
- Preaching to the choir
- Failure to understand the client’s business
- Failure to check all the boxes
Answers to the questions we’ve heard on these topics give you our perspective.
Click a question to see the answer
What's wrong with being careful about taking risks? We try to teach our staff to be watchful about risk issues!
The combination of a natural aversion to risk, plus decades of warnings by insurers and professional associations, has led to the common inclusion of a list of exclusions – categories of scope or potential scope that are explicitly excluded from the scope of work offered.
There are several reasons why this is a BAD, self-defeating strategy. It’s negative in tone: “Here’s all the stuff we DON’T do”. It sets you up for a commoditising evaluation by the client, where your exclusions are compared to your competitors’ exclusions, and the one with the least exclusions looks better. Worse, if you leave something off the list, you’ll end up doing it for free.
It is quite difficult to demonstrate a competitive advantage on scope content that will be similarly priced no matter who does it – your only option is to cut the price. By contrast, it is comparatively easy to differentiate your approach on risk-based scope elements, because every one of your competitors will put a different spin on it.
Lastly, if your proposal is being evaluated on a “tick the scope” basis, your exclusions will guarantee that your proposal will lose further consideration.
We do our best to showcase our design skills and great solutions to past projects. Doesn't this help us convince the client we can meet their needs as well?
Is your proposal consultant-focused? or Client-focused? Pretty pictures of your past projects that are not specific to your client’s actual needs are, at best, a waste of space. At worst, a big client turn-off. If you have examples of projects that are closely similar to the client’s proposed project, use them to demonstrate how your design solution solved that client’s important issues. Then extrapolate from them how your approach can solve this particular client’s problems.
We expect the client to have developed a brief that defines what they need. Wouldn't it be a bit presumptuous to start challenging that?
Most clients do not want to spend time educating consultants. They want consultants to do their homework and be completely across their issues. Sometimes this can be a daunting challenge. But it doesn’t nullify the requirement.
Moreover, on many projects (like public projects) there are criteria that just can’t be made public – such as the the most important part of this project is a ribbon-cutting photo-op 3 weeks before the election. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know that.
Often, project submission rules require that we supply a lot of information that isn't really relevant. What's the point of all that detail – it only clutters up our presentation?
Some clients, especially public works clients, have complex requirements, and employ people to through proposals to see if consultants have covered every point. Miss more than a very few, and your proposal goes in the reject pile regardless of how brilliantly it addresses the design issues.
Senior PSMJ Consultants work with you to help you rethink the way you research, prepare, write and deliver your proposals. You only have to score ONE project that you’d otherwise lose, and you’ve recouped your investment easily. This service can be combined with PSMJ’s Executive Advisor Program.