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How to Avoid Commitment in Proposal Writing

A good proposal answers the customer’s questions. A proposal done The Wrong Way sometimes has to avoid them. One reason is that if you somehow win the proposal, someone’s going to have to live up to any promises made. A good proposal wins because of those promises. Doing a proposal The Wrong Way might mean avoiding promises.

A good proposal avoids using passive voice. A proposal done The Wrong Way sneaks it in. In passive voice, instead of a noun performing the action, the subject receives the action or is acted upon. With passive voice, you can say that something will happen, or that the project will start, or software gets written without saying who will do it. Avoid using passive voice because it weakens the statements in your proposal. Strive for clarity. But, when you get into trouble, sneak it in to obfuscate what you’re saying. If the rest of your proposal is clearly written, it may not tarnish your credibility.

Another way to avoid commitment is to talk about your capabilities and experience instead of what you will do. Talk about how much you like marriage and kids, but don’t talk about dates or your plans for the honeymoon. Talk about the criteria that you will use to make decisions, and list the things you will take into consideration. Talk about having processes for getting things done without saying what the steps are. Talk about the benefits that will result without saying how you will deliver them. Talk about all the things that you can do for the customer, without saying what, when, or how you will do them. In all likelihood, this is completely true, since most companies will do anything the customer pays them for, and after award you can figure out what is included and what is an extra charge.

Finally, promise both sides. Say that you will involve the customer in decision making, but will not require any effort on their part. Offer them a single point of contact, but empower everyone on the project to solve the customer’s problems. Offer to hire all of the incumbent staff, but only if the customer likes them. You should separate conflicting statements by at least a paragraph, instead of putting them in the same sentence like we have done. Worded properly, you should not even be able to tell that there is a conflict.

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By Carl Dickson,
Founder of and PropLIBRARY

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