Eliminating Fluff From your Proposal

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If you follow i3solutions on Twitter, you saw a tweet recently posted about a car being fueled by trash. It is an innovative idea presented in an engaging and entertaining manner. It made us think about the familiar IT cliché: “Garbage in, garbage out.” How does that type of marketing translate to the proposals we submit to our customers?

On the surface, proposal writing doesn’t seem that difficult. The goal is to submit a document that responds to the specific RFP requirements with a specific solution that is compliant, concise, clear, and competitive. The goal is to be the winning bidder by demonstrating in concrete language how the offered solution is the best one to solve the customer’s problem. Yet many times proposal writers resort to what is commonly referred to as “marketing fluff.” It usually is easy to recognize. The writer could be relying to heavily on fluff if the proposal is padded with:

  • vague information that doesn’t provide any of the important specifics; think of the rule that good writing explains the who, what, when, where, why, and how
  • extra and unimportant details
  • jargon the average person (evaluator) wouldn’t understand
  • sales material that offers no tangible value in relation to the rest of the proposal
  • flashy graphics and templates that are basically an example of style over substance.

Even our customers learned long ago that there existed the tendency to rely on marketing fluff. RFPs began to include requirements such as: “Elaborate brochures or documentation, binding, detailed artwork, or other embellishments are unnecessary and are not desired.”

What are some ways to delete marketing fluff from your proposal? These simple tips are an easy place to start:

  • Move the mission statement to an out-of-the-way spot, such as deep in the About Us area.
  • Keep slogans out of running text. (They are OK in the header, or sidebars).
  • Beware of enthusiastic adjectives and adverbs. These are the lint of marketing.
  • Strip out those concentrated noun strings that marketing uses to summarize its pitch (“world-class enterprise solutions”). If you must make these claims, devote a sentence to each, preferably in a bulleted list. (You may need to increase the total number of sentences).
  • Preserve the gist of features and benefits by focusing on nouns and verbs.
  • Link to statistics, datasheets, detailed descriptions or numbers. Back up your claims.
  • Increase the elements that your customers regard as trustworthy, such as quotes from experts whose name and photo you provide.
  • Write in a neutral, objective tone.

Another way to test proposal writing for fluff is to ask “so what?” or “why?” after every claim, and answer from the customer’s perspective. After you write something, read it pretending you are the customer, and then ask yourself “so what?” or “why?”

Let’s look at an example. Many people begin their proposals with the sentence, “Company ABC is pleased to present our proposal to provide <insert the product/service you are offering here>.” Does this sentence pass the “so what” criterion? Of course, the answer is that it doesn’t. Do you really think your customer cares that you are pleased to present a proposal? Does being pleased to present your proposal differentiate you from your competition? Does it demonstrate how your solution makes the customer’s life easier? Of course not. It is pure fluff.

Take time to eliminate fluff early in your proposal writing process. Use storyboards to keep writers on target. Review material submitted regularly, and provide writers guidance on how to eliminate any identified fluff.

The person reading your proposal will thank you.

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