Seven Things Proposal Evaluators Loathe (Other than Fruitcake)

Do you ever think about the time it takes for a prospect to read and evaluate one of your company’s proposals? You should, because it’s a lot. Add in each of your competitors’ submissions, and we’re talking a major chunk of their schedule. So don’t waste their time with a proposal that makes their job harder. It irritates them, and a frustrated, stressed-out reader does not make for a kind evaluation.

With that in mind, we took an informal poll of our commercial and government evaluator friends and asked them to name the top ways a proposal can annoy them (spoiler alert: confusing, long-winded proposals are bad). Here were the top seven:

1. The Sly Fox Method
The people tasked with reviewing your proposal—subject matter experts, senior management, procurement personnel, or others—are not dumb. Don’t treat them like it by dancing around a question or requirement. The scenario usually goes something like this: You get a Request for Proposal (RFP) question that exposes one of your company’s weaknesses, and after muttering a few choice words, you craft an answer vague enough to avoid the issue but relevant enough to be compliant. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, while you were busy being impressed with yourself, the evaluator was trashing your proposal.

Don’t insult evaluators’ intelligence. Give a direct answer up front, and then explain why the issue doesn’t prevent your company from being the best fit.

2. The “They Didn’t Really Want That” Attitude
Speaking of poor answer strategies, how about not answering the questions at all? Or better, addressing each question and requirement but not in the order or format requested. Bad ideas. Noncompliance is an easy way to annoy an evaluator and get your proposal booted. We know, some RFPs are haphazardly assembled, often including questions and requirements unrelated to what is being proposed. It doesn’t matter. Answer their questions, and do it clearly and politely. Otherwise you risk coming across as lazy or arrogant.

Don’t disrupt evaluators’ processes. If you’re confused by any RFP questions or requirements, clarify them with the prospect up front (if permissible). And if you really want to make the evaluator happy, include a compliance matrix (more on that in our next entry).

3. A Lack of Pride in Preparation
Some companies love to espouse their proven quality, attention to detail, and care for the customer—all in proposals littered with grammar and spelling mistakes, inconsistent information, poor graphics and formatting, other prospect names, and incorrect page and graphic numbering. Yikes. People are more apt to believe what they see than what they’re told, and evaluators are no different. If you submit one of these proposals, think of the impression (conscious or unconscious) it leaves about your company’s thoroughness and ability to manage a project. Your message is undermined.

Don’t make evaluators feel like an afterthought. Carve out more time in your proposal process for quality control, and identify resources for editing, layout, and graphics. They’ll make a big difference.

4. The Kitchen Sink Tactic
Proposals shouldn’t be a dumping ground for every piece of marketing content your company has developed. Sounds logical, but the “more is better” attitude can be a tough one to change. Just remind yourself that people on the other end have to read your proposal. Do they really want to five pages of meandering, cut-and-paste content when they could have two paragraphs of concise, relevant information? And if you make them read the five pages, do you think they’ll be happy when they’re done? Didn’t think so.

Don’t exhaust evaluators. Some companies address the kitchen sink issue by moving their marketing content, additional capabilities, and other indirect info to an appendix. Don’t do it. The reason is this: first impressions are important. Imagine an evaluator has five proposals sitting on their desk, and four have 50 pages. Yours has 500. They’re not going to be excited to open yours. And by the time they see that your proposal is 50 pages of body content and 450 pages of appendices, you’ve already made a bad first impression.

5. The Hollywood Approach
Are your proposals all about you? We hope not. Evaluators don’t care about your qualities, experience, or products/services; they care about how those things will affect them. So focus your proposal on your prospect’s needs and desired outcomes, and how your company can help the prospect achieve them. Yep, time to ditch the excessive boilerplate content. Otherwise, you’re likely to come across as lazy or not caring.

Don’t make evaluators feel generic. Here’s a good test: Once you’re done with your draft, run a search for your company’s name. Then run a search for the prospect’s name. If your company name appears more than once for the every two appearances of your prospect’s name, you probably need to focus more on the prospect.

6. A Document Requiring a Shovel
Most evaluators skim for key points. Help them. Trust us, they don’t appreciate the challenge of digging for information. Pay attention to your document structure, and draw out key points by including headings and subheadings, section summaries, callouts, and graphics with captions. They’re the first thing readers will look at, and they’ll save evaluators time through easier navigation.

Don’t make evaluators yawn. When you’re done with your draft, go back through your document and only read the headings, section summaries, callouts, graphics, and captions. Do they express each key point and differentiator you want to emphasize? Good.

7. A Treasure Map Structure
Some proposals bury key points; others make evaluators reference several sections just to find them. This is most often seen in responses to RFPs with overlapping or redundant questions. We know these RFPs can be frustrating, but avoid the temptation to cross reference everything just to avoid being repetitive. Remember that proposals are often split among several evaluators, each only reading the section(s) assigned to them. So repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing when used sensibly.

Don’t force evaluators to jump around your document. For each redundant question, provide a short but complete answer up front, then provide a reference to where the additional information can be found. Often the evaluator doesn’t need the additional info and can move on—happily.

Get Chatty: What other bad habits have you seen that annoy proposal evaluators? Let us know!

Shameless Plug Alert: A great way to ensure you have persuasive, evaluator-friendly proposals is by hiring a professional proposal writer, editor, or trainer. You know, like the ones at Freestyle Editorial Services. Contact us today to discuss how we can make your company stand apart from the competition.

2 thoughts on “Seven Things Proposal Evaluators Loathe (Other than Fruitcake)

  1. I agree with all your points with the exception of one. Who writes the RFP can often be different from who evaluates the responses. Instead of following the format outlined in one of those “haphazardly assembled” RFPs. I think it’s best to find a way to answer the requested info (of course) but make it flow nicely for the reader. By thinking about this, you end up making the evaluating job easier and saving the reader time as well. In these situations, I pay extra attention to their evaluation plan, i.e. how they are divvying up the points.

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