Common Proposal Shortcomings and How to Avoid Them

By Global Services on July 16, 2021


Any proposal is a complex endeavor with numerous potential points of failure. In this post, we’ll look at some common proposal shortcomings and how you can avoid them.


Noncompliant Proposals

It’s well known that proposal submissions must follow the Solicitation requirements to the letter. And while proposal teams are usually careful to follow all directions, they frequently miss small details. For instance, the whole document might be set to Times New Roman 11 point font as required—except for some graphics in Arial 9 point. It’s a small, easy-to-overlook noncompliance—and it’s enough to get your proposal rejected. To avoid this issue, make sure to have multiple detail-oriented people review the document for any noncompliance, no matter how small.


Proposals That are All Proof Points and No Specific Approach

In an effort to show that they have deep expertise in their field, many proposal teams will fill their proposals with lists of the various projects where they’ve done similar work before. This information is necessary, but it isn’t sufficient. Your proposal needs to explain HOW you will do the work for this new customer, in a step-by-step fashion. It’s not enough to say “we’ve done it before and we will do it again.” To avoid this issue, it’s helpful to have reviewers who are technical Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), AND reviewers who aren’t. The outside perspective from non-SMEs is often illuminating: something that’s clear to SMEs who are fully immersed in the field may not be clear to someone outside it. Since many of the Government evaluators reviewing your submission will not be SMEs, it’s important to identify and correct anything that’s unclear or any steps that are glossed over.


Not Enough Proposal Proof Points

Sometimes, teams will have the opposite problem: a detailed approach, but no evidence that they’ve ever successfully implemented similar approaches before. An effective proposal needs to include both.


Not Demonstrating Customer Intimacy

Often, proposal writers will articulate a clear understanding of and approach to the technical requirements of the solicitation, but will do so in a way that could apply to any customer anywhere. Remember that each customer is unique, and part of the goal of your proposal is to demonstrate to the customer that you understand their organization and the unique challenges that it faces. To avoid this issue, it’s important first of all to establish the level of customer intimacy that will give you access to this knowledge. That information-gathering process begins long before the proposal is ever released; it’s an ongoing effort spearheaded by the Capture Manager / Business Development (BD) Lead, who communicates it to the Proposal Manager and lead writers for inclusion in the proposal.


Walls of Text

Proposal page limits are almost always restrictive, and in an effort to fit all the required information into the limits, writers may end up with huge, difficult-to-read walls of text. No matter how good your content is, if it gets skimmed over, it won’t help you win. Informative graphics to replace text are a great approach when possible, but even something as simple as callout boxes highlighting key points go a long way in making your proposal visually appealing and easy to read.


Uninformative Proposal Graphics

While graphics are a great way to communicate information and make your offer more visually appealing, avoid including graphics just for the sake of including graphics. Graphics call a lot of attention to themselves: for an evaluator wading through hundreds or thousands of proposal pages, a graphic may be the only item in a given section that sticks out in their mind. If the graphic is extraneous or confusing, that will be what they remember about your proposal. To avoid this issue, make sure to include only graphics that illustrate key points in your proposal. They should be clean and simple, easy to read, and understandable within ten seconds or so. If it takes longer than that to understand the gist of the graphic, readers will likely give up and move on.


Looking for ways to strengthen your proposals? Contact Global Services today for more information on how we can help!