Consulting Tip: Words to Avoid in Proposals

Here’s how to free your proposals of tired superlatives, buzzwords, and overused pronouns.

Proposals brimming with consultant-speak drive clients to the competition faster than you can say “paradigm shift.”

Scrutinize every word in a proposal and strip out empty phrases like “seamless connectivity,” “strategic convergence,” or “we deliver unparalleled solutions that create leverage for the enterprise.” In the war of words, your most potent weapon is your computer’s delete key.

Of the three ailments likely to infect a proposal—tired superlatives, buzzwords, and the plague of pronouns—superlatives are the most insidious.

Superlatives are like weeds in a lawn: Unless checked, they tend to take over. Avoid prose such as “Our unsurpassed commitment to client service ensures your needs will be our highest priority.” Does that mean the needs of other clients are a lower priority for you?

Consultants hope to get an edge by claiming to be the fastest, best, or most experienced. Clients routinely ignore such claims as unproven hype. Unless you can quantify your claims beyond a doubt, dump superlatives from your proposal.

Tired superlatives to delete or justify in every proposal include: Most, Superior, Best, Maximum, Optimal, Minimum, Fastest, Unsurpassed, Shortest, Unrivaled, Easiest, Highest, Least, Unique.

Nothing is intrinsically wrong with any of the preceding words, and we all use them in spoken and written communication (for example, “This is the fastest way to do that.”) But in proposals, they are suspect, and you should use them sparingly, if at all.

Instead of promising an “optimal solution for reducing customer complaints,” say, “We will reduce customer complaints by 9% in 90 days.” Then amplify in the proposal exactly how you will achieve that reduction.

Since proposals are often used to justify unspoken decisions made earlier in the sales process, include in your proposal facts that validate your supporters’ desire to hire you. Give them powerful ammunition to advance your firm’s credibility and convince others in the organization that you are the right choice.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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