Avoid these words when preparing your next RFP response or business proposal
Did you know that the vocabulary used in your RFP proposal responses could be exposing you to unnecessary liability – or costing you a win? In this article, read about words that over-commit you or make your proposal difficult for evaluators to assess.
As the owner / manager / CEO of a growing business, the idea of winning a government contract (or any large-scale RFP) is alluring – to both portfolio and bank account. The instant credibility is real – as is the vendor’s likelihood of paying the bill. The tricky part, however, is developing a proposal that demonstrates your ability, knowledge and expertise but doesn’t promise the world. It’s a fine line to walk, so when MOGL works with clients on RFP responses, we keep a list of red flag terms and phrases in mind. Here is that list to help you respond to your next RFP.
Vague proposal wording that increases your business risk
The following words represent a standard of performance, knowledge or expertise. What these mean to you, however, could vary greatly from the interpretation of the RFP issuer. Unless you define how each term is measured, consider avoiding these words so you don’t unknowingly commit your business to a different standard than to which you are comfortable.
Proposal terms that infer quality:
- Best practices
- Free from
- Equal to
Proposal terms that address a method:
- As appropriate
- As necessary
Proposal terms that speak to role:
Tips: In general, avoid superlatives in your proposal writing – unless you are willing to prove how your company / service / team is the best or expert in what they do, stick to clear, concise and direct descriptions.
When the term itself is vague (e.g. “oversee” or “safely”), define what you mean. So, instead of performing work “safely” consider “to the safety standards of the Fall Arrest Protection Certification, as defined by the National Workplace Safety Compliance Centre”.
Because client needs can change over the course of a project, ground your language to the contract – not the client. So, instead of “until complete client satisfaction”, consider “to the agreed contractual requirements”.
Dangerous proposal terms that can over-commit your business
The following terms may commit your business to delivery regardless of the circumstances:
- Will deliver
- Will partner/join with
Tips: Assume your business will face the unexpected; leave room to flexibly overcome obstacles. Instead of “guarantee to…” consider “reasonable efforts”, “commercially reasonable efforts”, “will assist in”, “will use reasonable efforts to”, or “help” in your proposal.
If you use “partner” loosely, remember that it does carry legal weight. Instead of “partner”, consider using “ally”, “alliance”, “relationship”, “cooperative” effort, or “cooperatively”. Alternatively, include a Legal Notice within your RFP were terms like “partner” are clearly defined.
Creative proposal writing that weakens your submission
No, RFPs aren’t literature. In fact, one of the worst traits in creative writing is a key success factor in RFP proposal writing: using the same terminology over and over and over.
While it can be tempting to try and say the same thing in different ways, the proposal evaluator is looking for clear, easy-to-understand connections between what you do and what they need. The more they have to infer (i.e. interpret your many ways of saying the same thing) the more difficult the evaluation process is for them.
Tip: be consistent. Use the same phrasing and terminology, especially when responding to mandatory and technical requirements/specifications. If you introduce new terms, consider including a glossary in your proposal to define each term.
Are you looking to grow your business through government procurement? Are you so busy with existing client responsibilities that it is difficult to execute the legwork of an RFP response? Let’s talk. MOGL can help:
- Analyze RFP documents for areas of focus, potential risks, and overall response strategy
- Coordinate response logistics and compliance with deadlines, submission procedures, and deliverable requirements
- Teams develop a work-back calendar and coordinate responsibilities
- Prepare compelling content, both written and graphical, for incorporation in a detailed proposal
- Develop templates, style guidelines, and standards
- Edit draft response for grammar, syntax, clarity, style, and overall readability
- Perform final “White Glove” check of the proposal for compliance with requirements and overall quality assurance standards
- Identify opportunities to streamline and automate future proposal processes – including the development of supporting content for inclusion alongside primary proposal documents
RFP responses can take monumental effort for businesses to get “out the door”. In your effort to be compelling, don’t let your words work against you. Ensure your proposal clearly represents your ability and knowledge, without going too far.
For further reading about the history of RFPs and important legal precedents and considerations, I recommend these articles:
- The Legal Implications of Issuing an RFP
- Understanding the nuts and bolts of Requests for Proposals
- Working on a tight RFP deadline? Don’t forget the legal niceties
Note: MOGL is not a law firm and the above suggestions are not intended to be legal advice nor to replace the advice of a lawyer. The suggestions are simply based upon personal experience and research into the RFP procurement process. Prior to every proposal submission, MOGL recommends consulting with your business lawyer to gain specific advice regarding approach, terminology, protection and risks.