Guerrilla Tactic Tired Superlatives to Delete or Justify in Every Proposal

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.

validate your supporters' desire to hire you. Give them powerful ammunition to advance your firm's candidacy and convince others in the organization. Help them effectively sell you and your proposal.

► Ban Buzzwords

Every organization has its own set of insider buzzwords. In initial meetings with clients, parts of the conversation may go right over your head because of the shorthand they use to communicate.

When it comes to the use of mind-numbing buzzwords, consultants are among the worst offenders. When readers have to struggle through a muddy proposal, they become frustrated and may discard it.

Like tired superlatives, buzzwords sap strength from proposals and make them hackneyed, trite, and insincere—the exact opposite of how a good proposal should read. Drop the consultant-speak and replace it with words, terms, and phrases that clients instantly understand and can relate to. So many proposals are full of tech-speak that when one comes along that is clear and concise, readers will respond favorably.

The following typical statements were found in actual consulting proposals. Notice that they don't tell the reader anything of substance about what the consultants are proposing to do:

► Our seamless and integrated solution drives optimal business advantage far in excess of your investment.

► We deploy a cross-platform infrastructure that transforms mission-critical applications for maximum connectivity.

► Our value chain consultants enable clients to operationalize their strategies for the extended enterprise.

Buzzword Hall of Shame

If Your Proposal Says . .

. Consider Using This Instead

Deliverables

Results

Enterprise-wide

Company

Human capital

People

Infrastructure

Foundation

Knowledge transfer

Inform

Thought-ware

Idea

Transformation

Change

Some consultants may understand these sentences, but it would be difficult for anyone else to translate this gibberish, unless of course the client reading it is a former consultant, who would likely get a good laugh.

If any words in the Consultants' Buzzword Hall of Shame appear in your proposal, replace them with more descriptive alternatives. If you cannot avoid using a buzzword, make sure that it's well defined, appropriate, and does not conceal an otherwise good idea.

► Words to Dump from Every Proposal

Reread your most recent proposal to see if it passes the buzzword test. The following words and phrases are so overused or meaningless that they should be banned from proposals. Eliminate them and say what you mean in plain English:

Best-in-class

Best-of-breed

Best practice

Bleeding edge

Capability transfer

Change agent

Connectivity

Convergence

Cross-platform

Cutting edge

Deliverables

Ecosystem

Empower

Enabler

Enterprise-wide

Frictionless

Granular

Holistic

Human capital

Infrastructure

Knowledge-based

Knowledge transfer

Leading edge

Leverage

Mission-critical

Offload

Paradigm

Ramp up

Real-world (fill in)

Repurpose

Scalable

Seamless

Synergy

Thought-ware

Time box

Transformation

Value-added

Value chain

Win-win

World-class (fill in)

► Plague of the Pronouns

In the executive summary of one proposal, the pronoun "we" was used eight times in just six sentences. The client's desired result was barely mentioned. It's tempting to refer to yourself or your firm in a proposal with the royal "we": "We are uniquely qualified to complete the assignment." But these self-references are a trap that snares many consultants. Clients want your proposal to address their problems and the benefits they will receive, not to describe how great you are.

An accurate indicator that a proposal is straying too far from what the client needs is the frequent appearance of pronouns such as us, we, our, me, my, and I. Minimize your use of these pronouns and talk about your client's issues. Save the self-congratulatory stuff for the qualifications section of your proposal, where clients fully expect a hefty dose of self-promotion.

Although you can't always avoid first-person pronouns, use them judiciously and try to find alternatives such as individual or firm names, or rephrase the sentence.

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