The many common mistakes performed by consultants while preparing their proposals are not just inside their head. Mistakes often enter into proposals and presentations in the most awkward time and manner.

The following is a list of many of the possible ways we have seen consultants ruin their proposals. Examine the following list with care (and humor) because the proposal is often the first impression you make on the client and you know the saying: “The first impression is always right, especially if it’s a bad one.”

  1. Call your client by another name. They like that; it’s like role playing! Even better, if you forget the name of their entire company, that will really impress them. They’ll think, “Wow, they can’t remember our name? Their business must be booming!”
     
  2. Forget the name of a previous client on your document. Who cares about confidentiality? I mean, isn’t a name on a document just like a referral?
     
  3. Present a generic presentation. Like people, all businesses are the same, so you don’t need to put too much effort into building your presentation. Right?
     
  4. Don’t insert the company’s logo, or if you do, use the wrong one. What’s in a logo, anyway? Chances are, the client won’t even notice.
     
  5. Don’t customize the resumes of the project team. No one cares about who the guys are on your consulting team. Their seniority and expertise don’t actually have much bearing on the project. Besides, the client should trust your judgement in personnel. That’s why they’re hiring you, isn’t it?
     
  6. Don’t answer the questions of the clients. If you’re not careful, you could learn a thing or two about the context of the project and better tailor your proposal. Yikes!
     
  7. Forget the criteria of choice included in the RFP. The client included that just for kicks. It’s really not that important and definitely not worth your time to include.
     
  8. Present a bland presentation. Graphics and images are much too distracting. Keep your documents black and white with 12-point Times New Roman font and no formatting, except for paragraphs. That will catch their attention and show them that you mean business.
     
  9. Don’t explicitly state your pricing. When it comes to pricing, it’s better to keep your client in the dark. He should just trust you on this one. After all, trust is rarely earned through clear communication.
     
  10. Hide some fees here and there. It is just like an egg hunt. Clients love it, and it keeps them on their toes.
     
  11. Forgo details about your approach or the deliverables. If the client has done their research, they should already know how your services will fit with their business needs.
     
  12. Don’t explain the governance of the project. You might give the client a good understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the different parties involved. This would give the client the elements to estimate their internal cost for the project; see point 9 above.
     
  13. When you change the pricing, don’t say so. Especially when it goes up! Clients love hidden surprises, almost as much as they love egg hunts.
     
  14. Don’t talk about timelines or milestones. It is very often a minor subject for your client. Focus on how this is going to be a long-term relationship with no clear results or predictable costs. That will reassure your clients that you have everything under control.
  1. Send the proposal by email, and wait for the client’s answer. Don’t give them the chance to ask questions. You could end up having to rework the proposal. What a waste of time!
     
  2. Ignore the timeline explained in the RFP. The client will not include that element in the evaluation, unless you actually think they need your services in a timely fashion.
     
  3. Use psychedelic color schemes. The tie-dye theme was a great hit at your seventies party. Your clients will love it too!
     
  4. Don’t ask questions. You already know their business. Why would you waste all that time and energy? You are the consultant, and they’re here to learn from you, right?
     
  5. Provide solutions to issues not found in the RFP. After all, you know their industry/product/market better than they do. Why not “wow” them with your prescient ability to create solutions in areas without any problems?
     
  6. Don’t listen to the client. Listening to the client talk about their needs is a pain. You might have to collect more information or even have to rework your proposal to better meet their expectations.
     
  7. Base your price upon a client’s ability to pay. Larger companies can pay more. It’s not like they picked you because they thought you would offer a better price, right?
     
  8. The longer, the better. Need we say more?
     
  9. Give them a long, comprehensive overview of your company. The client really needs to understand who you are, as a company, before anything else. You’ll get extra points if they fall asleep.
     
  10. Don’t demonstrate an understanding of the scope and goals. Go directly to the pricing section. That’s what really matters to the client.
     
  11. Offer them the moon. Sure, you know that you can’t actually deliver the customer a 500% return on their investment in the first 6 months, but hey, the customer is really excited about that guarantee.

Okay. So, you get the idea. This list could go on and on, but these points are starting to sound like variations on a theme. (Speaking of variations, if you have never listened to the Paul Simon song this post is parodying, enjoy.)

In truth, these points are guaranteed ways to start a bad consulting relationship and probable ways to never start one. Some of them are even possible causes for litigation. The best way to avoid them is to do these 5 simple things: ­

  • Customize ­your presentation for each client. Every time.
  • Work on the form ­of your presentation. People are visual, visuals do matter.
  • Be clear on how you will do the work. Definitions and roles give everyone guidelines on how to move forward.
  • Be transparent about the pricing. Customers really don’t like hidden prices, and it’s not like an easter egg hunt.
  • Start working the relationship with the client. Communicate, listen, ask questions, and understand that this is their business. Your job is to help their business succeed.

Do these five simple tasks and you can avoid any number of ways people ruin their proposals.

Author: Helene Laffitte

Civil Engineer by training (Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees), our CEO has held several Executive positions in Operations, R&D, and Procurement and Industrial Strategy for one of the biggest Energy Companies in the world. She left Europe for the US in 2011, and, after completing an MBA at Columbia Business School, launched her 1st consulting practice. After exchanging with peers and customers, she launched Consulting Quest, a global performance-driven consulting service platform. “The idea, at first, was to provide disruptive solutions for both clients and providers. I combined the experiences of my co-founder and mine to start Consulting Quest, a disruptive start-up that leverages big data to improve the performance for both clients and consultants.”