Speak Not of the Devil in Your Proposals

An old saying from my English ancestors states, “Speak of the devil and he will appear.” As he is our entity of maximum evil (or entropy, if you prefer), you didn’t want the Devil appearing anywhere near you. In a similar fashion, you don’t mention your competitor when you’re writing a proposal. There are a few reasons for this, but the reasoning is closely related to that old saying.

Ghosts vs. Devils

I hadn’t intended this post to be about the supernatural, but for reasons unknown to me, the practice of discussing the flaws of your competition without naming them directly is called “ghosting.” An example of this would be where you don’t just highlight the advantages of your particular product or service but also add a little dig at your competition by noting how your approach is superior to X because of…reasons.

I’m not fond of doing this, but sometimes your leadership might require ghosting the opposition so your organization looks that much better. However, while you might indeed have a better widget/service than Lockheed Martin or Microsoft or Universal, you don’t mention them by name. For one thing, it looks petty. Or tacky. You’re supposed to get your intended customer to  focus on your organization and your product or service. You’re not supposed to even mention the competition. You don’t want the customer thinking about them except vaguely. You also don’t want to call attention to the fact that you’ve got a rivalry with Brand X. Your customer knows that, but it’s immaterial to your objective, which is to sell your brand.

Occasionally you’ll see companies mention their competition in TV commercials. For years, Avis Rent A Car’s slogan was, “We’re Number 2, we try harder.” That might work in the consumer market, but in the business-to-business or business-to-government proposal-writing business, you’re better off not mentioning the other company or companies going after the work. You usually have a page count limit–why waste electrons or ink discussing someone else’s product? It’s akin to giving your competition free advertising by mentioning them because suddenly the customer is thinking about them instead of you.

“Speak of the devil, and he will appear.” Better if you don’t.


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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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2 Responses to Speak Not of the Devil in Your Proposals

  1. Christopher Carmichael says:

    My company was shifting to a CSDB for S1000D. Company “C” slammed Company “A” through the presentation. We spent our money with Company “ A” and there was a “WindChill” on Company “C”. They sold us the competition.

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