Welcome to another episode of the podcast ‘Write Winning Proposals”.  In this podcast, I’m talking about a sure way to lose credibility with clients and the evaluators – Weasel Words.

I have to admit, I’ve used them myself in the past and based on the RFP Responses I’ve reviewed, many others use them too.

Proposal writers use them because they’re easy, cheap and pretty useful when you don’t want to make a commitment or don’t really know what to say. It’s not something I do anymore and I’m always on the look-out for them with my clients, both helping suppliers write proposals and helping buyers evaluate them.They’re easy to use, but what do you think they look like to your client? They create doubt and throw suspicion on everything you say. Even if you don’t do it intentionally, it creates what I call a soft response where you really aren’t saying anything meaningful and likely not really answering the question for your client.

If your competition avoids weasel words and demonstrates commitment, certainty and confidence in their response, they are more likely to win than you are, all else being equal.

When you use weasel words and loose language that either qualifies the statement or suggests ambiguity about your accomplishments, experience, approach or commitment to what you’re proposing, your statement loses credibility.

Wikipedia defines it this way:

Weasel words is an informal term for words and phrases that, whilst communicating a vague or ambiguous claim, create an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said. Weasel words manage to vaguely imply meaning far beyond the claim actually made.”

Here’s the link to this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_word

As you can see, they don’t give a very good impression. They are also easy to spot by the evaluators and will give them a clear message – that you may not really do what you say you’re going to do. It’s simply not how you write a winning proposal. I consider it to be worst than fluff, which is also light, airy and lacking substance.

Even worst, it can look like you are trying to avoid committing to something or are trying to be slippery. Not the way to impress a potential client during an RFP process.

Since telling the story, providing detail and making things concrete for the reviewer is the hallmark of a great proposal, I want to do the same here by telling you about the origin of the word. It’s supposedly derived from the way weasels eat eggs. They suck the insides out and leave the shell intact in the nest, looking full and complete, but it’s actually empty. That’s the same impression you give the evaluator of your RFP response when you use weasel words. (Oh, and did you spot the weasel word in my little story?)

Take a really close look at what you write and if it casts doubt or uncertainty, re-write it with words that instill confidence in your ability, knowledge and commitment.

If you are using weasel words for a reason, because you aren’t sure of the final solution or a specific detail and need to get on the ground with the client before you can work out the details, change the way you say it and spin it differently – don’t make it look like you’re a weasel – make it look like you’re a client focused supplier who doesn’t make assumptions that the client is exactly the same as all the others.

I welcome comments so please leave a comment about this post below. You can also contact me directly from the ‘About Michel’ page at the top of the website.

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