Ghosting the Competition

What Every Proposal Management Professional Needs to Know

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The words “ghosting” or “ghosted” are often associated with being forgotten or ending communication with someone without any explanation. When it comes to proposal management and business development, though, ghosting the competition shows a professional knows what they’re talking about. To simply define the term, ghosting is a technique bid and proposal professionals can use to downplay the strengths and highlight the weaknesses of a competitor. The following will explain why ghosting will help you win RFPs, what you should include while ghosting and how to do so graciously.

Is Ghosting for Everyone?

The short answer is an emphatic “yes,” and here’s why. You will have a more compelling proposal by incorporating ghosting into the planning and writing process. To not brainstorm ghosting opportunities is a missed opportunity to position yourself as the expert and plant the seed of doubt about your competition. In a professional RFP response, you should find elements of ghosting the competition laced throughout.

Per the definition above, any proposal response should include verbiage that diminishes the strong points of a potential competitor and further examines weaknesses of those businesses as well. It is important to note: Please do not call out any businesses by name. It is possible to downplay strengths and highlight weaknesses of competitors without saying who those competitors are.

Discovering Ghosting Opportunities

Before writing your proposal, develop a list of ghosting opportunities and then compare those against the RFP and your outline to determine which are most compelling and where they best fit. There are myriad ways to determine competitor weaknesses. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Ask your team. During your proposal kickoff or strategy meetings, ask your subject-matter experts, relationship managers and company leadership what your company does better than its competitors. Ask if they’re aware of any snafus or weaknesses of your competitors.
  2. Review competitor proposals. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, anyone can request copies of past proposals and evaluation scores from federal, state and municipal government organizations. To request competitor proposals, try searching on Google for the agency name combined with “open records request” to find instructions about submitting your request.
  3. Comb through competitor websites. Look at annual reports as well as team and experience pages. What they view as a strength may possibly be a weakness when compared to your solution, staff or experience.
  4. Search Google and Google News. Run a series of searches using the competitor’s name and keywords or phrases such as “failure” and “lawsuit,” and other phrases that relate to the geographic area, end client, or service or product you’re proposing.
  5. Set up Google Alerts. Keep an eye on your top competitors by setting up Google Alerts. Monitor news about your competitors and your company to ensure you have the latest info and newest ghosting opportunities at your fingertips.

Writing to Ghost the Competition

Once you have your list of ghosting opportunities, it’s time to write. Here are five quick techniques to incorporate:

  1. Keep it generic. If your business believes in the price of your offering, address the lower prices of a competitor, e.g., “Are there other marketing agencies who offer lower prices? Perhaps. But you will not find another business who cares about relationship-building like we do — leading to a premium, preferred service embedded into our offering.”
  2. Keep it short. Highlighting weaknesses in the competition does not mean devoting multiple paragraphs to what other businesses do wrong. In fact, it means succinctly identifying why your team and offering will meet the demand of any given RFP. For example, “Many digital marketing agencies say they deliver results, but we host biweekly check-ins with our clients to show what we’re producing and how we plan on growing in the days ahead.”
  3. Keep it professional. The most important thing is to act like you’ve “been there before.” Projecting confidence throughout your response will stick out to the ones who issued the RFP, and, in turn, it’s one of the easiest ways to ghost the competition. Explain how you’ve fulfilled any given task multiple times before — use stats or other examples from previous projects — and how you’re prepared to do it again for this new client.
  4. Leave arrogance at the door. You don’t need to overstate victories or how your service is the best of all time. Think about the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” in the movie “Elf.” Such language is a sign that your coffee is probably mediocre. In the same way, you don’t need to put down other businesses to lift yours up. This is important to keep in mind because popular culture tells otherwise — that it’s “OK” to take a dig or jab at a competitor, even if it means calling them out in public. Just because you see Twitter wars and businesses biting at each other’s backs does not mean you have to participate. Take the higher road, and it will set you up for success.
  5. Tailor your content. Make sure your copy focuses on things your prospective client will find value in. In fact, it might help to spend time looking through their website and mirroring some of their goals in the response. Don’t overdo it, but plant the seed that you’re paying attention to what drives their business and why your values would align.

Ghosting in Real Life

If you want an idea of what ghosting might look like, consider the following examples and how this strategy might translate to your industry.

  • You’re a contractor. You know your competitor has a bad safety record. To ghost your competition, share your safety record and EMR rate to demonstrate your team takes safety seriously, has a proven track record and will be the right choice for your construction site. Feature this information in your cover letters and other sections of your proposal. This may prompt the evaluator to look closely at the safety record of the competitor and discover that you are the stronger choice.
  • You’re an IT software provider. Your competitor has had several PR headaches with technology failures during high-volume days using their software. You ghost the competition by stating you have never had a failure during a high-volume day that resulted in negative media coverage. The idea is to point the client in the right direction: They can Google news about the competitor to get the facts.

The goal is to plant a seed of doubt in the evaluator’s mind regarding your competitor and to reinforce your strong value proposition.

If you happen to be working on an RFP right now, scan each section and look for ways you can, 1) downplay competitor strengths, and 2) highlight competitor weaknesses. Focus on the levels of experience your team brings to the table, the safety and accuracy record of your past efforts, the history of success you’ve had with other local or national vendors, or the special causes you give back to in the community.

When done right, ghosting will elevate your offering in the eyes of the beholder. Ghosting is a tool that helps differentiate your solution and should be built into every organization’s proposal planning process.


Liz Megli, CF APMP, founded Theme Strategic Proposals in 2017 after four years of proposal management experience. She has prepared proposals submitted to more than 30 Fortune Top 100 companies and to more than 75 government entities. She currently serves on the board of APMP’s Greater Midwest Chapter. Contact Liz at liz@winwiththeme.com.

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