Ghosting in NIH RFP Proposal Writing

What is ghosting?

Ghosting is proposal writing jargon for showing the deficiencies in your competitors’ solutions without calling your competitors by name.

Suppose, for example, that you’re competing for a NIH contract where solutions X, Y and Z are likely to be proposed as ways to fulfill the service needs described in NIH’s RFP. Your company offers solution Z and you know your competitors offer X and Y.

In this example, ghosting might work like this:

In your proposal you write, “Our company proposes solution Z because it has the following advantages for NIH: ….”

After explaining Z’s advantages, you go further: “In addition, our solution Z will minimize the following risks for NIH:….”

Continuing, you say, “We do not offer solution X because it has these problems:…. We do not offer solution Y because of its assocation with these risks:….”

Notice that at no time have you named your competitors, but you have given NIH reasons to reject their solutions.

Back up your claims

Proposal reviewers on NIH’s contract selection committee are not dumb and will realize you’re trying to dissuade them from choosing the other guys. To make ghosting acceptable, back up your claim that Z is a better solution using documentation that NIH can check for itself.

What might such documentation be? Possibilities:

  • articles from your industry’s trade press
  • information from industry trade associations, such as industry surveys
  • peer-reviewed published papers
  • case studies demonstrating the solutions you provide and risks you avoid
  • features-and-benefits tables and charts comparing service solutions
  • white papers from recognized authorities

Can any of these be applied to your situation?

Be honest

There is of course a caveat about ghosting: you need to be honest, because not to do so risks losing NIH’s trust, and there goes the contract and maybe any future contracts. So do claim every point of difference between yourself and your competitors to which you’re legitimately entitled, but never exaggerate what you say about yourself or them.

Will you be ghosted?

While you’re considering how to compare your solutions to theirs, they may be considering how to compare themselves to you.

This should be a motivation to dig harder than they will for the points of difference that set your services apart. Maybe it’s been awhile since you considered those differences. Time to look again.

First consider your weaknesses as your competitors might see them. Are there things in your defense that your competitors may not bring out in their proposals? Then make sure your proposal does.

Then consider whether some of the things you offer that they don’t — even minor differences between you and them — might be more important to NIH than you think. Sometimes seemingly small advantages can win big contracts. Small hinges can swing big doors, as they say.



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