How to Avoid Cliches and Stand Out from Your Competition

I once heard a speaker who apologized for his speech title in his first sentence by saying “I know the title of that speech may sound trite, but it is true.” I missed the next couple of lines as I sat there thinking “If you knew the title was trite, why didn’t you think of another one?” An unwanted consequence of being trite was that he gave me something else to think about rather than holding my attention.
Whether in a written proposal or at orals, rehashing a bunch of sales clichés will do the same thing—make the reader or listener tune out. The jaded evaluator may roll her eyes, thinking “how fast can I read through this to get to the beef?” Or she may just toss you into the mental junk heap with the other ordinary candidates.
Here are seven examples (I can think of dozens) of clichés that you must avoid:
1. We put our clients first
2. We are flexible and responsive
3. We think outside the box
4. We have over (think of a number between 50 and 5000) collective years of experience
5. We are the leader in our industry
6. Any phrase that contains the words “value added”
7. Our methodology and best practices ensure that [fill in the blank].

Making baseless assertions like these are good ways to blend in rather than stand out. Instead of using weary catchphrases, distinguish yourself by helping the decision-makers envision what it would be like to work with you. Let me give you some examples of phrases that may avoid the trite trap.

  • “This project does not require a marvel of engineering and therefore does not demand the smartest engineer in the world. Because this is a highly visible project with many stakeholders, this project instead needs an engineer with strong communication skills, especially one who can deal with the press. The project manager we’re proposing for this job managed the highly visible Flintstone Quarry project and here’s how he managed communication on that job….”
  • “This project isn’t really about software. There are a dozen software packages that do essentially the same job. What is different about our solution is that it does not require specialized programming skills—the users can configure and maintain most of the business rules without going to night school. We will train those business users early in the project and involve them in the implementation so they are able to maintain the system on day 1.”
  • “Because we work across many industries, we staff our projects with experts in your industry but also bring in best thinking from other industries that face similar problems.”

Finally, let’s take the first item on the earlier list of 7 “trite” phrases from earlier. How can you describe how you put clients first, rather than just assert it? How about “During projects like this one that last over 6 months, we hire an independent market research firm to assess how well we are serving you. We act on that data immediately. This will give you comfort that we do not act solely in our best interest, but rather in our mutual interest.”

It takes more effort to avoid clichés; however, it will make you stand out and you will Win More Work.

One Response to How to Avoid Cliches and Stand Out from Your Competition

  1. Ellen Markey March 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Jim,
    Your article was very concise and to the point.
    Your writing is stellar and comes across loud and clear!!!

    There are many out there that will do better if they follow your advice.

    Keep the articles coming…..

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