You just got the word — you made it to the shortlist. You’re ready to celebrate your new status as a finalist when you suddenly remember the RFP presentation. If the thought of it makes your mind race and your stomach drop, you’re not alone.
The RFP presentation, sometimes called the oral proposal presentation or RFP finalist presentation, is a live presentation of your proposal. It’s a make or break element of vendor selection that can solidify your position and seal the deal. On the other hand, if it goes poorly, the RFP presentation could blow your lead.
This blog will explore what you need to know about RFP presentations, tips to help you prepare and common RFP interview questions.
What you need to know about RFP presentations
After completing a lengthy RFP and evaluation process, you might wonder why a business would need to conduct RFP presentations. What more could they possibly need to know? While holding RFP interviews of shortlisted suppliers isn’t universal, it’s essential for some projects. For instance, in government, creative, construction, technology and other large-scale projects the RFP presentation is the last step of the evaluation process.
What they’re looking to learn from the RFP interview
The RFP process is designed to help businesses select the right partner. In some cases, written answers can’t paint the full picture of what a vendor or supplier can offer. In addition, for long-term partnerships that result in close working relationships, some intangible elements are also important.
The RFP interview can reveal:
How well do your key players communicate with one another and work together?
Experience and expertise
Can your subject matter experts answer in-depth questions from key stakeholders?
Do your companies value the same things? Will you be able to work well together?
Commitment and passion
How much does earning the business mean to you? Are you prepared and enthusiastic?
Types of RFP presentations
Preplanned or on-demand RFP oral presentations
When it comes to the RFP process, oral presentations are either planned or requested only if required. If the presentation step is a standard part of the customer’s RFP process, the original RFP should clearly outline the RFP presentation timeframe and expectations.
For example, the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange issued guidelines for RFP presentations with their RFP. The guidelines offer specific topics and scenarios that the presentation should cover. In addition, it notes how the presentations will be scored.
Check the example out here: Maryland Health Benefit Exchange RFP presentation guidelines
Alternatively, the customer may request ad hoc presentations if the RFP evaluation and scoring doesn’t produce a clear winner. These on-demand presentations are less common, but do happen from time to time as a tiebreaker — so be prepared.
RFP presentations in person or via video conference
When you’re asked to create an RFP presentation, it will either be in person or via video conference. Due to the growing availability, popularity and affordability of high-quality video conferencing, traditional in-person presentations are becoming less common. Though some businesses will still invite in-person presentations for large-scale, strategic projects. Regardless of what form the RFP presentation takes, it is key to make a human connection.
5 tips to prepare your RFP presentation
1. Start by asking the right questions
As soon as you’ve been notified that you’re a finalist, it’s time to prepare. Before you start though, you’ll want to gather some key information. Reach out to the RFP contact and ask these questions.
- What are the top reasons why you were selected as a finalist?
- Are there any specific concerns or scenarios the customer would like to be addressed in the RFP presentation?
- Which stakeholders from the customer’s business will be a part of the presentation audience?
- Which of your competitors also made the short list?
- How long will each presentation be and how will they be scored?
- What is the timeline and process after the final presentations?
2. Have a leader, but be a team
Whether you present in person or via video, it’s wise to have a primary point of contact. This should be the person with the most knowledge of the customer’s needs. Generally, they should provide the bulk of the presentation.
After the presentation, there will likely be an interview portion. This is where your team can really shine. Invite subject matter experts and team leaders to answer these questions. Not only will the client appreciate hearing directly from the experts, but it also allows you to showcase your team. In addition, consider including others that will work closely with the customer like an account manager or customer success manager.
One of the benefits of bringing additional team members to the presentation is improving your chances of sparking a connection with the evaluators. Mark Denton, Founder and Principal at Content & Context, a brand and communications marketing firm advises:
“Every client team is made up of different personalities, and you never know who from your office might have a communication style, personal background, or sense of humor that resonates with one of the decision-makers. Bringing more people to the table increases your chances for scoring big on these intangible factors.”
3. Practice keeping your talking points customer centric
In the same way that the RFP cover letter, executive summary and proposal focus on the customer, so too should your RFP presentation. Talking about yourself and your own goals is an easy habit to fall into, but resist! Remember to put the customer’s needs, concerns and goals at the center of your presentation.
As you prepare consider:
- How do your differentiators make you a good match for the customer?
- What unique experiences give you insight into how to help them achieve their goals?
- Why should the customer care? What benefit will they see?
Practice delivering your oral proposal presentation to your team. Have members of your team play the role of the customer and ask, “so what?”
4. Build trust and don’t guess
When you consider what a customer is trying to learn from RFP interviews, it really comes down to one thing — trust. As a finalist, you know you’ve said the right things and now you have the opportunity to show the customer why they should believe in your business.
In a LinkedIn post, Kyle Majchrowski, a construction project executive who has sat through many RFP presentations recounts the most memorable. The story features a construction superintendent who relays an anecdote about accidentally setting fire to a site. Admittedly, this story isn’t something you’d normally volunteer during an interview. However, the man managed to use it to impart a lesson learned, relay a commitment to the customer and build trust. Majchrowski summarizes saying:
“The young man owned his mistake. He displayed vulnerability in front of a prospective client. He also, without a prompt, told us what he learned and how he has applied it since. Fourth – he earned our trust.”
As the customer begins asking questions, be open and honest. If you don’t have an answer at hand, don’t guess. Certainly, you don’t want to undo the trust you’re working to build with a poorly timed, incorrect answer. Just let the customer know that you’ll get back to them. Better yet, let them know who on your team has the answer and offer to connect them directly for an in-depth talk on the subject.
5. Outline next steps and follow up promptly
In your presentation, include information about what comes next in the process. Generally, if you can help your customer imagine themselves working with you, it makes them much more likely to want to. Consequently, it’s a good idea to outline what the customer’s next steps are, who they will work with and how quickly they will see value.
Also, remember to follow up with any additional information that was requested promptly. Ideally, you should get back to them within 24 hours. If you can’t have a definite answer that quickly, send a note restating their question and letting them know that you’re working to get the most complete and accurate answer possible.
Common RFP interview questions
You may find that the RFP interview asks fairly common vendor questions. Alternatively, they may ask questions as they come up throughout. Either way, this list of RFP interview questions will help you be prepared for whatever comes.
- Why are you interested in working with us?
- What is your biggest differentiator? Why are you better than the competition?
- How will you provide us superior service and ensure we meet our goals?
- What previous experience do you have with a similar company? What did you most enjoy about that project?
- Who will we work most closely with?
- What will you need from us to be successful?
- How much of your service and process is outsourced to other parties?
- Tell us about a time you made a mistake
- What process is in place to resolve challenges?
- How do you determine success?
When it comes to the RFP presentation, it’s important to remember that the end is in sight. With the right preparation you will be well on your way to winning the business.