The key to any good proposal or presentation is the pre-work. Any company can close 33% of what’s in their pipeline. Better companies closing ratios are greater than 60%. That’s 60% of what they forecast or what’s in their pipeline. If you’re not winning at this ratio, then either you are ...The key to any good proposal or presentation is the pre-work. Any company can close 33% of what’s in their pipeline. Better companies closing ratios are greater than 60%. That’s 60% of what they forecast or what’s in their pipeline. If you’re not winning at this ratio, then either you are going after the wrong projects or you’re proposal and presentation skills need a tune-up.

Many salespeople and companies get Request for Proposals (RFP’s). If they pursue them without any due diligence on the front end, they are very vulnerable to competition that has either helped prepare the request and/or competition that has built relationships within that account.

Without front end work your best chance of success is one divided by the number of competitors bidding. For example, if five companies are bidding, the best chance of success is 1/5 or 20%. It’s best because someone has probably done pre-work giving them a better chance which reduces your probability further. Since 33% is average and greater than 60% is desirable, this is not the type of project you should prepare a proposal for, nor put in your pipeline until you’ve done the pre-work. Therefore, do not answer RFP’s unless you’re prepared.

Decision Makers are the Pre-Work

The people responsible for deciding which vendor or contractor will be selected can be from many different places, organizations and departments. In government projects, many agencies, cities, states, etc. get involved. For corporate projects many departments, outside agencies, regulatory groups, consultants and other departments and divisions can get involved. All will have a say in the project and will influence the final outcome. Some have more influence than others because of position or power or proximity.

These people need to be interviewed before the RFP hits the street. Now, it’s impossible to get to everybody, but the powerful ones should be your targets. And to get to the powerful, you’ll have to go through the subordinates i.e. the gatekeepers. The mistake most losers make is that they work with the subordinates only. The winners cover the subordinate base and use that person or others to get to their leaders. This is the pre-work and you’ll need help and a game plan to connect with these decision makers. The more decision makers you leave uncovered the more gaps in information you’ll have and the lower your probability of success.

Interviewing the individual means finding out the desired results of this decision maker for this project, and building confidence within this individual that you can deliver these desired results. All buyers have project and personal results. They want the project to be a success, and do well for their company, organization or agency. However, they also want the project to serve their particular needs. For example, an operations manager would want the project to work so that his operation runs more productively. Whereas the sales manager would want the project to deliver results that helps him make more sales. The environmental person wants to be sure the company meets all the rules and regulations because that’s his job and he wants his position protected. In other words, all the people from the different agencies and departments have a vested personal interest.

There is also the social result or expectation that all decision makers want, and this plays heavily on their minds. That is, what does the person think his boss or other bosses want for this investment, and will their decision satisfy their bosses? For example, the Operations Manager may think the CEO wants it at a low price - not that it’s true - and that is what the Operations Manager will insist you provide (along with his personal desires), or else he’ll resist you. Since all have bosses, and their bosses happiness is critical to their future, this thought is on everyone’s minds.

So all three results - the project, the personal and the social - are what each decision maker wants. This is how they decide who is the best contractor or vendor for this project.

The key to the contract is winning the vote of the powerful. To do this you’ll have to give each one their project, personal and social results. The proposal / specifications will only tell you the project results. So you’ll have to learn the personal and social results in your pre-work. Then you’ll have to build trust within each person that you have the capability to deliver those results. This will be done in the proposal and presentation.

Since these people usually become off limits once the proposal hits the street, it's critical to interview ahead of the proposal. Otherwise there won't be any knowledge of what the individuals’ desires are. Additionally you won’t have established any trust or relationships to leverage for help moving forward.

This is why chances of success are so low without pre-work. This is why companies waste a lot of money bidding proposals where they have not done the due diligence beforehand.


Let’s say there is an incumbent working on this request for proposal. This company should have an edge, but it’s not to say you'll lose. If the incumbent is working the account properly, that is, they have moved up and out throughout the organization developing strong relationships with key decision-makers, and kept them current, then it will be a real challenge for you.

The good news is that most vendors and contractors do not manage their account relationships very well. They do not target and pay close attention to the top people in their existing accounts. Sure they spend time with one or two of the decision-makers, but fail to move up and out to become known buy the hierarchy of management and to learn their current issues and concerns. Therefore, they look like any other vendor when it comes time for new projects, and the incumbent may have no better position than anyone else.

Therefore, to compete, you’ll have to develop some relationships so that the decision makers know your company and feel comfortable that you are very competent. Don’t bet on your proposal and presentation to do that. Don’t bet on your company’s reputation either.

Many times companies will answer RFP’s just to let the decision makers know who they are. This is expensive and once they lose, they have the label as the loser. To make it worse, they don’t follow-up after they lose the bid to establish relationships they want to start. So what’s the point?

Therefore, the key when there’s an incumbent is to learn about the project before it hits the street and do some relationships development ahead of the proposal with the decision-makers in that organization. Use your internal and external network to make initial contacts.

Pre-work is a hard concept for most sales people to accept. Some just like the challenge of RFP’s because it’s better than prospecting. They get all excited when they get one and think their company is well known enough and/or they think they can win it on the strength of their proposal and presentation only. These are important, but without the pre-work, the chances are very low. Even if you make it to the short list because of your reputation or proposal, chances are low without the pre proposal relationship work. Do the math, 1 divided by 3 or even 2 is still less than 60%. Those with the “in” win.

The information above is intended to make you get out and meet decision makers before projects turn into RFP’s. It is also intend to help you back away from one where you haven’t done the pre-work. The benefit here is, it could save a lot of time and resources. Look at your pipeline of upcoming projects. Which ones will have RFP’s forthcoming? Have you interviewed the high-level managers as well as your main contact for this proposal? If not, this is your wake up call or alert to start interviewing them immediately.

Next I’ll show you how to use what you’ve learn from the pre-work to improve your probability of success further. The information from the pre-work interview will give you a lot of insights about which projects to pick and which ones to avoid.

One last thought. What would you do if you heard that the project was being given to your competitor? I’m sure you’d come up with some aggressive ideas. Well, instead of waiting for the message that you’ve lost, implement those suggestions right now.

And now I invite you to learn more.

Bonus Tip: FREE Video Series “40 Winning Strategies for Proposals and Presentations”. Just click this C-Level Relationship Selling Link Sam Manfer makes it easy for any sales person to become a 70% closer and feel comfortable selling to C-Level leaders.

Author's Bio: 

Sam Manfer makes it easy for any sales person to feel comfortable connecting with top, C-Level leaders. For more inspiring articles and to receive your free Selling Wisdoms E-zine with powerful selling tips visit his Advanced Sales Training Website