How to Win “Finalist” in an RFP Race

Business dreads the request for proposal, popularly called an RFP. However, in certain industries and for certain products, RFPs are the only ticket into the sales arena.

Like many of you, I fall victim to the roulette odds of winning these golden opportunities for our company.

With so many corporate consolidations, companies now pursue greater efficiency and standardization, so they run their purchases through an RFP process, managed by their procurement departments.

For those of us who grew up on solution and relationship selling, this pro forma approach is a bit of unfriendly departure from the way we’re used to selling.

On one hand, the RFP gives us a well-organized, lengthy document full of needs and requirements that outline the opportunity. Much of the pre-selling is done. The buyer through his internal process identifies a need and organizes a process to select the firm who will bring the right solution.

On the other hand, you are not the only firm to receive the RFP. This exact document is sent out to at least a dozen, maybe more, companies to respond.

So how does your organization respond?  Will your policies and strategies help you win?

For many of us, the receipt of an RFP adds stress and anxiety to our already busy workdays. But it doesn’t have to trigger that reaction. With a certain investment in planning and organization, the receipt of an RFP can be a positive business opportunity to establish or deepen connections with key decision makers.

In that spirit, I invite you to download our RFP guide, Add Brilliance to Your Marketing Strategy – Treat RFPs like Unpolished Diamonds.

Imagine that you’ve made the finalist cut. Now you’re asked to make a presentation.

What To Do When the Phone Rings

When that phone rings and you get word from the Procurement Office that you are one of three firms invited to the finalist meeting, you feel a victory.

But the real work is about to begin. After your team high fives and does the happy dance, it’s time to get down to business.

Recently, I was asked to come in and help a team prepare for a finalist meeting in one of its biggest opportunities. The team was in heavy competition and pursued this opportunity for a long time. In this case, victory could be a game changer for not only the sales team but for the whole organization.

I advised the team that to be fully prepared, it needs to know the answers to certain questions:

  1. What led the prospect company to invite you to the finalist meeting; what did it see in the RFP response to select you as a finalist?

  1. What did the other finalists include in their responses that the prospect company would like for you to respond to in the finalist presentation?

  1. Who from the prospect company’s team will attend the finalist presentation and what areas do they want you to address?

  1. Whom are the other firms being asked to present at the finalist meeting? Is the incumbent one of those presenters?

  1. Has the prospect company established different criteria to score the finalist?  

  1. How will the prospect company make the final decision following the finalist presentations?

Depending on the answers to each of the questions─as you have learned through MERGE─there are follow-up questions. Will the Procurement Officer answer all of these questions? Maybe not. However, any information you can gather will be extremely valuable. Also, if you developed an inside “coach,” you have another source for answers.

Let me quote straight out of Sun Tzu, “battles are won and lost on the quality of the intelligence you have.” You never know the truth; you can never ask too many people for information.

I love Tiger Wood’s quote, “Second means you’re the best of the losers!” If you come across something that can help you win, use it. Of course, don’t compromise your professional position in the process.

You also need to ask about logistics in advance:

  • How much time is allocated to each presenter?

  • Are we scheduled first or last?

  • Who should you coordinate with for Internet or projector hook up (if needed)?

  • When you arrive at the company, who’s the person you need to check in with?

  • Who are the attendees, their titles?

Engage, Don’t Present

In my research of salespeople’s actions in finalist presentations, I typically see teams fire up a deck of PowerPoint slides and present their message. All too often, presenting this way becomes a one-way flow of information─a cold medium.

Those who are most successful, don’t present.

The winning ones know from experience that the more dialogue you can encourage, the easier it is to win. If the prospect wants to talk, let them. In fact, they encourage prospects to talk: they plan for it, nurture it and manipulate it, though not in a bad way.

People are much more likely to buy a plan they’ve helped develop; the more they feel ownership of it, the more they buy into delivering it. The more they feel you’re addressing their issues, the more they feel connected.

Gratefully, I’ve experienced success in getting prospects to join in, helping them to connect their vision for a solution with our product or service.

I succeed by preparing a meeting plan, outlining the questions I need to ask, identifying who on the team I will ask, and considering how we start and end the meeting. People like to see your organized self in action.

I also use names when addressing people, rather than say, “One of your concerns was . . .” you develop a consensus when you say, “Mary, one of your concerns was . . .,” Sounds simple enough; however, it’s surprising how few people apply this personal touch.

If you make the finalist list, it is because the prospect company read your responses and believes you have met most of its purchase criteria.

Now, we must find out what open questions or concerns the prospect company still has at this stage. Be sure to involve your entire team in the dialogue because your prospect will be looking for the chemistry between your team and its team.

If selected, you will work hand and hand with the prospect’s team, so it is important to bring the people who will do the actual work. Get them involved, not just your rainmakers.

And, finally, because your client working team is likely not in sales, be sure to educate it in basic skills of questioning and presenting. Orchestrate and organize your entire approach, then you will present as a close net team, and engage as a united front.

I wrote this post as a quick overview on winning RFPs. I want you to get a deeper insight into how to position yourself as a finalist in the high stakes game of RFPs, so download now our RFP guide, Add Brilliance to Your Marketing Strategy – Treat RFPs like Unpolished Diamonds.

You’ll be glad you did. Who doesn’t need a few extra diamonds in his pocket.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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