The return of Lenny and Squiggy
There you are, all set after a lengthy and arduous process, ready to walk into your conference room to see the first oral presentation on a critical RFP, only to find out that the proposer has sent Lenny and Squiggy to dazzle you with their presentation. And worse yet, their backup team is Beavis and Butthead. After they tell you their software will solve all your problems for the third time, you fight the urge to lace up your running shoes and head for the park.
RFP presentations, and the RFP process, have evolved into a skill-set of their own. After reading more than your share of RFPs, most of us would swear there is a software package that all proposers use because at some point they all begin to look the same. The original intent of the oral presentation was to have the buyer and client drive the product or service around the block, kick the tires, open its mouth and count its teeth. It was designed to provide a hands-on assurance and provide that final feeling of comfort before making a final decision on whose product to select.
An RFP has many components, and the most overlooked is the oral presentation. If you don’t prepare for it and think about what you want to accomplish before you walk into that room, Lenny and Squiggy are all you will find. I don’t think we should tell a proposer how to run their business, but we can “strongly urge” them to include in their presentation team those who will be working on your project and have them provide their resumes prior to the meeting.
Here are some of the things I look for (and look out for) in an oral presentation:
Where is the substance of the presentation? Is it in the people or the PowerPoint. If they toot the whistles or ring the horns instead of explaining in market-based terms then I wonder about their product or service. I don’t want a glitzy presentation, created by IT people. Keep it plain and to the point. And address the needs of the RFP.
Do they read from a script or worse yet, read the visuals on their presentation? I want someone to think about their answers, not just give me well practiced, generic terms like “We can look into that,” or “I’m sure we can do that for you.” Those answers tell me they don’t know the capabilities and limitations of their product or service.
What are the interactions between the presenters? Do they genuinely look like they work well together or is it a prepared stage show with one or two people taking the lead parts?
What is their vision of what you want to accomplish and how far are they willing to extend themselves to help you accomplish your mission?
Did you learn anything new about either the business or the industry from the presentation? Or did you, the buyer, know more than the presenters? Either answer could be enlightening.
And allow time for a Q&A session at the end of the presentation. Get to know the presenters team on an informal basis. I’d suggest taking a break after the presentation, giving them some time to catch their collective breaths and then hold the Q&A in a less formal setting. Sometimes gut feelings and interpersonal signals can tell you more about someone than a formal presentation. And keep Lenny and Squiggy in the entertainment business and out of oral presentations.
About the author
Frederick Marks, CPPO, VCO, is a retired purchasing officer who has held positions as a supervising buyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as director of material management for Northern Virginia Community College. Contact Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org.