Oral Proposals Trend: What It Says about Sales Presentations in General

Christopher Witt —  November 12, 2012

Here’s how the process typically works (in brief):

  1. The customer — also called an “offeror” — issues a request for proposal (RFP), which outlines the scope of the job and the procurement process.
  2. Companies (my customers) submit a written proposal. (It can be hundreds of pages long.)
  3.  In some cases, the offeror selects a few of the companies they’re interested in — the process is called down-selecting or short listing — and asks them to make an oral proposal.

There is a type of oral proposal that has become more and more common over the past seven or eight years. It’s what I call a sample task or scenario presentation.

In this type of presentation, a team can’t bring in anything from the outside: no slides, no graphics, no visual aids, no prepared material at all, nada. Once the team is in the room, they get a sample task or a scenario to address. Then they get an hour or two to create their solution and their presentation, and another hour or so to make their presentation.

I think that the shift toward this type of oral proposal — I’ve worked on over 150 of them — says a lot about sales presentations in general.

What Oral Proposals Say about Sales Presentations

  1. Show us who you are.
    Every presentation — especially a sales presentation — is a job interview. You and your team (if you’re working with one) represent your company, for better or for worse. The customer/client wants to know: Do I like you? Do I trust you? Would I want to work with you and with the people you represent? They want to see you as close to real life as possible — prepared, but not overly polished.
  2. Show us how you work, think, and interact.
    The customer/client wants to see your process: not just what you are going to do for them (your service) or provide (your product), but how you do what you do. They want to see you respond to situations, complications, and questions in real time. They want to see what you’re made of.
  3. Show us what we want to know about.
    The typical highly packaged and rehearsed presentation has more “marketing” material in it than anyone really cares about. Customers/clients do not want to sit through “about us” slides or lists of generic features and benefits and differentiators. They want to hear about their concerns — their problems and goals — and how you’ll address them.
  4. Don’t dazzle us with elaborate presentations.
    Sure, well prepared, visually appealing graphics are better than amateurish ones. But elaborate PowerPoint slides too often are a distraction, especially when they upstage the presenter. Customers/clients want to be actively engaged, not turned into passive observers.
  5. Don’t tell us what you tell everyone else.
    Every customer/client is unique. Their problems may be like other companies’ problems, but their problems are not identical. If you give the same presentation to different companies — even with minor variations — you don’t understand them. You’re treating them like every other company.

If you’re involved in making sales presentations or oral proposals, do you have anything to add?

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

One response to Oral Proposals Trend: What It Says about Sales Presentations in General

  1. Great article, Chris. I especially love your observation that choosing a vendor also involves determining “do I want to work with this person?”. I haven’t been involved in oral presentations but great to expand our thinking about sales presentations and what the audience wants to get out of it.


    Bruce Gabrielle