7 Mins Read

How To Create A Magical RFP Experience in SaaS Sales

Brandon Fluharty  |

Brandon Fluharty |

⚡️ Today’s level up ⚡️

Today’s edition shares some creative ideas you can use to stand out from the crowd during your final stages of evaluation with a prospect or client during an RFP.

Let’s go!

Read time: <7 minutes

If you missed last week, read it here.


You’ve been selected to participate – now what?

Ah, the good ol’ RFP (Request For Proposal) process.

It’s a staple of the vendor selection dance for most large companies and, for many, the bane of most sellers’ existence. Invariably, you will encounter this process, likely quite often, throughout your sales career.

The best way to participate in them is when you help the prospect or client write the RFP, but we know that’s not always the ideal scenario you’ll find yourself in. The next best thing is to use the RFP to stand out, and when down-selected as a finalist, design an experience that helps you rise above the rest.

I’ve been helping one of my Diamond Program members, Bobby, work through this process with a major healthcare corporation. It reminded me of my RFP wins and the subtle, creative strategies our team used to separate ourselves from the competition and ultimately win the business.

Let’s break it down so you can try these winning strategies when competing in an RFP.

It starts with the vision and narrative

When responding to the RFP, a Purposeful Performer understands that simply supplying answers to their questions is as boring as you can be. This strategy is steeped in hope, not confidence and experience.

I see too many sellers and teams die on the vine because they half-heartedly respond without creating a distinct point of view. Why waste any hours of your time and your team’s time if you’re not going to respond with the highest standards? You’d be better off not responding at all.

The one beneficial aspect of an RFP, no matter how rigid the rules governing it are, is that you can be thoughtful about how you respond. Automatically defaulting to only answering their questions won’t win you an invitation to pitch for their business.

Trust me, your product isn’t that great compared to the competition. The key in the response, especially when you have not been deeply engaged throughout the process, is showing how you are different, not necessarily better.

That will come later when you get down-selected

This is where designing a better experience comes in handy, and creativity will help you shine. This is a big reason why writing is a key pillar skill in strategic sales. You want to separate and elevate yourself with your response.


Instead of a generic executive summary and attaching your responses, dig deep into using publicly available information (assuming the RFP issuer is a public company). Worth noting, a strong Business Analyst is a great partner; in addition to all the other SMEs you’ll need to respond to their questions. The BA will help you turn their numbers into a strong business case.

Here is an example of a proposal (stripped of any proprietary or client info of course) that was effective in pursuing unsolicited bids for transformation deals.

If this is uncharted territory for you, I recommend taking the time to read and re-write that proposal. A study conducted back in 2013 showed the effectiveness of creative writing improvement by copying works of other well-known writing (albeit by hand):

“The researchers wanted to see what areas of the brain lit up during the creative writing process. As controls, they had each subject read a passage and copy a different passage by hand.

The results showed that reading and copying by hand activated the same brain areas, except that copying by hand also lit up the left rolandic operculum, which is associated with sentence-level syntactic encoding.

The left rolandic operculum was also activated when the subjects were asked to produce original writing samples.

So the brain pays extra close attention to syntax when writing and copying.

It is interesting that the reading brain pays less attention to syntax. Its focus is on deciphering the meaning of words and sentences, which are, of course, syntax-dependent in most cases. It only looks closely enough at the syntax to discern meaning.

To create the precise meaning intended, the writing brain must pay much closer attention to syntax, and the copying brain mirrors that.”

As a writer who continually wants to improve my craft, copying (literally) other effective sales letters can be a highly profitable practice.

In addition to a well-constructed narrative-based proposal, how else are you differentiating yourself? Here are additional winning ideas:

– Set up a secure landing page with your response

– Include a vision video of what you can deliver for their business

– Think through pricing, with multiple commercial options, and don’t be afraid of being “too expensive” (remember, being different is good)

Use the ELE framework during your pitch and demo

Ok, so now you’ve been down-selected as a finalist and have to pitch and demo for four hours to a committee of 30+ executives – from senior stakeholders to everyday users.

How do you make the most of this opportunity?

It should go without saying, but step one is you need to be prepared. Get a list of everyone who will be in attendance, their role, and what they care about. Have this documented and reviewed with everyone who will be attending from your company.

Will you have the right SMEs to address the important particulars when they arise? What happens in the event of a technical difficulty (always have a plan B…and C)? Who will be ensuring you stay on track with time? What about addressing their needs? Who’s going to provide executive air cover, and what will they say?

Can you understand how they will score you? It never hurts to ask as many questions to the one running the RFP. The more you know, the better you can prepare.

Ultimately, though, it’s going to be how well you bring to life the narrative and vision that you showcased in the response, along with addressing (surpassing) all of their requirements. Here’s a simple framework to keep in mind as you run the presentation and demo.

The goal is to start in a highly stimulated state by using Emotion before moving into a steady state zone using Logic while ending back in a peak stimulated state using Emotion again.

“There are limits to the human attention span, which is why a pitch must be brief, concise, and interesting.” -Oren Klaff

In the book Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff talks about the concept of two sides of executive brains:

1| The “crocodile brain,” which is the primal, emotional side of the brain (think fight or flight mode)

2| The “thinking brain,” which is the logical and analytical side

The “croc brain” is the first point of decision making. It must be won over before thoughts can be processed in the “thinking brain.” To win over the “croc brain”, you must use emotional language and vivid imagery, not the 3 Fs: facts, features, or figures (that will come later).

The mistake most sellers make in pitch meetings is that they use logic as a starting point, when evoking an emotional response is what’s necessary. To earn the right to the logical part of brain, you need to win over the “croc brain” first and it wants things that are:

– Fast

– Novel

– High-contrast

– Narrative driven

As a finalist pitching to Delta Air Lines, after my SVP set the stage and our CEO spoke, I kicked off the meeting with this “we love you video” and then I dovetailed into connecting the dots between their core values and ours as a “rules of the road” (their terminology) to guide our presentation and partnership. I then shared a vision video walking them through the full customer and employee experience and set the stage that our team would then bring to life in the room.

That’s when you want to orchestrate the rest of the flow and pull in the subject manner experts for the specific portion of demo and evaluation. Get into a steady state ryhtym. Be clear and concise. Feel free to invite them to try to “break the system.” Connect everything they see to value. Sprinkle in stories to ensure the demo and evaluation portions aren’t too bogged down with technical details.

You and the team want to avoid dipping into the agitated state completely, or as much as possible, for obvious reasons. This may likely be your first impression with a lot of folks, so if you’re sensing bad energy in the room or seeing a lot of distracted faces or cameras go dark, if running virtual (not ideal), then you need to stop and pivot.

Bring it back to an emotional state before going back into a more steady logic state. Ask a direct question, clear the air if there is any confusion or pushback, share a story to connect the value. The goal is to break the pattern and get everyone focused again.

As you wrap, you want to leave them on an emotional high. The Diamond Standard is you have them buzzing and talking about you as a group after you leave. Restate the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). I liked to always stress that this is a moment to define our careers and do something truly unique together. I wanted to leave them feeling the 3 I’s: informed, intrigued, and inspired.

That’s a wrap. Was this helpful? Let me know what you think!


Here’s how I can help you right now:

1 | Unlock the 7 Figure Seller OS

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3 | Book a 1:1 coaching session right now

You can book a 60-minute coaching session with me (although the Pro above option provides access to 1:1 coaching with me at a 70% discount.

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