5 tips to successfully pitch your research

Here are my five tips on successful research pitches:


Nina Schacht

3 years ago | 7 min read

As a researcher with a track record of over 15 years, I have built countless research project pitches for potential clients. Gosh, I really spend a lot of time sitting in front of the charts, trying to bring that one game-changing argument.

You lose some pitches, you hopefully win more. It is an ongoing story and it sometimes feels like fighting an uphill battle. Though with every pitch, you certainly get better.

Especially in the last months, I have been consulting researchers with regard to their pitches, reviewed presentations, and gave my two cents on it.

I am sorry to disappoint, but there is no secret sauce that makes you win all your pitches. However, there are some basic steps that may help you win pitches more often.

In this article, I am referring to the situation where you (whether internal or external researcher) receive a request for proposal (RFP).

This challenge overlaps with implementing research internally if no one asked for it. But I will soon cover this topic more detailed in another article in my blog.

Here are my five tips on successful research pitches:

NUMBER ONE: Challenge the brief!

Wait, what?!?

I know, this one sounds rather counterintuitive. Why would you challenge the research request of the person / company / organisation that would be willing to pay you money?

Sign saying ‘ASK’ | Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
Sign saying ‘ASK’ | Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Be aware, when I say ‘challenge’, I am not talking about grading their research expertise here. I am talking about putting the RFP to the acid test. At the end of the day, you are the expert and your opinion is what you have been asked for.

Read carefully through the brief, absorb which information is given to you and what might be missing. Are there any implicit assumptions you should follow up on?

Have an especially deep look at the background of the request: Where in the process does the client stand and why do they feel that this kind of research is needed for their next steps?

It happened quite often to me that based on my questions, on me pointing out that potentially a different step should come first, the entire RFP changed.

Imagine this: The client sits in front of their computer, mingled up in everyday business and puts together the RFP under time pressure. Often, there is no one to bounce ideas with.

Your thoughtful dive into the topic and challenging it with fresh eyes might not only be beneficial for the client but also the first time he had a sparring partner on the topic.

So do not only react to a RFP but step into the role of a consultant. This does not only demonstrate your experience but also your passion for the project to come. No better way to start a client-relationship.

NUMBER TWO: Get personal

Actually, advice number two goes hand in hand with advice number one. To me, it is a given. But I realised that many researchers are still doing it nowadays.

Look for the personal contact with your client before even starting to work on your pitch. You worked through the brief, noted your questions and potentially your amendments?

Phone | Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Phone | Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Pick up the phone!

Excuse me?? It is 2020, who still calls a client?

Trust me, just do it. As mentioned, your client probably sat alone in a room, trying to pull the RFP together in the best way possible. But it is still only a document. And we all know — there is a wide range from good to bad writing.

  • Potentially, your client had more information to share but decided to not include it? If you talk, you will know.
  • Maybe there is office politics to the RFP the client would never dare to write down in a document, but share with you personally? That is the intel you are looking for.
  • When you call them, make sure your questions are meaningful and do not not come across as a lazy shortcut to reading the brief.

Every additional information you have will help you write a better, more customized pitch (and increase the likelihood of winning the project).

And by the way — the chances that your competitors are not calling the client are quite big. So you will have a clear competitive advantage here.

I often heard ‘But if I call the client, I might be an annoying service provider. Or maybe the client feels offended, that he did not write a proper briefing I can answer.’

Do not worry. Try to reach out and start a conversation. The client still has the opportunity to reject whilst you showed your motivation to deliver a good pitch.

And as mentioned before, most people rather like to talk about what they need than writing it down in documents and RFP templates. It is less effort and requires less filter.

Oh, and do not cheat. Really talk to the client. Do not replace a proper conversation with an email.

NUMBER THREE: Ask for the available budget

Piggy bank | Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash
Piggy bank | Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Yes, I am doing it. Always. Whenever a RFP reaches me, and I get to talk to the client, I always make sure to explicitly ask for the client’s budget.. That is the most professional thing you can do. It makes no sense to prepare a pitch which would end up at a 50K if the client has only 10K available.

Missing the mark on a budget would probably end up in you being ghosted and never hearing from the client again. It might feel uncomfortable to be so blunt to ask for the budget. However, it saves time. It gives you a framework to work in.

And it also saves your client time. They do not have to review pitches that are way out of line and find themselves in the position to guess which might be the expendable cost factors: ‘Could you please take this part out — How much would it cost then?’ If you know the budget, you can already tailor the offer to their needs without compromising the research design.

Because this is your expertise, not theirs. Of course do not push too hard for a number if the client does not want to share, but at least try.

Especially, when I worked with clients who are new to the research field and potentially are about to commission their first research ever, realistic cost expectation management is well appreciated.

Quite often, I had clients thinking of a Porsche for the budget of a bicycle. Talking about this upfront clears the air and avoids disappointment.

NUMBER FOUR: Step into the shoes of the client

This fourth tip should actually be an easy one. Stepping into the shoes of someone else is in the DNA of a customer and user researcher. Do not write about what is important for you. Write about what is important for the client!

But what does this mean when it comes to writing a pitch desk?

Sneakers | Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash
Sneakers | Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Let me share an example of a pitch deck I just reviewed:

  • It started with an introduction of the agency.
  • Went on into the method proposed: an online community with all details laid out on recruitment, log-in process, collaboration features of the platform etc.
  • And ended with organisational details (e.g. GDPR, # of logins to the platform, sharing of material etc.).

They meticulously described the HOW. What do you think is missing here?

Exactly, it is the WHY!

WHY do you propose this approach and what is the benefit for the client? What would the client gain from your proposed course of action?

Going back to the example given, what was totally ignored in the proposal were punching arguments like

  • With approach X, you can first identify needs and later on test your ideas with the users.
  • Step Y allows you to not only have a spotlight on opinions at a specific time but through different tasks and diary entries, you also gain more in-depth knowledge on your topic over time.
  • With method Z, we foster the exchange of different opinions on your topic. Via such a fruitful conversation, you better understand barriers and triggers to your product.

So, no matter how you build your proposal. Make sure that you spend more time on the WHY you are offering that specific method than on the tiny little details on how you would proceed, onboard, recruit…

Of course these details are important as well and should always be included in any proposal. However, they should not be your star on the stage, but rather the back-up information the client can read into in case of interest.

NUMBER FIVE: Offer different options

You have challenged the brief, talked to the client, asked about the budget … and actually you would recommend to go with another option than the one requested in the RFP? Honestly, that is great.

It shows that you really digged into the RFP and have a skilled and creative approach to your job.

Rubic cube | Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash
Rubic cube | Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

I strongly recommend to always quote on the requested, no matter what. But after that, go wild! Offer another option which you might feel is more appropriate.

Demonstrate the advantages of your additional thoughts, carve out why it would be better to follow another path. By doing this, you offer your stakeholders the option to go with the requested or shine with your additional ideas. You will always be appreciated for going the extra mile.

I strongly believe that following these 5 tips increases the likelihood of winning your pitches. For sure, I am crossing my fingers for your next proposal!


Created by

Nina Schacht

Nina is a qualitative researcher with over 15 yrs. of experience. She has a track record of working on the key accounts of some of the largest FMCG players worldwide. In recent years she stepped into UX research and built UXR departments for start-ups. Design Thinking is part of her toolbox as well







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