How to manage ‘bluebirds’

What are they?
Bluebirds are those new business opportunities, which seem to fly in through the window.  Many professional services firms are tempted to pitch for every bluebird that comes their way, but this may not be a profitable use of their resources in the long-term.  In this, our third article in our ‘beauty parades’ series for psmg, we look at how firms can evaluate a bluebird to assess whether they should pitch for it. We will also look at how a firm can maximise its chances of converting that bluebird into real fee-income.

Should we bid or not?
Some professional services firms we work with, in wishing to up their win rate and protect their profitability, have begun to evaluate a bluebird’s potential when it comes in.  Here’s a simplified sample checklist that we have seen used:

 

Bluebird checklist + ?
Can we speak to these people to qualify this opportunity? Yes No Don’t know
Do we have the resources to pursue and deliver this work? Yes No Unsure
Is this work likely to produce our minimum profitability level Yes No Don’t know
Is there the prospect of further substantial on-going work? Yes No Don’t know
Is there an identifiable and autonomous decision-making process? Yes No Don’t know

 

If there are negative answers to the majority of these questions, these firms do decline the invitation to tender. Obviously when a bluebird opportunity is turned down it needs to be done so in a client-focused way – ie explaining to the client why they will not benefit from our participation in their pitch (not ‘we are too busy’).  If done in this manner, the client will respect us more.  It can even lead them to offer other, more suitable pieces of business in the future.

It’s good to talk
We have said in our previous articles that the more information we can discover about the client, the stronger our chances of winning that piece of business will be. Very few clients refuse to discuss their brief with those firms they have invited to tender. For those clients that do refuse, we would question whether the firm has a real chance of winning that pitch, or if it is simply there to make up the numbers?  It is essential that professional services firms meet their ‘bluebirds’, as this will develop their understanding of the key issues facing that client and enable them to tailor and differentiate their submission accordingly.

Improving our chances
In meeting the client, our aim should be to ‘uncover’ the key information, which is often not detailed in the invitation to tender document. Below we have given a checklist of areas to examine.  This process is called ‘commercial qualification’ and helps firms to:

  • re-evaluate whether they still want to bid for this business or not and 
  • maximise their chances of winning by building detailed knowledge of the client.

Commercial qualification checklist:

  1. The business driver(s) – What’s really going on in the client company and what’s on the horizon?  What’s going on in their industry?
  2. Decision-making process – Who is involved? When and how will decisions be made? What points of reference will be sought?  What are the key stages of the process?
  3. The bases of decision – What are the key needs and wants in this process? What does the firm need to demonstrate?
  4. Money/budgets – How much do they intend to pay for this advice/service?  Firms should not be afraid to ask what budget the client has in mind.  It will highlight what type and quality of service they are expecting.
  5. Timescales – If a client has not stipulated a timescale, firms should try and get them to work back from the end-result so both parties are clear about the timings involved.
  6. Alternatives/competition/ incumbents – Who else is being considered?  This again will highlight what the client is looking for, by the types of firms they invite to pitch against each other.

As we discussed in our last article, in an ideal world we would only pitch to existing clients and prospective clients with whom we already have a relationship. All too often the time-frame from an invitation to pitch arriving to the point when a submission needs to be sent is very short.  It rarely enables the firm to really get to know the client, let alone put together a totally tailored solution.  By being more strategic about their approach to ‘bluebirds’, firms can make sure their valuable resources are put to the best use and with the greatest effect.

 

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