Love my tender

There is more to winning a pitch than silky-smooth presentation skills.  The most successful firms are learning to focus their resources on the clients that matter most – and getting to know what makes those clients tick.  Paul Telfer reports

For many law firms, winning new business, now relies on an increasing involvement in tenders and pitches.  So much so, that firms are becoming more sophisticated in how they approach them.  They give their fee-earners presentation training, use professional writers and draft in marketers and business developers to put the commercial edge on their technical capabilities.  The cost of pitching is rising significantly, as is the pressure to gain a good return on this investment.

Whilst it is important to be able to present well, a polished presentation alone will not necessarily secure the client.  So how can firms be more successful at winning the new business they bid for?

First of all, it is important to understand some of the common obstacles in pitching.  Here are just a few we have come across through our work with law firms:

  • Not having time to really understand the client 
  • Not having time to fully understand the brief 
  • Not getting access to all the key decision-makers and influencers during our preparation 
  • Presenting inappropriate solutions, because we don’t know the hidden agendas behind the brief 
  • Putting the wrong people forward to build the relationship, because the interests and personalities involved on the client-side were not understood and; 
  • Saying yes to every tender that comes our way

The major cause behind most of these obstacles is time, or rather lack of it.  The timeframe from an invitation to pitch being sent out, to a law firm presenting their solution, really only allows for the preparation of the pitch response and presentation.  It doesn’t enable the firm to really get to know the client and what they want.

The more successful firms tend to know, not only what service to offer the client, but also the way in which to offer it.  They make it as easy as possible for the client to say ‘yes’.  They go beyond merely answering the invitation to pitch document requirements and provide solutions that meet all the client’s aspirations and needs ‘off the page’.  How do they do this?  Invariably, these successful firms build a relationship with the client well before that organisation goes out to tender.

We often say that in winning a client only 20% of the effort should be devoted to the pitch itself.  In our experience, the remaining 80% should focus on really getting to know the client well and this should have been set in motion months before the pitch document lands on our desk.  We would suggest five steps to help law firms achieve this.

Step 1. Focus.  Establish a realistic target list of the clients that you would like to work for.  Make sure these will give you the right kind of work, with the right level of fees and profitability.  Do not be tempted to make your list a long one as you need to focus what time you have to get the maximum return. Also the more genuine interest you have in your prospective client list, the more likely you will win them.  So pick clients you would really enjoy working with and start researching to fully understand their industry, business and the challenges they face.  This will help you prioritise which clients to pursue first and which might be better to leave for a while.  At the same time, try and avoid being sidetracked with invitations to pitches that don’ t fit in with your plans.  This means saying ‘no’ to some clients so you can divert your energies to winning the right kind of clients, with the right work and the right fees.

Step 2. Plan.  This is where the more successful firms start to build relationships with their target clients.  They put a plan in place that focuses on putting themselves on the client’s radar.  Using your firm’s marketing activities, send targeted communications that start to build your credibility in the client’s mind.  In order to achieve this you will need to truly understand the client’s issues – technical, business, commercial and sometimes personal.  These promotional activities can earn you the right to enter into a dialogue with the client.  In doing so you can check your understanding of their situation and start to build a number of contacts within the client organisation.  These contacts will become your intelligence network in the client.  The more people you know and who think highly of you, the more knowledge you can amass (and the more barriers you will be creating for your competition!)

Step 3.Tailor.  Having used the time in advance of a pitch to understand the decision-makers and find out what each person is looking for, you are in a strong position when the client does have a requirement.  Ensure that, in responding to the client’s invitation to pitch, you offer a highly tailored solution based on your understanding. Test your ideas on the clients’ decision-makers so that these solutions are as much theirs as yours.   In doing so, the more successful firms focus on the issues which are closest to the hearts of the people with real influence, both in the client organisation and with regard to this decision.

Step 4. Train. This is where you ensure that your team has the right skills and behaviours to win the work.  Pitch presentation training alone won’t suffice here, a wider range of competencies is called for if people are going to create an image of credibility, competence and compatibility in the client’s mind  Skills such as questioning and listening are vital, as are the abilities to summarise correctly, give feedback and handle negotiations in a professional and diplomatic manner.

Step 5. Differentiate. In order to stand out from the crowd, the more successful firms focus on the areas where they have an advantage over the competition.  They are guided by the information they have gleaned from the client’s decision-makers, or the ‘allies’ they have made. Ideally, they prepare the ground in such a way that the audience are keen to hear their presentation and expect it to be the best.

A word about procurement professionals. Increasingly, these professionals are influencing decisions on the selection of professional advisers.  Faced with procurement specialists within the decision-making process, many law firms panic and believe only the cheapest bid will win, yet procurement is about securing value.  While the price put forward must be competitive, real efforts need to go into building value in the eyes of the client.  The value procurement puts on the solution will depend on the:

  1. importance of the ‘problem’
  2. benefits they derive from the solution
  3. urgency of their need
  4. number and quality of potential alternative advisers; and
  5. corporate and personal implications of getting the project right or wrong.

The work undertaken to build the relationship prior to the tender situation, should guide you on these points. One further point is that – the price that is secured will also be determined by how much the law firm believes it (or it’s solution) is worth.  If they do not have confidence that they are delivering real value for money, then neither will the client.

Building relationships prior to an invitation to pitch landing on the desk, can give a law firm the edge and enable them to differentiate themselves from the competition.  Firms do have a choice on whether to bid or not and increasingly, in looking to gain a better return on investment, some are choosing to redeploy their energies elsewhere.  In doing so they are endeavouring to offer very tailored solutions to the clients they truly want on their portfolio.


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