Pampering for the beauty parade

Accountancy firms spend thousands of hours every year preparing for and delivering pitches and proposals.  If these hours are to be well spent the firm will focus on excelling in four areas:

  • They will have built a relationship with the client organisation.
  • They will have an in-depth knowledge of the client and the piece of work.
  • They will have an established process for deciding which bids to go for.
  • They will be achieving best practice in their beauty parades and proposals.

Building a relationship with the client

In our research into what major commercial organisations look for in their advisers, the results reveal that clients desire the following key attributes:

  • technical/professional expertise;
  • infrastructure with necessary processes and skills to provide excellent support;
  • demonstrable understanding of the client’s market sector/industry; and
  • genuine interest in the client organisation.

Clients say that the first two traits are taken for granted.  They expect any firm pitching for their work to pass these two tests.  It is, however, the last two elements that prove to be rare – knowledge of the client’s sector and genuine interest in the client.  Neither of these can be faked.  But they can be developed.

If there is a real desire to win this client then acquiring the knowledge of the client’s sector or industry is achievable and it should then be easier to demonstrate a genuine interest in the client.  In the process of demonstrating genuine interest, be prepared to give your knowledge for free.  Show that you understand the issues and opportunities the client faces and wherever possible provide some answers or evidence that you can address the issues.

Above all be patient, don’t be pushy.  The secret is to gain the client’s trust.  Once you have their trust you have the opportunity to start getting closer and to build on your understanding of them.

In-depth knowledge

To ensure you have a really good understanding of the client’s requirements, you will need to explore, among other things:

  • the decision-making process
  • the basis of their decision
  • the ultimate decision-maker(s); and
  • those who influence could sway the decision – such as those who have specialist capabilities and who will be consulted in the process.

It is not easy to establish such information and we often see firms taking short-cuts, such as assuming that what was important for one client with similar needs, will more than likely, do the trick for this one.  Beware.  Each client is unique and must be treated as such.

We should also recognise the part that procurement professionals can play today.  They are being used increasingly as part of the client’s decision-making process, in both the public and private sector.  For some, their purpose is simply to drive down costs.  For others, it is to improve the overall value of the relationship the client has with its advisers. 

We see the more successful firms talking with procurement people as early as possible in order to establish their motivation, their brief and their terms of reference within the particular pitch.  These firms consider the procurement team’s requirements within their draft and final submission and as a result are more successful in converting procurement into allies.

Which bids to go for

With so much resource required to respond to tenders, we see successful firms adopting a more objective selection process to help decide which bids they should invest time and effort in.  The following list shows an example of a bid/no bid evaluation process.

The bid/no bid evaluation process

  • Is the prospect in a targeted industry sector?
  • Is the prospect financially resilient?
  • Is probability high?
  • Is there little possibility of conflict of interest with existing clients?
  • Has the opportunity arisen as a result of good personal contacts within the prospect?  Do those contacts see this as a real opportunity?
  • Is the work likely to provide our minimum level of profitability or better?
  • Do we have the resources to pursue and successfully deliver this opportunity?
  • Is the location of the client desirable?
  • Is the value of the immediate business worth more than our minimum £X?
  • Is there a prospect of substantial follow-up business?
  • Are there fewer than four competitors bidding?
  • Is the volume of work to get to proposal stage of a reasonable level?
  • Does the prospect have an identifiable and autonomous decision-making process?
  • Is this prospect a big spender on our types of advice?

If the honest answer to all, or most of the questions, is ‘yes’, then we should definitely go for it.  An inability to answer a question would suggest that further investigation is needed before a decision to bid should be made.

A response of ‘no’ to a question should not necessarily preclude us from bidding for this opportunity but a number of them would certainly raise doubts about the potential value of this tender to the firm.  In order to make the decision to bid even less subjective, some firms apply a weighting to each question and then a minimum score that each tender enquiry needs to achieve if the firm is to proceed with a pitch.

Achieving ‘best practice’ in beauty parades

So you’ve already built a reputation, started to forge a relationship and have now been invited to pitch by one of your targeted prospects – and the ‘bid or no-bid’ test has come out strongly in favour of a bid.

That’s great news – but whatever you do, don’t rest on your laurels.

This second table provides a checklist to ensure that your ‘beauty parades’ and proposals have an even better chance of success in the future.

Checklist for success in the beauty parade

  • Continue to meet with the client organisation to build on your understanding of it and its situation.
  • Establish who will be reading the proposal document.
  • Minimise cutting and pasting.
  • Use graphs and images wherever possible.
  • Select your team carefully to suit its team.
  • Plan the ‘pitch’ carefully.
  • Establish who, from the client organisation, will be present.  Research them – understand their involvement and motivation.
  • Rehearse and rehearse again.
  • Tailor the style to suit the client.  Use the ‘medium’ they prefer.
  • Focus on their requirements, clearly explaining how you will satisfy these – wherever possible using proofs to convince the client that your recommendations will work.
  • Communicate the specific advantage(s) the client will gain from working with you.
  • Present fees only once the ‘client’ realises the value of your proposition.
  • Recognise that procurement professionals are trained to get the best possible price.  If they don’t see any added value in the more expensive option then they will undoubtedly recommend selecting the cheapest.
  • Be confident and prepared to express the specific benefits in terms of saving the client money (long term), saving time or in enhancing the client’s reputation and standing.

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