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12 lessons from helping a team of lawyers come second in a million pound pitch (part 1)

champagne cork popping 500pxHeather Townsend, author of the best-selling and award-winning The FT Guide To Business Networking, and The Go-To Expert, examines what it takes to win a competitive pitch.

When I was just starting out as an independent coach and trainer, I supported the pitch team of a Top 100 law firm come second in a million pound tender.  They didn’t get the contract, but I learned a lot!

In this two part blog post, I share 12 ways you can improve your effectiveness when you pitch for work.

1. Do whatever you can to avoid getting into a competitive tender

If you can avoid the need for competitive tender, then you’ll save yourself loads of time, stress, and money.  It’s easy to say from the comfort of my computer, but it’s less easy to achieve!  So don’t get complacent with your existing clients, regularly check how things are going, remind them that you care about their business.  With prospective clients, keep the relationship warm, you never know, they may not be planning to ask anyone else . . .

Another way to avoid competitive tender is to market to prospects before they are ready to buy. I know this sounds nonsensical, but the more helpful you can be – by putting useful content online for example – the more you’ll become thought of as the Go-To Expert that clients just have to have.

2. Be realistic

Sometimes you know you don’t have a hope of winning a contract. Perhaps the existing contractor is very well entrenched, but the company has a policy of retendering every few years.

Some companies invite 30 or 40 tenders. Unless you really want the contract, is it worth the time, effort, and expense of putting yourself up against so much competition?

The best approach to a tender situation is to be very honest with yourself about your chances of winning.  Pick only the battles where you have a decent chance and walk away from the rest. Being pragmatic could save you hundreds of hours of grief.

3. Make the call

Pick up the phone and talk to the person running the tender.  Unless you are in a closed tender process, there is nothing to stop you taking this simple action, and many of your competitors won’t be doing this. Talk through your proposal with the person and work out which parts to build and which parts to lose from their reaction to your initial suggestions.

Ask how the project came about, what are the main buying criteria, who are the decision makers, who else is being asked to pitch, who will be on the evaluation panel. You might be surprised at how much people are willing to share, and this information is invaluable for preparing a unique and perfectly targeted proposal.

It also puts your name into the front of the company’s mind, which is no bad thing.

4. Bring all the team

Yes, all of them. It’s never going to be the business development partner doing the day-to-day servicing on the account, so bring along the senior associate that will. If you are that person, get yourself into the pitch team! Establishing good relationships early on is a winner.

5. Ask yourself: “So what?”

Again and again I hear my clients pitch with a very smooth summary of their services and capabilities. I listen, and I think “So what?” Why should your client care about your international presence? Does it mean you deliver a better result? Then say so. If it doesn’t make a jot of difference, then cut it out!  I see it so often with accountancy firms, opening their pitch with “We are a top ## firm with an international presence. . . ”  Yawn! Anyone else bored already?

Write your pitch presentation by putting yourself into the client’s shoes and really thinking about what they want and need to hear, not what you think you should tell them.

6. Put yourself in the client’s shoes

Which brings me nicely to the half-way point: put yourself in your client’s shoes. Most professionals live and breathe what they do. They find the nitty gritty absorbing and they are proud of how much work has gone into where they are today – it’s this technical expertise that makes them such a great prospect to win this tender. Sorry about this but – no one else cares!  The client especially doesn’t care. They just want to know that you will solve their problem.

So, focus your pitch on how you will do this, and how your firm will add value to the client’s business. Only – don’t use the term “add value”. It’s too jargony and what does it really mean? Tell the client how you will help them achieve specific goals. Don’t tell them that you’ll add value: after all – so what?!

In part 2 of 12 lessons from helping a competitive pitch team come second I’ll share the final six tips, and tell you why we didn’t win the contract.

Further reading:

  1. Business Development Clinic: How to write a proposal which will help us win a competitive tender? Part 1
  2. Business Development Clinic: How to write a proposal which will help us win a competitive tender? Part 2

This post originally appeared in a different form on the How To Make Partner website.

Author Credit

GTE thumbnail_100Heather Townsend helps professionals become the The Go-To Expert. She is the author of the  award winning and best-selling book on business networking, the ‘FT Guide To Business Networking’ and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, and ‘The Go-To Expert’. Over the last decade she has worked with over 300 partners; coached, trained and mentored over 2000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional practices. 

Heather blogs regularly at How to make partner and still have a life and works with future and current Big 4 partners and professionals from mid-tier firms all over the world

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