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12 lessons from helping a team of lawyers come second in a million pound pitch (part 2)

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!

This two part blog post shares 12 ways to improve your effectiveness when you pitch for work. You can read part one here.

In this second part, I share the remaining six tips with you and reveal why we came second and not first – read on to find out, it’s not what you may be thinking!

7.  Don’t lecture the client

Remember, you are trying to persuade the client to send a lot of money in your direction.  Don’t put their backs up by telling them what they need or must do. Respect that they know their own business, and use phrases such as “in our experience” “you told us that” “we suggest” “a potential solution is”. I saw one pitch where the client was told: “You need a partner.” This did not go down well! The words you use can be incredibly powerful, so choose them with care.

8. Questions, questions, questions

Leave at least half your allotted time for questions. Make your pitch as pithy and to the point as possible and then let the client really explore what you can offer them.  The pitch and questions combined should demonstrate that you really understand the client’s issue, and are exactly the right company to help them with it.

9. Practise, practise, practise

It always astounds me how many of my clients regard it as a badge of honour to win a bid with just half an hour’s preparation on the way to the pitch panel.  If you are running through your presentation for the first time in the car park, then this is way too late!

Not only is it disrespectful to the client – what other aspects of the work will you skimp on? – but after having seen many hundreds of pitches, believe me, the ones that are well prepared stand out head and shoulders above the rest. In fact, the reason I was called in to help this particular team was because their feedback from previous bids was that they didn’t come across as a great team.

10. Ditch the slides

Unless they are specifically asked for, don’t use slides. The presentation is your chance to start a relationship with the client. It’s much harder to do that if you are concentrating on slides and they are looking at a screen rather than at you. I see slides used as a crutch, something to hide behind, and I don’t think they are necessary for a successful presentation. Use slides minimally to support your message, don’t let them become the messenger and relegate you to the button-presser.

11. Follow up afterwards

Not every pitch can win the bid. If you aren’t the successful candidate this time, find out why. The information will be extremely helpful when you put together your next pitch.

12.  It’s not just what happens on the day

So, why didn’t we win the tender?  We gave a great presentation, and actually, we were ahead on score at the end of all the presentations. However, the pitch panel had a weighted matrix for how they evaluated each bid, and although the presentation was ace, we let ourselves down with the quality of the tender documents.  Another lesson learned!


I hope these twelve tips have given you some ideas on how to make your next pitch more effective. Learning from someone else’s mistakes is always good! Remember though, every ‘failed’ bid is an opportunity to change things next time.

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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