Proper pitch processes

I’m just back from a fabulous session with lots of marketers and business developers from law firms, accountants and wealth managers at the PM Forum training session on “Helping fee-earners prepare the perfect pitch”. Thank you Addleshaw Goddard for hosting the event – your breakfast and hospitality staff were amongst the best we’ve ever had (and the touch screen projector is awesome). While it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share the top five topics on “Do perfect pitches need proper processes?” that were of most interest to the delegates: 

1. Pitch performance analysis 

Several delegates experienced challenges where members of their firm did not follow the established processes and procedures for pitches. A common problem. We talked about cultural issues and persuasion techniques to achieve buy-in and engagement.

But for those at the start of their journey in establishing policies and processes for managing pitches and tenders, it can be a challenge to gain senior management attention and commitment. A starting point is to collect information about current pitch activity – for example, how many invitations are received, how many are from existing clients, the value of the tenders, the time spent on tendering, your win/conversion rate etc. This way you can start to calculate the opportunity cost of your firm’s pitching efforts and also the return on investment (ROI). You can highlight key issues to prioritise and identify bright spots – where there is success – so that best practice can be shared.

An alternative approach is to analyse the reasons why previous pitches and tenders were not successful. Taking responsibility for the debriefing process and obtaining feedback from the clients so that future pitches avoid the same mistakes or learn what enabled your competitors to win. Obviously, you need training and experience in conducting these kinds of calls and some firms outsource them to specialist research companies who also know how to provide feedback sensitively.

As well as capturing the attention of senior management, this sort of analysis will also provide a benchmark against which you can measure success from applying marketing, selling and other business development expertise and resource. 

2. Adding value in pitches and to the process 

A core element of any pitch is the development of a persuasive value proposition as part of a sales strategy to convince clients that they will gain more value from your firm than others. But marketing and business development people must consider the value that they can add to the pitching process if they want to earn the trust and respect of their fee-earners.

Sometimes, the marketing and pitch teams are perceived as bureaucratic barriers – who want to impose systems and processes. They aren’t appreciated or wanted. They may be perceived as those who interfere with the successful practices of experienced rainmakers, who don’t really understand the clients’ or procurement teams’ needs or who create delays without adding any real value.

So marketing and business development folk need to learn where they can really add value beyond saving time in producing documents and presentations. For example, are we providing useful research into the organisation or individuals who will be making the decisions, are we helping the fee-earners develop a winning sales strategy, are we providing ideas on ways to innovate our offering, do we have systems that make it easier to develop compelling price propositions, can we bring some expertise or perspective that the fee-earners don’t have? 

3. Engagement with processes and systems 

There was some debate about the value of having boilerplate material or standard content within automated systems to ease the pitch preparation process. While the value of reducing the time to pull together a great document was the reason many firms invest in such automation is clear, there is a danger that pitch documents can be focused on purely internal material (our people, our expertise, our experience, our testimonials etc) rather than on the client and the client’s needs. Where the time saved is invested in tailoring the sales proposition, developing innovative solutions and building the relationship then all is well and good. But the temptation is that fee-earners disengage brains and churn out beautiful documents without this vital sales and relationship activity.

Most delegates have established protocols for what must be done before, during and after a pitch or tender. And good project management processes for ensuring that everything happens on time and to the right quality. However, one area for discussion was the “go-no go” decision. We looked at various examples of systems that incorporate questions with weightings to help fee-earners, business development staff and senior management decide whether or not to pitch and how bold they might be in their proposals depending on the likelihood of success.

4. Positive and negative reinforcement 

There was a famous psychologists called Skinner – he would reward a pigeon each time it went near a button so that this behaviour was positively reinforced. The pigeons would do it again to get another reward. You “shape” behaviour by requiring the pigeon to go nearer to the button in order to gain another reward. I trained a rat in just 45 minutes to press a button to get food but only when the green light was on. This is positive reinforcement.

Now, if you ask someone to do something – say, submit content for a bid on time – and they do it you should reward and reinforce that behaviour. On the other hand, if someone says they will do something by a particular time and they don’t and you “punish” this delay – they will try to avoid it in future – negative reinforcement.

If they don’t do what they agreed but you work all night and put pressures on others to ensure that the project still goes forward, you have positively reinforced their “bad” and non-conforming behaviour. Now lawyers, accountants and other professionals are sophisticated and intelligent people – but ultimately they respond to rewards for positive behaviour and punishment for negative behaviour. Make sure you are not positively reinforcing negative behaviour!

5. More psychology insights

Fee-earners may focus on the rational side of the pitching-buying process – presenting evidence as to their credentials and track record and the numbers supporting the price. Yet in all selling scenarios there are people (emotional creatures) who are looking at a number of other issues as part of the decision making process. For example, they will be interested in the cultural fit between the two organisations, how members of the team interact and how team members recognise and adapt to the personalities of different members of the client organisation.

Providing these psychological insights and coaching in appropriate behaviours can be part of the valuable contribution that marketing and business development people provide to busy fee-earners to help them improve their pitch performance – whether that is as part of the pitch team or during rehearsals and run-throughs.

We also touched on the potential value of things such as Transactional Analysis (TA) in building relationships with fee-earners. There is also a short video on the Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) model of behaviour.

Other topics that captured the imagination, included:

Face to face contact

Legal panel tenders




Value propositions

Previous session summaries can be found here: (February 2013) (November 2012)