As well as delegates from across the UK (including a few from Romford in East London), we were joined at this session on “Helping fee-earners to prepare the perfect pitch” by people in Warsaw, Poland and Lisbon, Portugal. During an intense and fast-paced half-day we covered a lot of material on: pitching and tendering processes, sales approaches, client relationships, trends in pitching, research methods and the involvement of marketing and business development (M&BD) professionals. We considered both pitch documents and presentations. However, this article – another learning resource for the delegates – focuses on five key delegate insights – with a little help from The Spice Girls: Five Spice Girl lessons from a pitching workshop
Research client needs: “What you really, really want” (Wannabe)
In the song “Wannabe”, the Spice Girls famously sang:
“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want”
If only it was as easy to learn about client needs!
We spent time considering how M&BD and fee-earners could develop more empathy (see An introduction to emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy (Video) (kimtasso.com)) with clients. We looked at the decision-making unit (see Selling Basics – Detectives and DMUs (Video) and recommended books (kimtasso.com)). We tackled an exercise to put ourselves in the client’s shoes and think like clients who were technically-qualified or lay people and in large or small organisations.
We explored the different ways we could conduct research to learn about the client’s underlying wants and needs – Looking beyond the written brief and publicly available information. M&BD people have a key role to play in researching, assembling and summarising the information they obtain from sector, organisational, competitor and individual research. And how this information can be used to brief and guide the pitch team: Selling – research in the pitch process (kimtasso.com)
We also talked about promoting curiosity amongst our fee-earners. What is curiosity and why is it important in business relationships? (Video) (kimtasso.com) And vitally important selling skills such as asking questions and listening (Active Listening (Video) (kimtasso.com) and impact of Covid on listening while selling (kimtasso.com) carefully to the response from the client.
Many of the delegates left the session with aims to increase both their research processes and resources. And to ensure that this research was communicated to the pitch/tender team and reflected in the sales strategy as well as documents, presentations and discussions with clients.
Analyse your competitors: “I’m giving you everything” (Say you’ll be there)
You can’t respond to an ITT in a vacuum – purely from your firm’s perspective. The client will have invited other firms to submit their tenders. However, the poll results indicated that over half of the delegates’ firms never conducted a systematic analysis of the competing firms and 36% only sometimes analysed competitors.
So you need to find out who else is pitching or tendering and ensure that your offer is properly positioned and differentiated from competitors. So we talked about competitor research, analysis and ranking. And particularly how this might impact on your sales or value proposition.
Some delegates indicated that clients did not reveal who else was tendering. In such cases it is possible to make an informed guess and/or consider a) firms that are bigger/smaller than yours b) firms that are generalist or niche and c) the competitor you most fear (whether because of their reputation, know-how, experience, technology or other attributes). This enables you to see things from the client’s point of view, anticipate what competing tenders might offer and so position your offering more precisely to match the client’s needs in the “clear blue ocean” of non-competition.
Clarify your differentiating value proposition: “Who do you think you are?”
When it came to considering how delegate firms were different and their (innovative) value propositions we observed that often all tendering firms were offering the same thing. Regular updates, access to CPD training sessions, dedicated helplines, direct partner contact and technology/systems integration are no longer differentiators – they are expected. With no other differentiators, this makes it harder for clients to choose on anything but price.
So firms have to work much harder to offer innovative services that truly add value to clients. Without excessive erosion of profit margins. Worryingly, the polls and discussions revealed that often firms did not spend time in agreeing their sales strategy – including how to differentiate – they simply responded to the client’s requests for information. And we observed the trend towards larger clients insisting on information – and differentiation – that aligns with their purpose/aims and values relating to social purpose, ESG and D&I.
Adding non-traditional experts to the pitch team in terms of management, know-how, operations, learning & development and technology was one approach. All delegates could see the importance of “thinking outside the box” – bringing truly innovative thinking and bravery to the development of the sale strategy and value proposition. Many firms now extend the offered solution way beyond the brief by addressing needs that are not outlined in the RFP or ITT documents.
There was also some discussion about alternative and innovative fee arrangements being offered to clients – although this was rarely something where M&BD professionals were involved.
Regardless of the value proposition, the way it was communicated (i.e. focus on the core messaging) to the clients – in documents, presentations and discussions was discussed. Power of three – Writing and presentation basics (Video) (kimtasso.com)
Tailor your content and interaction: “Teach never preach” (Move over)
Too often both pitch documents and presentations are inward-looking (i.e. full of “We” statements). Firms simply regurgitate what has been written in pitches before. It’s from an internal perspective – preaching what the firm does and is famous for rather than tailored to what the client is asking, interested in or needing.
We looked at how we could be more selective in what information was included (“Less is more”) – that which addressed the client’s needs, positioned the firm competitively and followed the agreed strategy/value proposition.
It was also interesting to hear from delegates that increasingly clients are not requesting an initial document – but a presentation first. Clearly an indication that clients prefer interaction to one-way communication such as a document or online resources. Whether this was to cut through all the standard material or whether this was clients needing to consider the “relationship fit” first was unclear.
We also talked about different sales methodologies (it was concerning that the level of sales training within M&BD and pitch staff was so low): consultative sales models and more recent approaches such as Insight or Challenger models. But it was interesting to reflect on these latter models where a key element of the value proposition is the way that the sales team (i.e. fee-earners) educated and challenged the client team and provided new insights.
Like the Spice Girls, the most frequent size of pitch teams was five. Although the roles weren’t Posh, Sporty, Baby, Scary and Ginger (But maybe Chair, Technician, Team Leader, Relationship Leader and Doer!).
Further articles on sales methodologies:
Classic management book reviews – The McKinsey way, Good to great (kimtasso.com) Strategic selling Intermediate level
Further guidance on presentation skills:
Form a strong relationship with clients: “Two become One”
From the very first contact with the client (even the telephone calls and emails to confirm receipt of the EOI, RFP or ITT) we are developing the relationship with the client. We considered how the sales process and relationship building take place throughout the tendering process – whether seeking additional information, during scoping sessions and site visits and when documents are submitted or arrangements for pitch presentations are being made.
While the pitch team might be focused on what content to include in documents and presentations, there needs to be greater focus on the state of the (developing) relationship with the client. Especially as often clients report – in debriefs – that competing tenders were very similar in content and price and that the deciding factor was on the emerging relationship between the firm and its team members.
Delegates’ other insights included:
- We all share similar pitching and tendering challenges and concerns – which is reassuring but points to the need for further networking with peers in similar organisations for support
- The need for M&BD people to become involved earlier and throughout the entire pitching/bidding/tendering process rather than called in at the end where our impact is likely to be more limited
- The need to review the present processes and systems to check that they are still fit for purpose, adhered to and adapting to the latest client feedback (to avoid mistakes being repeated)
- Polls revealed that it was rare for the delegates at the session to be conducting debriefs with clients. However, there was no excuse for M&BD people not to read, absorb and analyse the findings from past debriefs. And to use this information – and the lessons learned – to improve future pitch/tender processes, documents and presentations.
Recent articles on pitching
Selected delegate poll results
How much of your time is spend on pitches and tenders?
- 25% Less than a quarter of my time
- 33% Quarter to half of my time
- 17% Half to three-quarters of my time
- 25% Over three quarters of my time
How much experience do you have of a) pitching/tendering and b) selling?
Are you pitches and tenders:
- 8% Mostly from existing clients
- 15% Mostly from new clients
- 77% A mixture
Is your role primarily:
- 0% Part of the sales team (client facing)
- 25% Strategic support
- 50% Content development
- 17% Process support
- 8% Information/administrative support
What pitch/tender metrics do you use (select all the apply)
- 91% Number/volume of pitches received/submitted/won
- 36% Value of pitches received/submitted/won
- 45% Profitability of pitches won
- 9% Fee-earner and M&BD time on pitches
- 0% Client ranking of pitch submissions
- 9% Other (by sector)
Do you have a policy/system for agreeing which pitches to accept?
- 45% Yes
- 18% No
- 36% Sort of – but it’s rarely observed in practice
How many people are usually involved in your pitch teams?
- 0% Just one
- 33% Two or three
- 56% Around five
- 11% More than five
How often do you conduct a structured competitor analysis when preparing a pitch?
- 0% Always
- 36% Sometimes
- 55% Never
- 9% Other
How much research do YOU do to support a pitch/tender?
- 9% None
- 36% An hour or so (mostly on internal systems)
- 55% Between two to four hours
- 0% Over five hours
Which do you think is the most important factor when writing a pitch document?
- 8% Accurate information
- 8% Correct spelling and grammar
- 67% Focus on the readers’ interest
- 0% Brevity
- 17% Clarity
- 0% Voice and brand
- 0% Plain English/avoid jargon
How long are most of your pitch presentations?
- 27% No more than 30 minutes
- 27% Around an hour
- 0% From one to two hours
- 45% It varies from client to client
How much time to you spend PLANNING pitch presentations?
- 33% We don’t plan presentations – we just produce them
- 8% Up to an hour
- 33% One to three hours
- 25% We spend more time refining the presentation once it is produced
How often do you help with pitch/tender rehearsals?
- 8% Always – every time
- 33% On the largest/most important pitches
- 8% Only when requested
- 0% Only if certain fee-earners are involved
- 8% Rarely
- 42% Never
Do you make post-pitch debrief calls to clients?
- 0 % Yes – Always
- 8% Yes – Sometimes
- 58% Someone else does it
- 17% Never – we don’t do this as a firm