I recently reviewed all the articles in Professional Marketing magazine on pitching. And I’ve highlighted the key points here of the latest insights on pitching – Online, virtual, productivity, confidence and procurement.
In October 2021, Michael Fleming (Kissing with Confidence) argued that whether in the room or on Zoom, pitching essentials remain the same. Key online issues included:
- Your chair must be an excellent ring master
- Team dynamics matter more
- Everything is more intense and magnified
- There are more opportunities for intimacy (wandering cats etc)
- It’s more dangerous to wing it
- Rethink visual aids (don’t overshare)
- Have a back up plan
- Get together on the platform
- There’s more work at the preparation stage
He argues there is more preparation for online pitches – and offers the following structure;
- Preparation – which he breaks down into
- Compelling key messages (one to five clear, key messages)
- Deliver brilliantly
- Use energy, spontaneity and creativity
- Make the emotional connection
- Smile, tell stories, metaphors, quote, humour, props and pictures
- Look like a team
He also offers 11 virtual essentials:
- Ask to use the platform you are most comfortable with
- If you have to use one you don’t know, get a trial licence and practice
- Practice some more
- Be clear on who is hosting and the functionality you need
- Consider the experience of the panel (e.g. force spotlight view)
- Sort out the basics (i.e. good camera and microphone)
- Have a back up plan (including another device and alternatives for wifi outages)
- Agree backgrounds and dress code
- If working from home, consider what aspects of your life will be on display
- Create intimacy with self-disclosure
- Focus on your body language
Pitching in a virtual world
In September 2020, Ruxandra Radulescu of Within International considered the impact of pitching in a virtual world – including juniors being more confident, the perception of status is reduced and the focus on the substance of the pitch. Our virtual selves are different from who we are in a physical environment and there are several reasons for this (including our inability to read micro-expressions online).
She says to create more structure (sending agendas, sharing decks in advance etc) as people are more task focused in a virtual environment. And to check that the technology works in advance.
Most of our communication channels (linguistic, paralinguistic, visual – you can miss 50% of non-verbal signals – and kinetic) are constrained in a virtual environment. So we have to strive to establish a human connection in other ways – such as tuning on cameras and encouraging back-and-forth interaction through questions and dialogue.
We need to establish cognitive trust (“Do I trust your capability”) and benevolence-based trust (“Do I trust you will have my back?”). I explored trust in more detail a while back She urges people to use the feedback in Zoom feeds to check on our own cues.
As status cues are less visible in a virtual environment, ideas are more influential than charisma. But virtual meetings are more conducive to faster decision-making, lowered inhibitions and more risk-taking although she says that there can be more conflict and easier confrontation.
Discuss the proposed negotiation process before starting the conversation. And establish a good rapport before presenting your offer. Divide the issues (have a multi-issue proposal) to avoid a fixed-sum negotiation. Take regular breaks off-line as you would in a physical environment.
Visualising success, practice and rehearsal are needed to change your brain physiology to that which it would be if you had actually performed in reality: “Feel the way you think, so you think the way you feel”.
Productivity in bid production
In October 2020, Annie Hallam at Bishop Fleming accountants wrote about productivity in pitching – having experienced an 8% increase in tendering activity. She starts with planning and preparation – and the process introduced has seen the time needed to produce a first draft reduce by half. The time saved has been directed at adding value to tenders and this resulted in an increase of over 10% in their fee win-rate.
Her key tips are:
- Be selective with a bid/no bid matrix
- Listen to the buyer and respond appropriately
- Be prepared with a library of standard pages and policies
- Pick the right team – those who are engaged and enthused
- Answer the questions
- Get the facts straight and seek clarification if necessary
- Block out time for key players for reviews
- Create a resources database to access case studies, testimonials and frequently requested information
- Follow up to obtain feedback from all tenders
- Track all opportunities and outcomes
Confidence in bidding
Many of these themes were echoed from Winter 2019, where Shona Cordner, PM Member Scotland, wrote a leader with her five top tips when considering new bids:
- Be prepared – start research well in advance of receiving the invitation to tender and reflect back your understanding of the client’s vision, strategy, objectives and values
- Be focused – Highlight the critical elements of each tender: deadlines, presentation date, contract value, length and start date, scope of services, evaluation criteria and pricing structure
- Be relevant – Only answer what is being asked and give examples of similar experience
- Be concise – Follow the instructions and don’t make assumptions
- Be confident – Manage the bid process and allocate sufficient time to those preparing or reviewing content
Working with procurement
Professional services veteran John de Forte (his book “Proposals, Pitches and Beauty Parades” was the first book I read on the subject way back in 1994) made some interesting points in an article in February 2020:
- He quotes Acritas research indicating that a third of 500 senior legal buyers are seeking to restructure charging arrangements with law firms and average hourly rates for London’s top commercial lawyers are estimated to have fallen by a third.
- Whilst questions about partnering often signal a desire to reduce those on the panel and extract better deals they also indicate an intention to improve the stability of supply. Issues around continuity, back-up resources, IT infrastructure resilience and investment in specialisations might be indicators in an invitation to tender.
- Whilst some procurement professionals may act as gate-keepers and restrict access to decision-makers, most will encourage interaction with them as effective working relationships will be a key selection criteria for a professional services firm (video on decision-making units and gatekeepers)
- According to the Buying Legal Council survey, the top value-adds favoured by procurement officers are:
- Free hotlines/access to experts for quick questions
- Free or at-cost secondments
- Outside counsel’s participation in internal calls
- Conducting pre-matter planning sessions
- Seminars and business-level training
The Grant Thornton qualification process
I also reflected on a chart produced by Grant Thornton (back in Winter 2018) showing how to improve your chances of winning based on the following factors: relationships, access during the process, subject expertise, sector experience, fees, available team and time to commit.
Related posts on pitching and tendering
impact of Covid on listening while selling (kimtasso.com) – October 2021
Perfect pitches – Five key points (Video) Kim Tasso February 2021
Selling legal services with storytelling – September 2017
Book review – Strategic tendering for professional services by Matthew Fuller and Tim Nightingale – May 2017
Fabulous first meetings – 16 selling insights – March 2017
Selling – the vital role of research in pitching – October 2016
Do perfect pitches need proper processes – October 2015
Helping fee-earners prepare the perfect pitch II – February 2013
Helping fee-earners develop the perfect pitch – November 2012
Getting your head around basic selling skills – November 2011
Selling – the importance of face-to-face contact on tenders – December 2010
Professional selling tips – September 2010
13 ways to improve your chances of winning a tender – January 2010
For training workshops on pitching for marketing and BD professionals see Professional Marketing Forum
For training workshops on pitching for fee-earners see MBL