Pitch Points – Five thoughts from a pitching and tendering workshop (January 2021)

I facilitated a full day online pitching and tendering workshop for MBL covering: policies, processes, research, sales strategy, selling skills, documents, presentation (content and delivery), post pitch actions and tendering metrics. Delegates were from legal and insolvency firms. There was a huge amount discussed during the lectures, exercises and polls on the rational and emotional aspects of pitches. Here I have summarised five thoughts from a pitching and tendering workshop.

1. Pitch team kick-off meetings

Once the invitation has been received and assessed (various go/no go criteria and processes were discussed), we considered possible agenda items for the initial pitch team meeting:

  • Review the internal and external information in the pitch pack – about the opportunity, client and sector
  • Identify additional information and research required
  • Brainstorm key insights and core and additional client needs
  • Develop the sales strategy and value proposition – thinking outside the box to address client needs innovatively and to offer extra and differentiated value
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the proposition against client needs and the competition
  • Estimate the probability of success and likely client decision-making processes
  • Prepare initial thoughts on the methodology and pricing
  • Confirm the team composition and roles – behind the scenes and client-facing
  • Develop the strategy and priorities for early client contact and scoping meetings
  • Plan internal resource allocation and a schedule (e.g. create online collaboration systems)
  • Agree a timetable, project plan, critical dates and next steps

 2. Importance of sales strategy and USP/value proposition

We observed that often there was insufficient time spent researching and brainstorming the client’s needs. We reviewed research results on the role of cultural and personality fit.
These and other factors impact how the firm positions itself to offer a differentiated and valuable proposition. In effect, firms often fail to think carefully about a sales strategy and choose an aligned pricing strategy to support this positioning. They simply rush to provide reams of information in response to the client’s explicit needs.
We also talked about how your firm’s proposition stood up against the competing firms of different sizes and market positions. And the order in which presentations would take place. These would affect how bold or safe you might be in your offer.
The chosen sales strategy and value proposition should be the driver for the content and key messages within both the pitch document and the presentation.
It was noted that many marketing and BD professionals don’t become involved until quite late in the process – for example, assembling information for or editing documents – so it was often difficult for them to provide assistance on shaping the sales strategy.
On USPs (Unique Selling Propositions) there is some introductory material on value propositions  and a book on value propositions by Malcolm McDonald for more advanced marketers.

3. Pitch support technology

We looked briefly at a variety of research pitch automation systems. Delegates also mentioned:

  • S & P Market Intelligence Capital IQ for finance professionals
  • Crunchbase listings of innovative companies
  • Manzama market intelligence  which is used by DLA Piper, Herbert Smith Freehills, Kirkland & Ellis and Mayer Brown

There was some feedback about Better Proposals which was perceived to be limited.
Delegates talked about the value of the Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) system add-in Upslide, which is used by Deloitte and KPMG. There is a case study of accountancy firm Mazar’s use of Upslide.
Sources of royalty free stock images included:

 4. Impact of legal directory rankings

There was a really good question about the positive and negative impact of legal directory rankings such as The Legal 500 and Chambers. Most firms use their rankings and comments as part of the credentials element of their pitches, bids and tenders. Yet we wondered whether a high ranking may act as a deterrent to clients who were particularly price sensitive or needed routine rather than “bet-the-company” strategic or complex advice.
I couldn’t put my hands on specific research about the perceptions and impact of legal directory rankings on commercial or consumer clients (so if anyone can point me in the right direction I would be grateful!). However, this article provides support that they are important for generating the short list to invite to tender and as a third party endorsement of a firm’s expertise.
From my experience, General Counsel differed significantly in their attitudes to the legal directories – some relied on them heavily and others were almost dismissive. There seems to be a difference across sectors and with the experience, confidence and internal power and influence held by GCs.

5. Presentations

During a discussion of the most memorable presentations we had ever seen or heard it was noticeable that it was the delivery that made a difference. Words such as passion, confidence (“own the room”), surprising and emotional being used most often.
We spent some time considering the language and the tone in written and spoken words.
After discussing the pros and cons of PowerPoint for presentations we considered some of the alternatives including:

No one was using AR, VR or XR for pitch presentations.
There was also a discussion about the use of expanded agendas as an alternative.
Some suggested that we develop and provide etiquette and “rules of engagement” guides for use during digital calls using Zoom, Teams, Webex, Google Meet and Adobe Connect. Virtual presence was highlighted as a training need in some cases.
There was also a brief discussion about matching the personalities, ages, backgrounds and styles of presenting team with those on the client team. And there were some interesting anecdotes about cultural style differences – particularly attitudes towards time in monochromic and polychromic cultures.
When talking about preparing for and managing questions and objections, I proposed the creation of a database where all possible questions – and suggested and effective answers – were recorded to help with rehearsals and dry runs.

Key learning points

The delegates identified the following key learning points from the session:

  • Understand the entire pitching and tendering process
  • Develop effective pitch policies, procedures and information and support systems
  • Do more research and use pitch packs at the start of the process
  • Change the internal mindset to develop empathy  and focus on the client needs
  • Understand the decision-making unit (DMU) and process and criteria
  • Research and think about competitive positioning
  • Consider what internal pitch training is required for both fee-earning and support teams
  • Review post-pitch procedures – including client debriefing processes

I really liked one delegate’s reflective comment “It’s really not about convincing the client of how good you are – it’s about convincing them you are exactly what they need”.
Feedback from the session was excellent, with comments including:

  • It was a really insightful and informative session. Thanks so much for such detailed course notes. Lots of reading and further guidance to get through which is greatly appreciated.
  • Great to hear and share experiences
  • Good mixture of breaks, content and interactive sessions
  • Great session – Kim is an excellent speaker – very easy to listen to. Thank you!

Thank you to the expertise and support of Lauren Brown in hosting the event and supporting the delegates with a couple of tricky technology issues.
Details of my other MBL training events.  Details of my Professional Marketing Forum training sessions. Or contact me for details of inhouse courses.