There were delegates from law, construction and surveying firms at MBL’s recent “How to prepare and present winning pitches and tenders” . Three key themes emerged on pitching and tendering – Focus, differentiation and less is more.
Focus on the client
One of the key themes was the need to focus on what the client wants – both their stated and unrecognised (to be discovered) needs.
This requires detailed pitch research before you:
- decide whether to pitch or not
- ensure you have the appropriate expertise and resources to pitch and complete the work
- organise a team briefing (otherwise how do you know who to invite?) and
- start thinking about what goes into any value proposition, document or presentation.
In this last-minute, high-pressure world we inhabit there is a danger that fee-earners – whether requesting a basic credentials document or a tailored pitch, bid or tender document – will focus on what they want to say rather than what the client really needs to read or hear.
Use empathy (video explainer on empathy and emotional intelligence ) to put yourself in the client’s shoes:
- What do they want to know?
- What’s their prior knowledge of your firm, the competitors and the situation?
- Who are the different people involved in the decision-making process? (video explainer on the decision-making unit)
- How will they compare different suppliers and options?
- What’s their attitude to risk?
- How important is price compared to value?
- How strategic is their choice and its consequences?
- What are their criteria for success?
- How will they decide who to choose?
Differentiation is difficult
Differentiation is difficult at the best of times.
You need detailed research, team work, creative thinking, commercial nous and bravery to craft a winning value proposition (see an introduction to value propositions or a challenging book on quantified value propositions).
Yet when the procurement team is in control – often the case for very large, construction or public sector contracts – it becomes even more difficult to differentiate or stand out from the crowd. The procurement specialists will design communications and documentation and submission processes to reduce the opportunity to differentiate so that it is easier for them to compare “like with like”.
Whilst it is easy to revert to what you usually say and do in a pitch situation, you need to think outside the box if you are to differentiate successfully. Sometimes your branding and positioning for the market overall or within particular segments or service lines is insufficient to differentiate – it gets you through the door, but it doesn’t win the pitch.
Some firms will be innovative in the “added value” they offer to clients – for example, to provide resources to upskill the client’s staff or advice in an unrelated area to that being sought (e.g. strategy, communications, risk management or cybersecurity).
Some firms might consider how they can use their know-how or technology to create systems that provide additional value or efficiency to clients. Some firms really think beyond the brief and to the client’s broader environment or future and offer something that contributes there. However, while effective at differentiating a bid it may increase the costs and erode the profitability of the work that’s won.
In all situations you need that clear and succinct value proposition (with supporting evidence) reflected throughout communications, submissions and presentations. And you need to pay attention to the language, style and voice of everything you write. So you are cohesive in your messaging.
But also remember that the relationship between those pitching and the client is critical as well. Your people can really differentiate the whole buying experience for the client. The research from the challenger selling model (described in the book Insight Selling) shows that those who win most often adopt an approach where they teach, educate, challenge and guide the client during the sales process.
So your people – and how they behave throughout the pitching process – become part of the value proposition and the embodiment of your differentiation. This means that your fee-earners need brilliant skills in communications, relationships and selling as well as being supported with research, a sales strategy and documents and presentations.
Less is more
Whether a personal introduction, the content overall, document layout or presentation visuals we learned that less is most definitely more.
Of course, if you’ve done your research and homework well you will be clear about your differentiation and value proposition so it will be easier to select the information to include. Too often people cram everything into credentials, tender documents and pitch presentations and leave the client to work out what might be relevant.
In hybrid presentations (there’s further material on hybrid presentations), where there are people in the room and joining through digital channels it is even more important that visuals are clear. The general advice is to have half the typical content on each presentation slide.
We also looked at a report from a US general counsel in Silicon Valley who rejected an arrogant large firm and another large firm where the partner “droned on for 40 minutes” to award a seven-figure deal to a smaller firm which used just 13 slides and succinctly stated their plan to represent them covering the team, the strategy and the cost. Less is more.
“If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare, If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now” Winston Churchill
M&BD locked out of the pitch presentations?
Another insight from the delegates was that whilst most M&BD people were expected to help fee-earners prepare for pitch presentations, they were rarely able to attend those presentations.
Therefore, it was difficult for M&BD people to:
- Understand what the client really wants at presentations
- Assess the reaction of the client to the team, its dynamics and the content and delivery of the presentation – in order to make adjustments in the future
- Assess the performance of both individuals and team in a real/live situation
- Keep track of the questions asked by clients and the responses given
- Capture ideas, know-how and best practice on what worked well or what should be changed in future
- Consider what could be done differently or better in the future
In some larger and more sophisticated firms, senior M&BD people are part of the team that meets with the client both at scoping, relationship building and pitch presentations. Where M&BD people are locked out of pitch presentations they need to find ways to capture the required information.
Appointing members of the pitch team to take note of different aspects was one way. In-depth debriefs with team members (using, for example, intuitive modelling) was another. And client debriefs was another approach mentioned.
I’m excited to learn there is revised edition of the highly recommended book by Matthew Fuller and Tim Nightingale on “Strategic tendering for professional services” which I originally reviewed in 2017.
Shortly after the session I learned of another pitch automation system being used in professional services. It was within the Intapp system and is called Qorusdocs Proposal Management Software. Let me know if you have any experience or views on this system.
Delegate Poll Results
What is your primary role?
- Fee-earning client-facing professional 0%
- Marketing or business development 75%
- Dedicated pitch/tender specialist 25%
What sector do you work in?
- Legal 75%
- Surveying/property 25%
Please rate you experience in pitching/tendering and selling
What support do you receive with pitches/tenders? (multiple response)
- Sales support/someone joins the team 0%
- Strategy and creative support 25%
- Coaching support 0%
- Process support 25%
- Administrative support 25%
- Central information systems 25%
- I AM the support1 75%
To what extent does your sales strategy/value proposition reflect the competition?
- We consider the competition carefully 50%
- We hardly think about the competition 50%
Do you have specialist writing/editing resources for pitches/tenders?
- No, we manage with our fee-earners’ writing skills
- Other – we have a “past answer” database from which we select information and then have an external journalist who helps make the writing more punchy
What one thing will you do differently now when preparing pitch/tender documents:
- Ask more question
- Fully understand the brief before creating the document
- Use storytelling more (video explainer on storytelling)
- Use more examples to show rather than describe what you have done and why you are the best fit
Who was the best speaker you saw/heard? Why was he/she so good/memorable?
- Educational talk eight years ago where speaker discussed his life experience – engaging, personal experiences within stories and tone both humorous and serious in appropriate moments
- Advocacy tutor who used humour and stories
Do you contact the client to ask about their attendees and requirements for the presentation?
- Only if the client offers the opportunity 75%
- Yes – always 25%
What re the pros and cons of using PowerPoint?
- Most people have the system installed (robust)
- Everyone is familiar with it
- It’s simple to use
- Visually pleasing
- People can switch off
- Danger of including too much information
- If taken away, slides may not be self-explanatory
- Can be distracting
- Not very innovative or differentiating
The use of videos – especially drone fly throughs – was mentioned as an alternative
How do you cope with nerves before presentations?
- Stay away from anyone who might antagonise me (seek radiators, avoid drains)
- Say if you’re really nervous, it breaks the ice and people are generally sympathetic
- Keep the bigger picture in mind – and your main goal – don’t sweat the small stuff
- Remind yourself that some nerves are good to enhance your performance
- Breathe and visualise success
Explainer video on self-confidence and confidence
What types of rehearsals do you arrange?
- For the technology and presentation materials 100%
- Individual rehearsals if requested 75%
- Team rehearsals 25%
- Full rehearsals – with all team members 100%
- With external coaches 0%
- With a “pretend” client panel 50%
Do you think you are mostly cat, dog or bear personality? (Personality video)
- Cat 20%
- Dog 80%
- Bear 0%
Immediately after the pitch, what do you ask?
- The team
- What did the experience feel like?
- Any feedback (positive or negative)?
- Anything we should change in future?
- Any new or additional information gleaned?
- Any points to follow up or confirm?
- Any extra information to send?
- Any points to clarify?
- Probability of success?
- Next steps?
- The client
- Any hesitations or reservations?
- How did we compare with others?
- Anything you felt we missed?
- Any points that need clarification or further information?
- Have you selection criteria changed?
- Have you identified additional needs after seeing the presentations?
- Next steps?
- And ensure all information systems and trackers are updated
Which pitch/tender metrics do you use?
- Number/volume of pitches received/submitted/won 100%
- Value of pitches received/submitted/won 100%
- Profitability of pitches won 25%
- M&BD time on pitches 0%
- Client rankings of pitch submissions 0%
- Other (no bid outcome) 25%
Key thoughts from the session?
- Alternatives to text to be more engaging
- Graph on people’s attention span
- Process for managing pitches
- Non-Verbal Communication
- Less is more
- Show don’t tell
- Structure the initial discussion with the team
- More research on the client
- More strategic analysis of our value proposition
- Fully explore the brief and beyond
- Use engaging polls, discussion or videos to break up speaking
- Establish pitch/tender tracker systems
- Portray our brand personality better in documents and presentations
- Improve transparency within the team
- Focus more on client needs in documents and presentations
- Be more proactive in selecting when to submit a pitch
Other articles on pitching and tendering