Pitching and Tenders – Nine top tips and client feedback (June 2019)

I’ve led several public courses on tendering and pitches recently (e.g. through Professional Marketing Forum https://www.pmforum.co.uk/training.aspx) and for professional service firm clients on an in-house basis. Here’s a round-up of the points that had most resonance on pitching and tenders – Nine top tips and client feedback:

1. Have a pitch process

 You can spend hundreds of hours (and that costs thousands of pounds) preparing pitches for clients and work that you might never win or might not really want. You need a process that guides decisions from the moment an invitation is received (do we want to pitch for this work?), to how to pull together the right team, how to manage initial scoping conversations with the client to what goes into documents and presentations and how to interact effectively and right through to collecting feedback when the pitch is completed.

While you don’t want to simply repeat whatever happened at a previous pitch, there’s value in learning what worked well and not so well with different types of clients on different types of projects. Make sure there are systems to capture past lessons into a corporate memory and guide future decisions on pitching. 

2. Put the client at the centre

Too many pitch and tender documents are internally-focused and all about the firm that is pitching. For sure, there are times when you need to put forward a credentials document where your firm and its capabilities are the focus. But generally, the document should focus on the client’s interests and issues.

There’s a simple test to compare how many “we” (the firm) statements are used compared to how many “you” (the client) statements.

3. The pitch is a microcosm of the sales process

Ideally, you will have established contact and a relationship with the client long before an invitation to tender is received. Whilst it is tempting to concentrate on the document and the formal presentation, the sales process starts as soon as contact is made. Each telephone call and email contributes to the client’s view of you as a potential supplier. A scoping meeting is as important for the development of rapport and mutual understanding as it is for exploring the technical issues of the work to be done.

If you haven’t studied the sales process and selling skills then make that a priority.

Beginners should consider an introductory sales book such as http://kimtasso.com/publications/selling-skills-for-the-professions/ (which was written for the professions) or “Smarter Selling: How to grow sales by building trusted relationships” (2011) by David Lambert and Keith Dugdale.

More advanced professionals should learn how Insight Selling builds on consultative selling and relationship management approaches: http://kimtasso.com/book-review-insight-selling-mike-schultz-john-e-doerr/

4. Do your research

 You need research to really understand the client’s people, teams, organisation, market and issues. If your pitch uses exactly the same information as your competitors then it’s likely to come up with a similar solution.

So do lots of research. Then do some more. And brainstorm with your colleagues what it means to the needs of the client and how you should shape your sales strategy. Hopefully, your marketing and business development team will have access to research resources and be able to help you prepare and interpret a pitch pack http://kimtasso.com/selling-the-vital-role-of-research-in-the-pitch-process/ 

5. Data, information and insight

It is easy to assemble large volumes of data and information. But what the client wants is insight. What does the data and information tell them? How is it relevant to them? Don’t expect the client to do all the work – your job is to interpret the information and cut through to what it all means. The client doesn’t want someone to flood them with technical data – they need someone to show them what to do in view of the information.

Remember that less is more. And if in doubt, leave it out. Don’t’ drown the client in data. Don’t just cut and paste from past tenders. Be a curator and interpreter. Be concise. Guide them to the nuggets and insights that have meaning for them. Make the content engaging. See the posts on writing http://kimtasso.com/business-development-writing-lawyers-13-top-tips-writing-impact/ and storytelling http://kimtasso.com/selling-legal-services-storytelling/. Make the client the hero of your stories. Show, don’t tell.

6. Be clear about your value proposition

You should understand your sales strategy and your value proposition should be clear.

A starting point is to consider the three or four key messages you want the client to know about your firm.

The client must be able to easily see why they should choose your firm and what value you bring. Value propositions require empathy and research to understand the client’s needs and to identify ways that your firm has something different and better than competitors.

You need to minimise the risk and maximise the benefits for the clients to choose your firm. Ensure there is the right balance of risk and reward. And the price, of course, is part of that decision for the client.

There’s an introduction to value propositions here http://kimtasso.com/faq/what-is-a-value-proposition-or-usp-and-how-do-i-create-one/. More advanced practitioners may like to try Malcolm McDonald’s recent book on the subject http://kimtasso.com/book-review-malcolm-mcdonald-on-value-propositions-how-to-develop-them-how-to-quantify-them-by-malcolm-mcdonald-and-grant-oliver/ 

7. Consider the content and the delivery

Too often, an inordinate amount of time is spent gathering information. The use of templates means that this information is often forced into layouts without due consideration of whether it is the right information presented in the right way.

Research, planning and thinking is needed to create the right content. Then you need to allocate time on how best to deliver that information – whether in a document, a diagram, a slideshow, a video, an interactive graphic or a presentation.

Avoid large pages of text. Use subtitles and pull-outs to highlight key points and provide sign-posting. Use tables and diagrams instead of text.

8. Be bold and innovative

If you think that you are an outsider – and not the favourite to win – then you can be bolder and more innovative in your approach.

Too many firms will play it safe when pitching. Their documents and presentations will be accurate but dull. Have the confidence to make novel suggestions or present things in an unusual way.

9. Relationships matter

Clients are unlikely to ask firms without the technical expertise to pitch. So whilst you need to set out the rational case for your firm to win the work you also need to address the emotional needs of the client.

Clients will need to be convinced that your people have the right chemistry – both with each other and the client’s staff. Clients will need to know that you understand their culture and can be part of the team. The pitch is an opportunity for you to show what it would be like if you were actually working together. So make sure the human interaction works well and that the group dynamics are smooth.

Recent client feedback on pitches

Law firm feedback

I saw an interesting article in May 2019 by the general counsel of a large US organisation. He said he observed that there was a “Cookie cutter” hour presentation that covered who will be responsible for the account, a restatement of representative matters the firm has handled and the expected length and cost of engagement.

He reported that at a recent pitch the first (and largest) firm had a strong name and reputation but almost expected him to pitch to them. The second firm was well-known and respected but the partner “droned on” for 35 minutes. The third firm used just 13 slides to succinctly state the plan to represent his company and showed the team, the strategy and the cost. The third firm won the six-seven figure deal using the succinct approach of Silicon Valley pitches.

Accountancy firm feedback

A large organisation gave the following feedback at the start of 2019: Never copy and paste, demonstrate a real understanding of the client’s needs, do more research, take time to check accuracy, ensure the right blend of people are included for the right level of resourcing, avoid too much text – use diagrams and visuals, use the client’s language, tailor the CVs and answer all the questions.