In May we welcomed delegates from legal, accounting and consulting firms at manager and executive levels to a PM Forum workshop on pitching. Some delegates were highly experienced in pitching (and their roles focused on pitching and tenders), whereas others were at the start of their journey and/or had only occasional exposure to pitches. A key theme that often arises in pitching is how to differentiate. Whilst there are many ways to differentiate (see below) it does imply that you will consider – from the client’s perspective – how your firm’s offering or value proposition is different from the competitors. So it was interesting that one of the poll results showed that over 60% never complete a competitor analysis in support of their pitches (it is possible that their fee-earners led the way here). But understanding the competition is a core function of M&BD teams. So here I focus on Pitching, differentiation and competitor analysis.

Differentiation

Differentiation arose as a key theme Pitching and tendering – Focus, differentiation and less is more (April 2022) (kimtasso.com) in April 2022. Branding is one way to differentiate and this was discussed at a session in October 2022 Pitching insights – Qualification, Branding and Following up (kimtasso.com). There is more information on branding theory Book review – Managing Brands (kimtasso.com).

Focussing on client needs to differentiate was covered in April 2023 Pitch points from a pitching and tendering training workshop (kimtasso.com) and positioning arose in May 2022 Five Spice Girl lessons from a pitching workshop (May 2022) (kimtasso.com).

There are other ways to differentiate such as through innovation, relationship and service excellence, new product and service development and new delivery platforms.

Value propositions

Knowing how you will differentiate from competitors will be the foundation on which you base your value proposition and a key part of your pitch sales strategy. There’s an introduction to value propositions at: What is a value proposition or USP – and how do I create one? – Kim Tasso and a whole book on value propositions: Malcolm McDonald on value propositions – How to develop them (kimtasso.com)

However, I like the definition from insight selling which is “The collection of reasons why a buyer buys. In essence, the factors that affect their desire to purchase and from whom”. It suggests the three legs of a value proposition are that it must resonate, differentiate and substantiate. It also sees the “salesperson” (our fee-earners) and an insightful sales process as part of the value proposition. Insight selling – building on consultative selling models (kimtasso.com)

If you feel that your relative competitive positioning is weak then you may be bolder and more innovative in your value proposition. Whereas if you are confident that you are in a leading position compared to the competition then you may take a safer and less risky approach.

Sources of competitor information and analysis

Ideally, your firm will have a systematic approach to monitoring competitor activity. This may take place on a periodic basis – for example, in support of your marketing planning cycle. Or it may be something that is done occasionally – for example in support of a rebranding exercise.

Here are some of the popular ways to incorporate competitor analyses within the pitch process.

Business analysts and PSL 

Some firms have dedicated business analysis teams who undertake both ongoing analysis of markets, clients and themes as well as special projects to investigate on a one-off basis.

Some law firms have Professional Support Lawyers (PSL) who collect and collate information about key players in the market.

Commissioned research reports

Various commercial organisations conduct research into major players in a market. Some can be expensive and/or require subscription basis. For example: Strategic Insights – Competitive Legal Intelligence | Legal Solutions UK | Thomson Reuters

Others may offer to undertake one-off analyses into key and emerging competitors to support strategic analysis within a firm. For example, Bespoke Competitor Analysis | Growth Strategy in London | Cognosis

Directory entries

In the legal sector firms and clients may refer to the directories to see how firms compare.

Completing submissions requires firms to set out the cases and transactions that have taken place during the year. They evidence their expertise and profile their leading lawyers and rising stars. They offer clients who can provide references. This information is used by the publishers to interview firms and clients for their views and obtain ratings.

Industry and sector benchmarks and monitoring

Industry associations are a good source of competitor information.

Many firms operate industry or sector groups where knowledge and intelligence from clients and referrers in the sector will be monitored, analysed and converted into usable insights. They will also monitor trade press of the legal, accounting or property sector they are within to pick up key insights about competitors.

There are numerous commercial research agencies who publish industry and sector benchmarks and reports. Often these will contain an analysis of the major players which might include the leading advisors in the segment. For example:

Client satisfaction benchmarks – How do you measure up? (kimtasso.com)

2023 financial benchmarks for law firms (kimtasso.com)

IBISWorld – Industry Market Research, Reports, & Statistics

Professional Services Global Market Report 2023 (researchandmarkets.com)

All Industries Market Research (mintel.com)

Web sites and online reviews

You can glean valuable information by reviewing competitors’ web sites for client testimonials and case studies as well as their online reviews. This is particularly useful to gain insight into firm’s approach to relationship management, service delivery and use of technology and systems.

Referrer and intermediary insights

As part of your referrer and intermediary management programme, you will have regular meetings with them. As they have an external and objective view they are a great source of a different perspective and perceptions of how your firm’s reputation, clients and work compares to your peers.

Social media monitoring

Many firms will monitor the social media posts – primarily on LinkedIn – of their competitors. They might look at the content themes and types of events and the key professionals who are posting regularly. There are some automated tools that will allow you to do this efficiently.

New and former staff (alumni)

New joiners will often be interviewed to glean information about the strategies and relative strengths and weaknesses of their former employers. Some firms operate systems where any member of staff who picks up on competitor intelligence – from networking functions to meetings with clients and referrers – can submit their information to central systems that monitor and summarise the feedback. And firms with an active alumni programme may be regularly exposed to former employees who are working for or with your competitors.

Client listening and research

Most firms will have client listening and research processes. Asking how your firm compares against the other advisors they use will be part of that process. So you need a focus on that research to extract the information about competitors – often in different sectors and across various service lines – to make the information useful in pitching situations.

Some firms will operate occasional research projects – for example as part of a brand review. This may involve asking clients for spontaneous and prompted awareness of which firms spring to mind when they are asked about expertise or service excellence. Clients may also be asked how a firm compares favourably and negatively against competitors. This provides a snapshot of the way the market views competing firms.

Tender and pitch debriefs

Many firms will be systematic in obtaining debrief information from past tenders, pitches and bids. Sometimes clients will share their rankings of yours and your competitors’ efforts. And clients will sometimes comment on how your firm performed against competitors on various criteria including documentation, presentation, added value, innovation and, of course, price. This intelligence will be built into future pitch processes and competitor profiles can be compiled and regularly updated.

Initial client contact and scoping calls

Most firms will ask about competing firms during the initial contact on receipt of a pitch request or as part of any scoping calls or meetings. Clients will obviously vary in the amount of information they are willing to share in advance of a major pitch.

Scenario analysis

Sometimes you don’t know who you are pitching against. Or maybe you only know one of your competitors – for example, the incumbent. In those circumstances you can take a best guess (typically clients will want to compare – the largest or leading player, a mid-size firm, perhaps a specialist boutique and perhaps an outlier) and compare your approach to what you understand others might do. Clients are unlikely to invite people to tender who don’t have the required level of expertise so focus on other aspects of the proposition.

You might allocate different competitor roles to members of the pitch team (or those in the same departments) to consider what they might say and how they might say it – and compare this to your submission.

Watch lists

Some firms establish watch lists to monitor the activity of their major competitors. Simple tools like Google Alerts to keep you informed of new mentions which will signal key campaigns or content themes they are pursuing.

Competitor Analysis Report Crisp & Co vs Slater and Gordon | Murray Dare This is a detailed competitor analysis illustration – focusing on digital marketing of law firms Slater and Gordon and Crisp & Co.

Competitor analysis tools

A competitor analysis might contain the following steps:

  1. Identify your competitors
  2. Analyse their values, proposition/messages, product/services, pricing and marketing techniques
  3. Analyse their online presence
  4. Identify their strengths and weaknesses
  5. Identify points of parity and difference
  6. Rank your firm against your competition

HubSpot provides a series of templates for competitive analysis – albeit with a focus on digital marketing What’s a Competitive Analysis & How Do You Conduct One? (hubspot.com)

There are many tools to assist with competitor analysis in marketing and business development theory. For example:

Porter’s Five Forces – Here’s an introduction of how this model could be applied to law firms The Five Forces: A different way of looking at your firm’s practice (thomsonreuters.com). Porter also argued that there were only a few generic competitive strategies – either differentiation or cost leadership and either broad or focused market choices.

Comparison matrix – You can identify the main client-specified factors against which firms can be compared and gather data about the strength of each factor for each competitor. This provides an overall comparison of competitors against a limited number of factors. This is particularly valuable when considering a specific market or service line or pitch.

VRIO – Although this is usually applied to analyse an organisation’s internal resources, it implies a comparison with competitors. VRIO Framework Explained – SM Insight (strategicmanagementinsight.com)

Perceptual map – Firms often compete on a limited number of factors such as their global reach compared to local knowledge, their focus on client needs and solutions (commercial pragmatism) or their technical excellence. Other factors might include traditional vs innovative, high vs low value, broad or niche market.  The perceptual map is a frequently used technique for positioning. Understanding perceptual maps (segmentationstudyguide.com) or How To Create A Perceptual Map Of Your Brand’s Competitors (getlucidity.com)

Red and blue oceans – Compare competitor positions and identify markets and service areas where there is little or no competition Blue ocean strategy for professional service firms (kimtasso.com). This is similar to a gap analysis – what opportunities exist in the market that no one is serving?

SWOT – Looking at the strengths and weaknesses and how these translate into opportunities and threats for each competitor. This article guides a SWOT analysis for an accounting firm How to conduct a SWOT analysis of an accounting firm | Countingup. And this article shares a SWOT analysis for Deloitte Deloitte SWOT Analysis – The Strategy Story. This can be supplemented with a TOWS analysis to identify and prioritise the actions How To Do A TOWS Analysis | Lucidity (getlucidity.com)

Case study – Pitching at Wrigleys lawyers

In the May/June 2023 edition of PM Magazine, the head of business development and events at Wrigleys solicitors in the North of England talked about the firm’s pitch process. Key insights included:

  • 60% win rate in tenders developed over the past three years
  • Fee-earners use a decision matrix to help them decide whether to pitch
  • The introduction of a “chance of success” core has had a significant impact
  • The firm has developed deep and precise specialisms to “mine the niche” (for example, heritage railways)
  • Focus remains on the teams rather than the overall firm
  • A BD Champions group – a forum of fee-earners below partner level

Case study – Pitching at Kreston Global accountants

In the March/April 2023 edition of PM Magazine. There are 165 member firms of this network which is ranked 13th in the International Accounting Bulleting 2022 rankings of the largest networks. Pitching work includes:

  • Developed global tools and templates and is testing them in the field in the Bahamas
  • Working with African firms on what is a good pitch, how to win and how to work together if three or four firms are jointly proposing
  • Access to marketing support through a Kreston Business Connections Academy offering business development, leadership and other training courses

Key pitching takeaways for the delegates

  • It is vital to think about how you differentiate your firm. A huge amount of feedback tells you that the pitch was great and you lost/won on fine margins. It gives the impression that although they are of high quality, tender responses are often very similar
  • Getting buy-in to the Go/No Go process by using top-down support – get senior partners on board and they can model its use
  • Explore automating Go/No go process and other automating techniques
  • Establish/tighten bid/no bid process, as well as ensuring it is carried out rather than the fluid process currently in place
  • Take a more strategic approach to go/no go decisions
  • Spend more time on competitor analysis when pitching
  • Engage with fee-earners on client specific requirements
  • Review pitch decks to ensure they align with client needs
  • Less a presentation of facts and more persuasion
  • Think about making the structure and content within the pitch more engaging i.e. use of storytelling
  • Review existing standard proposal text to ensure it is more ‘you’ than ‘we’
  • Structure pitches to focus on the client
  • Do more research on the client before writing the proposals and make sure we are focusing more on their needs rather than what we have done – how can we link this to how it specifically benefits them
  • Get more involved in the second round/pitch preparations with the partners not just the document stage
  • Ensure pitch content is regularly updated and relevant to each individual pitch
  • Use of storytelling to convey information, not just ‘about us’ and ‘what we do’.

Delegate poll results

Delegates find it useful to compare and benchmark their responses with other delegates.

How much of your time is spent on pitches and tenders?

  • 12% – Less than 25%
  • 12% – 25-50%
  • 29% – 50-75%
  • 47% – Over 75%

How much experience do you have on pitching/bidding/tendering compared to your sales experience?

Experience Pitching, bidding, tendering Sales
1 13% 12%
2 6% 18%
3 13% 18%
4 0 35%
5 6% 6%
6 6% 0
7 25% 6%
8 19% 6%
9 6% 0
10 6% 0

 

Are your pitches and tenders:

  • 0% Mostly from existing clients
  • 29% Mostly from new clients
  • 71% A mixture

Is your role primarily:

  • 0% Part of the sales team (client facing)
  • 6% Strategic support
  • 65% Content development
  • 24% Process support
  • 0 Information/administrative support
  • 6% Something else

Which pitch/tender metrics do you use?

  • 88% Volume of pitches received/submitted/won
  • 76% Value of pitches received/submitted/won
  • 59% Analysis by department/service/sector/territory
  • 53% Conversion rate
  • 35% Profitability of pitches won
  • 35% Client rankings of pitch submission
  • 24% Fee-earner and M&BD time on pitches
  • 6% Other

Do you have a policy/system for agreeing which pitches to accept?

  • 41% Yes
  • 12% No
  • 47% Sort of – but it’s rarely observed in practice

How much research do YOU do to support a pitch?

  • 6% None
  • 53% An hour or so (mostly internal systems)
  • 29% Between two to four hours (including external research)
  • 6% Over five hours
  • 6% Other

How many people are usually involved in your pitch teams?

  • 6% Just one
  • 38% Two or three
  • 44% Around five
  • 13% More than five

How often do you conduct a structured competitor analysis when preparing a pitch?

  • 0% Always
  • 38% Sometimes
  • 63% Never

Which do you think is the MOST important factor when writing a pitch document?

  • 7% Accurate information
  • 60% Focus on the reader’s interest
  • 27% Clarity
  • 7% Other
  • 0% (correct spelling and grammar, brevity, voice/brand/Plain English/avoid jargon)

How long are most of your pitch presentations?

  • 56% Around an hour
  • 19% From one to two hours
  • 25% It varies from client to client

How much time do you spend planning pitch presentations?

  • 19% We don’t plan presentations – we just produce them
  • 25% Up to an hour
  • 44% One to three hours
  • 13% We spend more time refining the presentation once its produced

Two to four hours for the tender but much less for the pitch

It varies between public and private sector pitches

How often do you help with rehearsals?

  • 13% always – every time
  • 31% On the largest/most important pitches
  • 25% Only when requested
  • 19% Rarely
  • 13% Never

“We especially practise the links between presenters – it really helps with nerves and anxiety”

Do you think your personality is mostly: Adapting to dog, cat and bear personalities – Better business relationships (kimtasso.com)

  • 44% Dog
  • 50% Cat
  • 6% Bear

Do you make post-pitch debrief calls to clients?

  • 41% Yes – sometimes
  • 6% Rarely
  • 41% Someone else does it
  • 12% Never- we don’t do this as a firm

Time spent in breakout sessions:

  • 69% About right
  • 23% Too short
  • 8% Too long

How would you rate this session overall?

  • 42% Excellent
  • 58% Good