Last week there was a mixture of legal and accounting firms – and M&BD people as well as fee-earners – at the MBL workshop on “Pitch Perfect – How to Prepare & Present Winning Pitches & Tenders”. I’m delighted that this session received 100% on “Very satisfied” ratings for both the overall rating and quality of the speaker. There was also this fabulous comment “Kim had so much in-depth knowledge. I have had seminars like this in the past and none were as insightful as this one”. This article summarises the delegates’ key pitching insights – Qualification, Branding and Following up.
The type and number of invitations to pitch and tender will depend on the effectiveness of a firm’s overall marketing and selling effort. But most agreed that quality (client type, nature of work and value) was more important than quantity. The role of these targeting, generating new business or responding to calls often included filtering opportunities.
To sort the wheat from the time-consuming chaff, most firms had developed qualification processes to ensure a focus on the best opportunities. One delegate commented “We are VERY wary of cold bids, our relationship is a big part of qualification”. Some delegates had central qualification processes whilst others sent invitations out to the relevant teams to assess.
Some of the delegates were lucky enough to have research teams in their firms – so the qualification load was spread. However, commercial and business research skills (as opposed to technical research) were sometimes lacking. And there was a need for someone to go through all the information to identify key issues and potential opportunities – and this took time and skill. See Selling – research in the pitch process (kimtasso.com)
Qualification processes varied significantly – from structured assessment during enquiry handling through detailed discovery telephone calls to time intensive in person scoping meetings. Several data and research support systems were mentioned to assist in this process. Delegates mentioned their increasing reliance on LinkedIn and other social channels to research and reach out to targets and prospects.
There appeared to be more attention being paid to the competition in the qualification process. And also to the client’s weighting of social value and purpose in pitch submissions.
A key element and frequent qualification filter was the ability to have early client contact to:
- Start building rapport and trust
- Obtain early insight into potential needs
- Assess decision criteria and processes
- Obtain additional information to assess the likelihood of success
It was interesting that three quarters of the delegates always seek to talk to the client before preparing their sales proposition and pitch documents. While a third said they only did this when there was a particular reason for doing so.
It was interesting that some delegates actively sought tender opportunities for their firms using a variety of online resources (Public sector contracts alerts and bid writing support | Contracts Advance, Contracts Finder – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) and MarktoMarket | M&A Data & Analytics Platform were mentioned). Although it was noted that the chances of success were higher when there was a prior relationship – and some firms had this as part of their qualification process.
“Sometimes we will go for bids we actually don’t think we will win, but it’s tactical to get our foot in the door with certain companies we would like to develop a relationship in the future”.
Most firms used templates to make compiling pitch and tender documents quick and efficient and preserve branding. But some of the downsides of this approach were discussed.
There was a feeling that often there was too much focus on the words. There was a desire to present information differently – particularly with diagrams, interactive PDFs, video and dedicated web sites. But this involved different skills, resources and time which were not always available.
One exercise had a particularly strong impact on the delegates – looking at the design, layout and images alone. This was seen as a powerful way to communicate a firm’s personality and values. Too often there was a mismatch between what the words said and how they were presented. We compared different professional service brands – where we couldn’t read the copy – and the brand message conveyed was powerful from “formal, wordy, cool” to “personable, approachable, engaging”.
Some commented on the power of pull quotes (a key phrase, quotation or excerpt that has been pulled from an article and used as a page layout graphic element, serving to entice readers into the article or to highlight a key topic) in attracting attention and conveying key messages.
We also explored examples where the client’s language and images were reflected in pitch documents and presentations. This was considered a useful device to convey alignment with the client’s values.
Other techniques for improving visual impact were explored:
- 10 Useful Findings About How People View Websites | CXL (August 2022) relevant findings for pitching (in Western societies) include:
- The top-left corner gets the attention first
- People read in F-patterns
- Visibly bigger introductory paragraphs improve attention
- The left side of the page gets more attention than the right.
- Large, high-quality images are most appealing.
- Dominant headlines draw the eye.
- First impressions form in less than a second.
- What Type of Visual Content Is Most Appealing? (cincopa.com)
- More than half (65%) of us are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network. We are wired to consumer visual content faster and more efficiently than words.
- Relatable images are the top currency in content marketing. From a study done by Skyword, we know that content with relevant images receives 94% more views than content without.
Challenges to branding included the deeply technical nature of some of the content and the increasing use of client portals to strictly control how information is presented.
There was discussion about following up – when you had not heard the outcome or regardless of whether or not you were successful in your tender.
There were questions about how many times to follow up and at what frequency. There were insights here about always adding value to follow up conversations rather than simply repeating the same question. There are also the tactics to shift from a continuance of the conversation to a progression.
The Art of the Sales Follow-Up: 7 Ways to Keep the Conversation Going (hubspot.com) makes a number of points including:
- According to a study by Brevet, 80% of sales require an average of five follow-ups to close the deal. However, 44% of sales reps follow up with a prospect only once before giving up
- 92% of sales reps give up after the 4th call, however 80% of prospects say yes on the 5th interaction
- According to Harvard Business Review, professionals have on average over 200 emails in their inbox at any one time
- Daily is to frequent and monthly not often enough – so opt for weekly – but understand your client’s time frame
- Send one final ‘break up’ email before you stop contacting the prospect
There are other thoughts here: Practical sales tips: Reach out and Follow up (kimtasso.com)
Some clients have second thoughts about their choice (when, for example, the fees exceed those discussed at the pitch or the promised service delivery doesn’t materialise) – and this may occur months after the pitching or tendering process. Post-purchase satisfaction would suggest you put in a call a few months after coming second in a tender.
Attention spans Delegates mentioned that the attention spans of some types of client were an issue. Others felt that attention was limited when the focus was on the firm rather than the client’s interests and needs. This article from February 2022 has research on attention spans Are attention spans really collapsing? Data shows UK public are worried – but also see benefits from technology (kcl.ac.uk)
Cognitive bias There was discussion about the impact of the order in which you pitch to clients. If you have a strong proposition it is probably best to go first (primacy effect) as it sets the bar high for subsequent pitches. Whereas if you proposition is weak, you can be bolder in your pitch and go last (recency effect). Clients became more familiar with the content and process as they experienced more pitches and sometimes their priorities changed during the pitch process. They might therefore reassess their requirements and be more demanding on those who pitched later. However, pitching in the middle was the least favourable position. There’s more about cognitive bias here: Book review: Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth (kimtasso.com)
Disconnected M&BD Some of the bid professionals in Marketing and Business Development (M&BD) teams were disconnected from the overall pitching and tendering process. They were simply asked to provide assistance in compiling information for credentials, pitch and tender documents – and were not in the early team meetings where research is reviewed or in the later stages of preparing presentations. This limited their ability to contribute and make an impact.
Interactive content A recent demonstration showed Ceros being used by professional service firms including Goodwin Law, Spencer Stuart and EY for web sites, proposals and presentations.
Non-Verbal Communication (NVC): When discussing the importance of how you say things compared to what you say, we talked about the work on “Honest Signals” by Alex “Sandy” Pentland at MIT. Here is one of his articles: Defend Your Research: We Can Measure the Power of Charisma (hbr.org) There’s an introductory video on Non-Verbal Communication (NVC).
TED style delivery When reflecting on the most powerful presentations, delegates mentioned TED lectures. You can learn more about the TED presentation process here Presentation skills – TED Talks Chris Anderson book review (kimtasso.com)
Writing tools There are numerous tools to help with drafting and content creation and editing. Grammarly was mentioned as well as the Jasper AI writing tool. These and other tools are explored further on my writing courses
Selected poll results
Delegate self-assessments on their pitching and tendering experience ranged from 4-7 and 5-9 on professional selling.
The areas of most interest to the delegates from the entire pitching process were creating pitch/tender documents and delivering presentations.
The delegates were involved in all aspects of the pitching/tendering process but most concentrated at the more strategic end – being part of the sales team, proposition development and content creation.
Two thirds of the delegates draw on specialist copywritng skills either within or external to their firms.
Three quarters felt they were dog personalities, the others were more like cats
When discussing alternatives to pitch or tender documents, one delegate commented: “If we think it’s a big opportunity we sometimes make a website for them or interactive PDF”.
Many who attend client meetings or presentations have no debrief process. Others self-score on a range of issues to calculate the probability of winning.
Other pitching articles
strategic tendering (kimtasso.com) May 2017