Selling – The vital role of research in the pitch process

Posted on: October 14, 2016
Research in the pitch process

At a recent PM Forum training session “Helping your fee-earners prepare the perfect pitch” (http://www.pmforum.co.uk/training/) we focused on how research is a vital to pitch success – both for marketing and business development professionals to add value to the pitch process and to develop differentiating and compelling value propositions for the client.

At the start of the session, we considered the primary issues of the delegates from legal, accountancy, actuarial, consultancy and property firms. These were:

  • The role of marketing/BD in pitching
  • Differentiation
  • Pricing
  • Pitch processes
  • Time management (both for marketing/business development and fee-earners)
  • Content development (writing) and management

During the session, we realised that research has a major impact in all of these areas.

Research to enhance the role and contribution of marketing/business development

For some in the professions, their role in the pitch process can be reduced to reactively drafting and editing pitch documents and applying branding and graphics to enhance visual appearance.

Some firms have dedicated business analysis or research teams. The marketing/BD team can help to brief research specialists on what information on individuals and organisations should be obtained before a pitch project starts. Where there is no research team, the marketing/BD team will need to undertake the research.

The marketing/BD team can also get involved with reading the research information to brief the pitch team and identify critical implied needs in the client organisation.

Research at different stages of the pitch process

The type of research needed to support a pitch varies depending on which stage of the pitch process. For example, there is information needed before accepting an invitation to pitch or tender. Different information is required before calling the client with questions to obtain background and clarify the requirements. Different information might be needed in advance of a scoping meeting or to assess the competitive position and confirm the relevance of the business issues and solutions identified.

Marketing/BD can provide a valuable bridge between the internal and external research teams and the fee-earners leading the pitch. Creating briefs and templates for different types of pitch packs is a valuable activity for marketing/BD folk.

Preparing pitch packs

Within a pitch pack there might be information from:

  • Internal sources of information including the firm’s systems (finance/accounts, practice/case management, CRM, know-how, event/webinar attendees, web analytics etc)
  • Tacit knowledge in the heads of fee-earners across different offices and departments
  • Established internal centres of excellence in sector groups or know-how in key client teams (see: http://kimtasso1.wpengine.com/integrated-marketing-joined-sector-kam-cem-programmes/)
  • Publically available benchmarks and sector/issues research as well as Government and official statistics
  • External sources might include Companies House, commercial proprietary business services, trade and technical media, client web sites, sector newsfeeds, trade organisations and social media (particularly important in social selling).

Interpreting pitch packs

Gathering the information is one activity. Analysing the information to leverage it as a resource to guide the pitch team in meetings and develop a compelling value proposition for the client is a separate activity requiring different skills. Typically, those who do this would need to have a blend of sales skills and commercial acumen – hopefully something that the marketing/BD team can bring to the party.

A useful service provided by some marketers/BD people is to review the research pitch pack and prepare a summary sheet identifying the relevant issues and starting to frame how they may be addressed in the pitch.

Unfortunately, many fee-earners remain untrained in selling skills which means that they mistakenly think that pitching is all about explaining what services they provide and how. They may not know how to translate research findings into insight to drive the sales or pitch process. This is one of my concerns about automated pitch systems – they can end up simply churning out standard boilerplate material into smart looking documents or presentations.

Where fee-earners are trained in ales techniques they understand the importance of research to inform the early stages of the client contact and also to direct their commercial conversations with clients to glean the sort of inside information on the real issues that can allow them to craft a really compelling and differentiating proposition.

Senior marketing and business development people can really help fee-earners acquire these skills through coaching – if they have access to good research, a reasonable knowledge of the services and technical skills of their pitch team and the needs of the client.

Using pitch packs to create differentiating and innovative solutions

As well as helping all members of the pitch team get up to speed on the individuals, organisation, the sector and commercial issues, the marketing/BD team can provide a useful support in organising and facilitating quick brainstorming sessions where the key findings of the research are discussed by the team to identify how they can inform and shape the sales and pricing strategy of the pitch.

Research for innovation and differentiation

One of the key challenges when pitching is how to differentiate your firm. Whilst some have success focusing on their brand, innovative products and services such as on-line or app based delivery, others struggle to stand out from the pack.

Using the research to look at the client and its needs more broadly – and in commercial terms – can help you identify issues that go beyond the immediate technical needs and find a way to bring additional value to the client. This can be through innovation in the services to be delivered, the management of the relationship, the pricing, the reporting relationship or addressing concerns beyond the narrow confines of the professional services being pitched. Finding and addressing additional issues and providing insight into their resolution can be the differentiating factor.

Using debrief research

Where marketing and BD folk are often excluded from front-line client activity – including attending pitch presentations – they can play a valuable role in contacting the client after a pitch to obtain feedback.

As well as providing insight to the specific pitch team, this information can be consolidated and tracked over time to inform future pitches and tenders and to improve the pitch process. Offering insights from past tenders can often overcome the credibility gap that fee-earners perceive in marketing and business development folk. Furthermore, suggestions based on past performance are more likely to be accepted than those which are considered from solely a marketing/BD perspective.

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