Seven pitching themes – specialisation, engagement, research, content, differentiation, project management and virtual presence (May 2021)

This article was written for the delegates at a recent pitching workshop organised by the PM Forum  as a summary to supplement the other course materials they received. There were seven pitching themes – specialisation, engagement, research, content, differentiation, project management and virtual presence.

1. Increasing specialisation

Many marketing and BD (M&BD) professionals have a broad role and pitching and tendering is just one element of what they do. Yet there are others whose role is more specialist where they devote most of their time to pitching and tendering. They operate as a separate team within M&BD.

This raises interesting questions about how we integrate a firm’s brand, positioning and strategic messaging into individual sales and pitching situations.

Some roles are even more specialist – focusing, for example, on just the largest bids, the research element or preparing the content and presentation of bid and pitch documents. Others devote their time to providing sales and presentation coaching to fee-earners. Others have roles that focus on managing the pitch processes – and supporting the relevant policies and information systems – in their firms.

I wrote an article in November 2020 reporting on an event where Savills explained how it streamlined its pitching and tendering team and processes. A key idea is for M&BD teams to work on less pitches but to do more for those that they do work on. A case of doing less and achieving more.

2. Engaging fee-earners

Most delegates reported challenges in gaining fee-earner engagement in pitches. Sometimes the challenge was to find someone to step up and take the lead and responsibility for a major pitch. Admittedly a challenging role in a large, complex global firm where a lot of internal co-ordination is needed – and across time zones and geographical locations. On a more basic level, there are challenges in persuading individuals to contribute the right content in the right format at the right time. And ensuring it’s joined up and consistent.

There are also challenges in explaining why it was necessary to invest time in researching the client’s needs carefully. And then further time in tailoring the content to meet those specific client needs rather than relying on old “boilerplate” material. Using standard materials becomes more of a temptation as we have more automation to store and extract old content and less time to devote to understanding the specific needs of each client.

Fee-earners finding time to prepare and rehearse pitch presentations was also a challenge.

“It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” (attributed to Woodrow Wilson)

3. Interpreting research

Most firms conduct research as part of the pitching and tendering process. Sophisticated firms may have dedicated research and analysis teams for this purpose. Other firms invest in elaborate online systems to generate company and sector information at the touch of a button.

However, there is sometimes a lack of time or skills to interrogate the research and identity the nuggets of insight that you can use to tailor your proposition and messaging. Having the research is one thing – knowing how to use it is another. Without basic sales training, there may be insufficient understanding of how to use the information as part of the sales and pitching process.

Some firms are smart enough to use the research to shape scoping meetings and early client contact. Using their research findings to further probe the client’s needs and perhaps take the pitch discussion into different directions that other competitors miss.

4. Balancing content

We know that pitch content has to be focused on the client’s interests – rather than presented from the firm’s point of view.

But there is a careful balancing act between keeping content brief and concise and having enough information to allow the firm’s voice and approach to shine through. This also relates to how fee-earners introduce themselves to clients at scoping meetings and at pitch presentations.

Using more visual content – for example, diagrams and video – is a possible approach but not everyone appreciates this style. And in some tendering situations we are forced to present information within the constraints set by the client in terms of format and word counts.

Engagement and persuasion is often about HOW information is presented rather than WHAT information is presented. The important distinction between content and delivery.

5. Differentiation is difficult

A common issue is differentiation. Pitching and tendering processes are often designed by clients to ensure that all those submitting pitches or tenders are doing so the same way. It makes it easy for the client to compare submissions.

Yet a key aim for those pitching is to make their submissions, presentations and messages stand out. To differentiate you from the competition.

Many firms spend insufficient time developing persuasive sales strategies and value propositions (there’s a great book on value propositions by Malcolm McDonald). Propositions that focus on the client’s known and unknown needs AND position the firm as the best option to undertake the work.

Too many firms list the same “value added” options such as regular updates, CPD training, helplines, international networks and secondments. Firms need to work harder at being creative. To identify unusual ways to really add value to the clients – without shaving off all of the margins. I mentioned some examples I had seen. For example, offering a co-working space in central London for international clients, providing access to the technology and know-how teams to help clients develop their own infrastructure and a firm that loaned their PR agency to assist with the internal profile of the inhouse legal department.

6. Project management

Many M&BD professionals are tasked with drawing up a project plan and timetable for ensuring that the firm develops and submits pitches and tenders on time. But producing a project plan is the easy part – ensuring that everyone plays their part and adheres to the schedule is the challenge.

Sadly, there are still some firms who only look to the M&BD team to “pretty things up” – handing over documents at the 11th hour for cosmetic changes to its design and layout. Sow’s ears and silk purses come to mind.

7. Virtual presence demands new skills

We reviewed some information about the challenges of virtual pitching – the impact on the relationship, presentation and interaction. There are pros and cons of virtual pitches from both the client and the firms’ perspectives.

Virtual presence and selling in the digital space are key priorities for skills development. This book on digital body language is really useful.

Polls during the session

We ran several polls during the session.

Experience/training in pitching and selling: 

Rating Pitching Selling
1 33%
3 17% 17%
4 17% 17%
5 17% 8%
6 25%
8 8% 8%
9 8% 8%
10 8% 8%

 I find it interesting to see the relatively low levels of sales training and experience considering that this is a major aspect of supporting fee-earners in pitching and tendering.

 Time spent on pitches:

  • 42% said they spent 25% to 50% of their time on pitching
  • 25% said over 75%
  • 17% said less than 25%

 Pitch metrics used:

  • 73% volume of pitches received/submitted/won
  • 9% value of pitches received/submitted/won
  • 9% none
  • 9% other (profitability of pitches)

Source of pitches:

  • 75% of mixture of existing and new clients
  • 17% mostly from new clients
  • 8% mostly from existing clients

Focus of your role:

  • 45% strategic and creative support
  • 45% pitch process support
  • 9% other (a variety of roles)
  • 0% part of sales/pitching team
  • 0% information and administrative support

Does your firm have a policy on which pitches to accept?

  • 50% no
  • 33% yes
  • 17% sort of – but it’s rarely observed in practice

How much research do you do to support a pitch/tender:

  • 55% an hour or so – mostly on internal systems
  • 36% between two to four hours – including external systems
  • 9% over five hours

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

  • 91% Never
  • 9% Always

Most important factor when writing a pitch document:

  • 67% focus on reader’s interests
  • 25% clarity
  • 8% correct spelling and grammar

How many people are usually involved in your pitch teams?

  • 58% two or three
  • 25% more than five
  • 17% around five

Time spent planning pitch presentations:

  • 58% one to two hours
  • 25% we don’t plan presentations – we just produce them
  • 8% up to an hour
  • 8% we spend more time refining the presentation once it is produced

How often do you help with rehearsals?

  • 33% on the largest/most important pitches
  • 25% rarely
  • 25% never
  • 8% always – every time
  • 8% only when requested

On the dogs, cats and bears personality assessment:

  • 83% dogs
  • 17% cats
  • 0% bears

Do you make post-pitch debrief calls to clients?

  • 58% someone else does it
  • 17% rarely
  • 8% yes, always
  • 8% yes, sometimes
  • 8% never – we don’t do this as a firm

Delegate takeaways

At the end of the session, delegates were asked about their key takeaways and/or actions:

  • Produce a pitch project timetable/planner
  • Explore the role of empathy in our pitch process
  • Establish bid/no bid criteria to ensure enough value for the firm
  • Invest more in client research and sector understanding (to gain insight into needs)
  • Ensure we understand the client’s business and aims before pitching
  • Set up a separate sessions to agree our value proposition
  • Link the research on the client and sector through the meetings, document(s) and presentation(s)
  • Differentiation (going to watch the toy soldier video
  • Investigate bid technology and automation systems

Related articles on pitching and tendering

Watch a short video with five key tips on pitching

Perfect pitches – Five key points (Video) Kim Tasso February 2021

Pitch Points – Five thoughts from a pitching and tendering workshop ( January 2021

marketing case study – Transformational change in Savills’ bid processes ( November 2020

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

Winning pitch presentations – tips for competitive tendering ( May 2017

strategic tendering ( Book review May 2017

Selling – research in the pitch process ( October 2016

perfect pitches and tenders in professional services ( October 2015

Pitch development system ( August 2015

Marketing Technology – To automate or not to automate legal pitches? ( July 2014

Helping fee-earners prepare the perfect pitch or tender ( February 2013

Helping fee-earners prepare the perfect pitch – Kim Tasso November 2012

Getting your head around basic selling skills ( November 2011

Selling – The importance of face to face contact on tenders ( December 2010

13 ways to improve your chances of winning a tender – Kim Tasso January 2010