Article by John Timperley, managing director of The Results Consultancy
Despite the continuing economic turbulence, pitches for new business and panel reviews haven’t diminished for many professional services firms.
Invitations to tender remain as frequent as ever as clients seek to review their professional services expenditure and weed out those firms that are not delivering value.
Given the time and energy required for each tender, firms can easily burn a hole in their profitability when it comes to this form of client acquisition. So what trends are happening in today’s pitches and what does it take to win in today’s highly competitive situations?
How do you minimise the expense of pitching so, when you win a client, the celebration isn’t dampened by the cost of the acquisition?
Eight pitching approaches that win work
1 Being more selective
The time and effort needed to deliver a winning response to an invitation to tender (ITT) is prompting a number of firms to (rightly) become more selective about the pitches go for. A quality over quantity mind-set is certainly helping them protect their profitability levels. We have seen firms using a number of evaluation tools and models to make the ‘go vs no go’ decision to an invitation to tender. If your firm hasn’t got one of these, it is important to devise one to avoid wasting valuable fee-earner time and effort in the long-run. The selection or evaluation criteria for the invitation need not be complex.
2 Having a plan
The deadline for a response in an ITT or request for proposal (RFP) often prompts firms to rush into formulating their response without proper thought and planning. You do need to invest time to understand what the ITT or RFP is asking, the client’s rationale for this pitch and what you need to demonstrate to win this opportunity.
3 Jumping the ‘chemistry’ and ‘why us’ hurdles
Teams lose pitches because they fail to demonstrate they are better than the client’s existing advisers, and others competing, and they fail to properly emphasise the benefits they will bring. As part of your planning, consider which of your people have the best ‘fit’ for this client’s decision-makers? Think in terms of your colleagues’ experience, knowledge and personalities. Who is best suited to achieve the results the client is seeking and who has the best sector knowledge and insight for them? It’s not just about professional credentials though – you need to have got the relationship chemistry and rapport right too these days. Creds + Chemistry are a work-winning combination.
In devising the pitch team, it also pays to plan how you will build the relationship with this client in the time you have available and how your firm will demonstrate its understanding, experience, insight and enthusiasm. What proof points do you need to deliver to convince the client that you are the firm for the job? Also, what pricing approach will show your proposal represents commercial value?
4 Get a pre-pitch scoping call or meeting where you can
We still see lots of examples of professionals showing reluctance to engage with the potential client through ‘scoping’ calls or meetings. This prevents them from finding out the real drivers behind the pitch and asking intelligent questions about the process, the client’s preferences and views etc. Of course there are situations where such contact is forbidden. There are, however, many others where a potential client would welcome this communication. It shows you are interested, it avoids you making assumptions and it helps to build relationships even before you submit a document or turn up to present to the client. Get the scoping right and you could set yourself up to win the work through the relationship you have built in this interaction.
5 Write proposal documents that resonate with each decision-maker
Another trend we have observed is that the range and quality of pitch response documents is increasing. Whilst it’s good to be creative, it is important to demonstrate that know your client, so that you don’t make incorrect assumptions and misalign with their view. In asking about their preferences, also explore which firms they’ve invited to pitch. This will guide you on the volume of documents the client will be wading through and the competition you face.
If your document’s recipients are likely to be short of time, cater for the ‘skim-read’ by making sure your key messages and points of differentiation are clearly visible. Creating an impressive professional document that resonates with the client’s requirements and tastes will certainly work in your favour.
6 Avoid the lecture-style presentation... it rarely works these days
When it comes to pitch presentations clients complain that they are tired of the old formulas - especially the presentation-style approach with boring PowerPoint or text-heavy handouts used as a basis for sharing information. Instead they want a more interactive and dynamic experience. They want to discuss the potential adviser’s ideas and explore their views. Most importantly they tell us that they want to observe the team’s chemistry, energy, interest in their business and the project at hand.
Where you can, check what the client would like from the pitch presentation and the time they’ve allocated to you. Use every minute you have been given to demonstrate your interest in the project and to impress them that you have the ideas, knowledge and track-record for the task (think case studies, project plans, examples and insights).
7 Rehearse – but in a very specific way
No presentation runs smoothly first time around so it is sensible to build in some rehearsal time to enable you to fine-tune any areas that are less strong or off message. Remember, the client will be evaluating how well you perform as a team and will expect to see each team member making an impressive/interesting contribution to the discussion. This only comes with discussion and ‘saying the words’, so devote time to allocating specific ‘topic’ points to each of the team, practise smooth ‘hand-overs’ and decide who will answer which potential question. This last point is vital if you don’t want to be caught out by a specific question or concern. An equally important and often overlooked point is to consider – in advance – the questions you will ask the client that will stimulate dialogue and, at the same time, showcase your knowledge of the issues. It’s a work-winning formula.
8 Consider your competitors…especially in relation to fees
It’s not always possible to find out who you are competing against, but where you can it is BIG factor to consider in your pitch planning. Consider what advantages or weaknesses each competitor has in relation to your submission. What pricing rates and options might they offer? If you can’t compete directly on price what added value might be attractive to offer the client in this situation?
A final note…
Few professionals love pitching but for many it is a necessary gateway to high value or even regular work. Those who are experienced enough will have the battle scars of late nights, stress, last minute changes, less than perfect information… the list could go on. These days pitching isn’t the province of amateurs or the role of those partners who happen to have more time on their hands. To win in the current ultra-competitive environment you need to have the best people pitching and to employ best practice pitch processes.
*John Timperley is managing director of The Results Consultancy, which specialises in helping professional firms in the legal, accounting and consulting sectors to win more high value business. Timperley can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org www.winningbusiness.net