The beautiful ones (law firm responses to tenders)

13 12 2010

Aware that often the third part of a trilogy can be a disappointment (think Return of the Jedi….) I want to finish my musings on how law firms respond to tenders on a high. In the previous two posts (here and here) I’ve looked at some of the mistakes I’ve seen when evaluating law firm responses to RFPs (requests for proposals), now it’s time to celebrate some of the goodness!

Inspiration for the tender design was taken seriously at Scratchit & Co

When I think back to those responses that have really impressed evaluation panels (and not just me), I think the key word is “relevance”. The more effort the law firm puts into the document or presentation, in terms of tailoring it for the prospect’s specific needs, the stronger the submission.

The challenge for me is to give examples without giving away any trade secrets. So here goes.

One project that I put out to tender five years ago spanned around 15 European countries. The firm who won the project submitted a tremendous document that had a huge amount of material that really created value for our organisation. It had points for us to think about both for the project as a whole and for each country in the project scope.

This did two things. Firstly it showed that the law firm had experience of the areas of law we needed help with, in these particular countries. Secondly it give us a “heads up” of things we should be aware of, even if we didn’t select the law firm in question.

The other thing that the winning law firm did on that pitch, was make sure that all examples of experience were relevant (even down to tailoring CVs). The amount of responses I’ve seen where standard blocks of text and vanilla CVs have been appended on the back is huge, so when a firm goes to the trouble of really thinking about what the prospect organisation wants, it stands out a mile.

I’ve seen a similar approach taken at presentation stage. At a pitch I ran for financial services legal support, the winning firm gave a virtuoso presentation. The lead partner had asked some great questions early in the process, and had clearly spent significant time thinking about the issues we would face, and how best to deal with them. Rather that the presentation being a verbal version of the paper RFP response (which often happens, with firms taking the opportunity to spend an hour using extensive powerpoint to tell the prospect how good they are) the partner and his team took the evaluation panel through a mini-workshop, illustrating  points with war stories and other relevant examples.

We came out of the presentation with a much better understanding of the project, a good rapport with the law firm, and a clear action plan if we chose to work with that firm (we did).

Another area where firms can distinguish themselves is in the presentation of the document. I’ve seen a wide variety of creative approaches, from mocking-up a trade publication, through using corporate colours and imagery, to just some really nice, clear presentation (I respectfully refer people once again to Impact by Jon Moon and Presentation Zen Design by Gary Reynolds). Of course presentation is superficial, but it does make a difference, particularly if it makes the content easy to digest. It’s also another area where law firms can demonstrate they have thought about the particular client, rather than just plugged the information into the tender-team sausage factory.

So, it’s relevant, it adds value and it looks great?

Go forth and win!





Smarter business development?

16 08 2010

One of my former commercial colleagues from corporate life was telling me the other day about an analysis they did of their business development spend. A huge proportion of their annual budget went into the team that responded to RFPs (requests for proposals) and yet their win rate for these opportunities was actually very low. The big deals came from existing clients, or through a network of trusted contacts and third parties that would allow the company to get visibility of the opportunity way before it went out to tender. Often, if the company could then show they could help the prospective client and had a strong value proposition for doing so, the buyer would see no need to go out to the market. If a tender was required, the company had often helped write the RFP or at the very least shaped the client’s thinking so the company was well positioned to win.

The chances of winning the work didn't look good

This then made me think about how much time lawyers spend being corralled into business development activity that is sub-optimal in terms of cost/benefit. In my experience, this plagues all stages of a lawyer’s career. From the trainee or newly qualified lawyer, forced to help compile a newsletter that goes out to a huge database of clients and prospects, but that very few people ever read (and let alone instruct the firm directly as a result)  to the specialist senior associate wheeled out in a pitch meeting to show expertise in an area that is really only on the periphery of the client’s needs, through to the partner spending  hours frantically pulling together a pitch document for a tender the firm has little realistic chance of winning. Surely there must be a better way?

What are the activities that really drive results when it comes to business development? Sadly law firms often lack the management information that help them make informed decisions in this area, and it may be necessary for individuals lawyers to think about this at an individual level.

While I don’t think there is a one-size fits all model, there are certainly lessons I can share from my own career, both as a buyer or seller of legal services. Written communications can have benefit depending on not just who they reach and how interesting they are to the audience, but what type of communication they are and how they are followed up. For example, while at a national firm I spent many hours writing a series of white papers on information security law topics. Making these freely available for download on the firm’s website would have limited value in my opinion, but working with our strategic partners to make hard copy versions a valuable “take away” from joint events, and using requests for electronic copies as a way of starting a sales dialogue to uncover prospect needs seemed to work well. Seminars were always great for increasing visibility in the markets, positioning my practice and making contacts, but it wasn’t until one of my business development mentors showed me how to take the contacts and add them to a sales pipeline that I really began to see tangible results from the activity.

Speaking as both buyer and seller, I’ve had some of my best business development results through investments in relationships. Whether it was strategic partnerships, solid account management, or the development of a personal relationship with a prospective client or intermediary, all have delivered in the end.  My personal learning from these situations is that the results have usually spun out of a genuine desire to learn about, and help, the other party in the relationship. It might sound idealistic or too altruistic, but it has certainly been true for me. By contrast many of the time-vacuums I mentioned early (newsletter editing, being dragged into pitches) often lack that personal connection and the ability to really understand the potential client’s needs.

Look at your diary over the next month: what are your business development commitments? Will that be time well spent? What are the items that are not in your diary but that are likely to appear at the last minute? What’s missing from your diary? Which key client or influencer should you be re-connecting with? Give them a call, and get some good karma by helping them solve a problem….