Ten top tips for winning pitches

By Kevin Wheeler

Nearly 20 years ago when I moved across to the legal sector from the accountancy world,one of the biggest shocks I received was the lack of sophistication in law firm pitching.

In the highly competitive world of audit tenders, the big accountancy firms had become masters of the pitch process. They invested huge sums of both time and cash in responding to invitations to tender (ITTs) which could result in audit appointments worth tens of millions over the 20-year life span of the average audit. Extensive scoping meetings with the prospective client, in-depth research into the prospective client’s business and industry, detailed formulation of the firm’s winning proposition, and bespoke, often printed (before the days of cheap colour laser printing), glossy, easy-to-read pitch documents were the norm.

By contrast, the law firms were still producing long, wordy letters which did little beyond listing the firm’s services, providing the CVs (often long and not tailored to the client’s needs) of the lawyers who would be on the client’s team, a list of relevant deals or cases, and a table of hourly rates.

Fast forward to today and little appears to have changed. New analysis by The Lawyer finds in-house counsel slamming the performance of law firms in panel reviews. At a time when corporates are reducing and consolidating the number of places available on their panels and leading in-house counsel are pressing for enhanced services and keener fee deals, law firms are eliciting a litany of complaints including:

  • Complacency among existing panel firms who feel that they will just be re-appointed.
  • Pitch teams who appear not to know the contents of their own pitch documents.
  • Laziness in not researching the client’s business and thinking about their needs.
  • Boring the client in pitches and not knowing when to shut up and listen.
  • Not answering the questions posed in the ITT and answering their own instead.
  • Inclusion of lots of “boilerplate” which makes it difficult to wade through pitch documents to find the answers needed.
  • Firms not being open and honest about their weaknesses.
  • Firms relying on their supposed reputations and positions in the various legal directories.

For those law firms that want to improve their success rate in panel reviews or pitches/tenders more generally, I would recommend doing the following: 

  1. Don’t go for all the tenders that you are invited to participate in. Be realistic about what you can win. When new business opportunities are thin on the ground it is tempting to go for everything, but tenders take up an enormous amount of time and losing is demoralising for those partners and staff involved. Develop a set of firm wide criteria for deciding whether to accept an ITT and stick to these unless there are exceptional reasons for doing otherwise. 
  2. Pick the most appropriate partner to lead your team. This will be down to their experience, industry knowledge, contacts with the organisation, personality, leadership qualities, and availability. 
  3. Get the balance of your team right – not only between the different practice areas, but also between partners and associates. Remember, clients want to see those who will be doing the work, both in tender documents and presentations. 
  4. Research the organisation and its requirements thoroughly. Try to set up a scoping meeting (or a phone call) with the organisation if possible. If you ask, at worst they can only say “no”. 
  5. Develop a winning proposition: identify how your firm can meet the organisation’s needs better than the firms you are competing against. This requires considerable input from the partners and a lot of research into the client’s business and industry. As a result, lots of firms cut corners at this stage and dramatically reduce their chances of success. 
  6. Don’t waste too much time on the tender document – these documents on their own are never enough to secure success. Make sure your document focuses on the client and their needs and how your firm can meet these. Tailor everything, especially CVs and experience, and avoid generic boilerplate. 
  7. Devote sufficient time to preparing for and rehearsing the presentation – this is the most important stage of the selection process as it allows the organisation to interact with the firm’s team and to observe how they perform. 
  8. Structure the presentation so that all team members contribute, with the team leader making the introductions, handling the changeovers, summarising at the end, and directing questions to the most appropriate team members. 
  9. Avoid PowerPoint presentations and speaking from scripts, but do distribute hand-outs so that people can follow your team’s presentation.
  10. Organise a debrief with the organisation to understand why the tender was won or lost – you can capitalise on this feedback to win future tenders. 
Filed Under: Practice of Law

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