The way to win is in another’s shoes

Matthew Solon provides a ten-point checklist to ensure you go into a client pitch armed to the teeth

It is 8am, and the chief executive officer (CEO) of a medium-sized company has come to work early to focus. At noon today he will chair a meeting to decide the future of the company. There are three documents in front of him.

One is a strategy paper that puts forward the business case for a major acquisition. There is also a report from the head of procurement on driving down costs. Finally, a shortlist of law firms. If the board signs off the acquisition strategy, the CEO will instruct one of these firms.

So here it is – the source of the Nile. Or at least a tributary feeding into the mighty river of fees charged by UK law firms. Your firm is on the CEO’s shortlist. Your challenge is to ensure this particular flow of life-giving water comes your way.

Here is the first thing you need: empathy (it derives from the Greek for passion). It is at the heart of all successful pitching, business development, selling and client management. In terms of winning a tender, empathy means an intelligent, sensitive and informed ability to put yourself into your client’s shoes and to understand what the world looks and feels like from where the client stands.

Success depends on your ability to focus on the totality of the client’s agenda. High up that agenda is a rigorous approach to procurement and costs, of which lawyers need to have a clear understanding. Clients are applying this rigour in their own organisations. Their own customers or clients are unwilling to accept any increase in what they pay for goods and services. Every budget holder has to demonstrate that the money they spend delivers best value to the business. It is perfectly legitimate for clients to apply the same rigour to the purchase of professional services that they bring to paying for facilities management or office supplies.

When teams work on tenders they should consider a whole range of different success criteria, including the bid process, the proposal document and the pitch presentation. But for the purposes of this article the focus is on just one area: understanding your client.

Here is a 10-point checklist of things to get right:1. Immerse yourself in the world of your client. What are the pressures and trends in its sector?2. Get face to face. Pitching to strangers is hard.3. Show the client you understand the importance of what it is doing.4. Empathy for the individual client. What will be the impact on the careers of the client’s representatives if this deal is a success or a failure?5. Think value, not fees. Are you an unavoidable expense or a vital contributor of value? Be ready to explain about how your fees enable you to deliver that value.6. Think benefits, not features. How will you reduce the client’s risks, maximise the return and ensure this deal delivers tangible benefits?7. At the end of the meeting, summarise what you are going to do. More importantly, summarise what the client is seeking to achieve in business, commercial and finance – not just in legal terms.8. Be exemplary in the bid process. Model in your behaviour the standards of responsiveness, commercial awareness, intelligence and skill that the client can expect if it instructs you.9. Provide evidence of your approach to working efficiently and effectively.10. Get onside with the client. Prove you have its best interests at heart. Be an active, committed, can-do ally, and not an aloof dispenser of legal wisdom.

Matthew Solon is director of learning and development at JSB Training and Development