Beauty is in the eye of the client

Lawyers need to measure up if they are to be successful at beauty parades, says Kate Fleming

Beauty parades are among the most important methods used by clients to select legal advisers. Many firms have found to their cost that winning work through this competitive process can be expensive and time-consuming if inappropriately managed.

Whether your firm is invited to pitch for new work or is making a speculative approach, the process requires meticulous thought and purpose involving a systematic approach, strategic planning, relationship management and persuasive selling skills.

For lawyers to succeed at tendering target organisations they must set out to develop relationships with key decision-makers long before a pitch. This results in being well positioned with an established competitive advantage by the time the process begins.

The first stage in a successful pitch is to ask: “Do we want to pitch?” Use targeting criteria to evaluate invitations to tender (ITT) and make objective decisions. Resources are limited in any law firm, so use them wisely on pitches where you have a likelihood of winning to be profitable in both the short and long terms.

Clients tell us their key frustration is that law firms often simply do not address their requirements. Is this because they do not understand enough about what the client requires, or because they think they know better? Researching and understanding the brief and then illustrating to the client your appreciation of their needs is one of the most important parts of the tender process, and yet they are so often neglected.

Once the ITT has been read, endeavour to meet the client to ascertain more about the stated requirements and discover others by researching their explicit needs, other issues being faced, buying criteria, decision-making processes and competitors. Finally, if no client relationship is established, use the meeting to effect an association. At the end of the day, if all competing firms are equal, the decisions are based on relationships.

Clients evaluate competing firms using buying criteria and assess each firm’s ability to match what they are looking for. As technical competency is a given, other factors such as sector knowledge, training and price make the difference. Teams should pitch their buying criteria to strengthen competitive advantage. The better the match perceived by the client, the stronger your position to win.

Your response is in two parts: the report and the presentation. The report is first in time, but the presentation is first in importance. Whereas the report is unlikely to win you the pitch, it can certainly lose it for you. When preparing your response, concentrate on: demonstrating your understanding of the client’s needs; showing how you can satisfy its needs; differentiating yourself from competitors; client personalities and how you can appeal to them to strengthen the relationship; preparing a persuasive tender document (think about content, image, style and readability); managing the meeting – do not field a hit squad, as clients want to meet and hear from your team; rehearsing the presentation; and whether you win or lose, find out why, as there are lessons to be learnt for future pitches.

Clients use price as the common motive, but in the majority of cases other reasons influence the decision, which you may uncover by using an objective third party to help you – they may find out factors that you are unable to.

Finally, remember that the relationship lives on and there will be other opportunities. You may have been unsuccessful in this instance, but there will be others. Clients remember firms which have handled the process well.

Kate Fleming is a director of business development trainers Ridley Fleming