Last year 55% of law firms reported an increase in the volume of RFPs and this number is expected to keep rising as client activity soars and procurement processes become increasingly demanding. This presents a clear challenge to BD teams: if you’re too busy to simply process all the bids in front of you, can you add value, discern which opportunities should be turned down, have the capacity and time to tailor each proposal to give it the best chance of success?
Our recent survey showed us that every CMO knows that tailored proposals win and yet only 60% of departments have the capacity to tailor them currently.
One thing is clear: in 2022, law firms who aren’t actively working to make their pitch process smarter risk getting left behind.
Clearly, something has to change.
Pitching smarter, not harder
Pitching is a complex mix of art and science. What format should we use? How long should our proposal document be? Who should be involved in the creation of the proposal? What are our key messages? How should our proposal be customized? And, of course, should we submit a proposal or not?
Given the variety of clients, industries, market forces and your firm’s own workload varying from team to team, there’s no silver bullet which will answer all the above questions consistently. However, five key steps will help you to address them better for your firm.
People: Involve the right resources at the right times and on the right things
Which pitches should be handled centrally, and which are better managed by lawyers and others in local teams? Where does the balance of work fall when it comes to creating a proposal? The firm step every firm has to tackle is the skills element of pitch creation: do we have the right central resources in place? Do they have the right skills? Have we trained our lawyers and their support teams how to generate some of the content themselves?
Our recent UK law firm survey showed that there was a 50/50 split when it comes to those who have trained or involved lawyers in a pitch process and those who don’t. No approach is “right” but it is worth having absolute clarity as to how the process should work and how you’re going to allocate pitch responsibility.
A deciding factor in pitch responsibility could be made by really looking at what the pitch needs, or by calculating the business value a win would add. This way the right people are responsible for the right pitch and by using a shared strategy, or the advantage of a modern pitch generation system, lawyers, and others outside of marketing can be empowered to create on brand pitches that reuse existing materials and convey consistent statistics about the firm.
One advantage of having a central system is that, with a lot of headcount turnover at law firms, you can quickly bring new joiners up to speed, give them immediate access to the firm’s experience base and help them to fast forward their personal return on investment.
Process: The importance of branding for pitching
Whilst in many law firms it’s now common practice to have brand guidelines in place, working under time constraints and passing pitches to several team members can often mean that documents can become skewed in one way or another, through different use of fonts or colors.
In fact, law firms have often admitted that one of their downfalls with pitching has been that a client may have received significantly different looking proposals or proposals with different statistics from practices within a short space of time. An experience of inconsistent branding undermines the experience of consistent client service. In 2022, that’s unacceptable.
Process: Personalization key for law firm pitch wins
People buy specifics. What can your firm do for me and my organization? Generic pitches lose more often because they don’t connect with the audience. Thankfully, this is recognized within firms as 86% of them recently told us that ‘being targeted to client needs’ including Environmental, Social, governance and diversity and inclusion (ESG and D&I) is their primary objective when pitching.
For a pitch to be impressive it has to demonstrate that that firm understands the clients’ needs and how the firm can help the client meet those needs.
It’s not just a question of asserting a position either. More and more clients are requesting research, statistics, demonstrable proof, and more simply ‘tick box’ exercises when it comes to information about ESG and D&I in their request for proposals.
The likes of big brands like Coca-Cola and BT are setting a precedent in stating they won’t reappoint law firms without recourse to tender if their diversity profile does not hit or exceed certain requirements.
Therefore, law firms who can save time elsewhere in the pitching process can invest smartly in research and developing their pitches to ensure it aligns with the potential clients’ needs.
Process: Make your go/no-go decisions strategic
Gone are the days where firms can produce high-quality, winning pitch documents without being selective as to which opportunities to pursue.
For every firm, it’s a juggling act as they balance current workloads with future opportunities. Greater certainty as to which opportunities you might win, or should win, is helpful. Chasing after passing birds, less so.
Without using tools to streamline the pitching process, legal firms experience a trade-off, if they spend time on a pitch they lose time on another project, or they risk only investing half of their efforts into the pitch because of commitments elsewhere.
That’s why the first fundamental decisions firm need to make is whether they are going to pitch and who’s going to be involved in the process and how big their investment is going to be.
Making the Go/No Go decision strategic does not mean that it needs to take a long time but that it does need to be considered. In being strategic the firm should think about:
- How long does a document need to be, by looking at what formalities need to be met?
- Does our team genuinely add value to the client on this or are we a stalking horse for price?
- Which member of the team is going to be responsible for the creativity and the output?
- Can the time pitching be justified by revenue?
- Does this fit with our broader CRM or BD plans?
- Can the team handle this work at the time it’s due to land?
- Do we have capacity to handle the work involved in assembling this pitch today?
- Are we likely to make the shortlist/get appointed?
If firms can answer the above questions honestly, they can form a basis of how their pitching process should go and who should be working on it.
Technology: Invest in Proposal Automation Software
One clear solution for a smarter pitching process is the adoption of dedicated pitch technology. As Anna Maysey-Wells, Senior Bids Manager at Fieldfisher said: “Firms that don’t utilize pitch technology within the next two years will be left behind. With that will come an increase in pitching.”
Some firms have settled for the make-do alternatives bundled into CRM and Experience management systems. In our experience, these firms eventually reach the same conclusion: these capabilities added on top of other systems, were not built with the dedicated attention to elevating pitches to the next level. They are simple functionalities that make it slightly easier to create a pitch than manually snipping a new one together from the contents of an old version, but they will make you compromise on both turnaround time and overall quality.
The firms that use dedicated software can show up a clear correlation between technology use and revenue to the partners of the firm. 100% of UK top 100 law firms with revenue over £300m have a dedicated application in place.
Anecdotally, the bid teams at those larger firms won’t leave for firms without those systems in place.
Process: Track and improve
Two other benefits that using a pitch system brings: the data and the time to compare winning pitches from losing ones. Comparing approaches, the people involved, the pricing, the key messages, the timelines involved and more helps us better understand why we won and lost.
You can track the data manually or by using Excel. Better still, you can use a modern technology which automatically and effortlessly tracks the data for you, including things that you might not think to cover.
“Look – we always lose this pitch because we email them on deadline, but when we submit two days early, we win 80% of pitches at the same price”. Insights like this are incredibly valuable to your business.
Law firms tracking this data can use this to their advantage to make data-led decisions in their process. They could discover trends to craft winning pitches, for example they could find that every pitch including more than five people in the ‘your team’ sheet of a pitch loses, meaning that every winning pitch includes five or less featured team members. Therefore, law firms using this data can go forwards using their internal intelligence to build their pitches and win more clients.
So, what does the future look like for pitching?
In summary, now is the time for law firms to look at their current pitching methods and see where they can polish their process to save time and win more clients. Attracting new pitching talent is hard and increasingly expensive, growing it organically and using all the people at your disposal is a lot easier. This year should be the year that law firms look at what’s available to them and make strategic decisions in relation to pitches, making data driven decisions to confidently bid for work and save more time to invest in other parts of their business development.
About the author
Christopher Young is the Success Management SME within Pinnacle’s UK Business Development practice. He is also a director and CMO of Pinnacle. Christopher’s first role in the legal sector 20 years ago was as head of Business Development for Simmons & Simmons. He was responsible for the implementation of InterAction, the firm’s first CRM toolset. Since leaving Simmons & Simmons, Christopher has worked with clients primarily on the interface between marketing and business development and the acceptance of new business. Christopher has developed various programmes for firms – key account programmes with Bird & Bird and Dentons. He has also worked on MBD/CRM projects with Ashurst, Mishcon de Reya, Stevens & Bolton, Clarke Willmott, and Withers to name a few. Christopher is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has an MBA from Cranfield University. His background and experience allow him to help firms to enhance selling and skills through developing coaching programmes for partners and fee earners exploiting the technologies law firms have put in place.
The article first appeared in Legal Business World in February 2022. Read it here