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Winning new clients - as easy as one, two, three

10 September 2015

David Yeoward explains why it is important to have and to stick to a bid process, and outlines three easy steps to winning new clients.

The aim of any law firm going into a competitive tender for work will be to win. To support that aim, most firms have a bid process. Well, on paper at least. In this blog post, I outline why it's critical to take the right steps at the right time and what the pitfalls are of not following a bid process.

We've all been there. A bid process kick off meeting convened at least a week after the invitation to tender (ITT) landed. No-one has prepared and it turns into a form of Russian roulette to identify who'll lead the team. Everybody knows it shouldn't be like this, but it is.

The reasons are two-fold and interlinked. First, despite the prevalence of competitive tenders as a source of work, too few professional service firms recognise executing them as part of the day job and a core skill for fee-earning staff. Second, as a result, there is little or no process to follow.

So what should you do and why?

1. Acknowledge receipt

Get in touch with the prospect as quickly as possible and thank them for the invitation. Ask for clarification of the reasons why the ITT has been issued, who the decision-makers are and their criteria, any gaps or contradictions in the ITT and other information that will help you put together the right team and a winning bid. If you aren't sure whether you will actually bid or not, explain that you are in the process of making sure that your firm can give the prospect everything they are asking for and more.

All of this shows the prospect that you take their invitation seriously, are keen to work with them (even if you end up not bidding) and that you are generally very responsive. Already, you are giving them a positive flavour of what it will be like to work with your firm.

2. Bid/no bid

Evaluating every ITT in a structured way using a variety of qualitative and quantitative measures will help you to an objective indication of your chances of winning. If you decide to bid, one of the by-products of this step in the process is likely to be a first pass at your value proposition or key messages.

The easiest way to improve your win rate is by not bidding in situations where your chances of winning are remote. While there may be good reasons to bid even if you don't expect to win, getting these down on paper is a useful reminder when you are doing the post-mortem as to why you lost.

3. Kick off meeting

A well-structured kick off meeting moves your bid forward. It should be designed with a number of outputs in mind including agreement on roles and responsibilities, a comprehensive project plan, further work on key messages, and next steps - both in relation to the prospect and internally.

Bidding is time-consuming if done properly, and more so if not. A structured, well-attended kick off meeting establishes mutual expectations within the team and a set of activities and deadlines that can help you to avoid over-running and lost weekends caused by lack of structure.

Too often, these three steps happen in the wrong order, get conflated or, in the worst cases, don't happen at all. The most common version is a combined kick off meeting and bid/no bid discussion, followed by a call to the prospect to acknowledge the ITT and perhaps ask for some clarifications. If you are competing against a firm that follows best practice rigorously and acknowledged the ITT on receipt, you're probably a week behind them in making contact with the prospect. This creates a terrible first impression, and any explanations of why it has taken you so long to get in touch are likely to come across as lame excuses for lackadaisical behaviour.

Worse still are the firms that confirm they'll participate, do not evaluate whether or not to bid and get started with various strains of bid activity in silos - fee earners meet with the prospect while the supporting team start writing the proposal document. This approach guarantees bid hell. At some point the fee earners, who now know what the prospect actually wants, will collide with a document written in isolation and often with large amounts of text recycled from the last winning bid. In these situations, the importance of the document and the amount of time spent on it get totally out of proportion and any semblance of "team" goes out of the window.

Put yourself in the buyer's shoes. Whether your favourite lunch venue is The Ritz or Burger King, a key component of your enjoyment is down to process; everybody working to the same format to deliver a consistent experience no matter who is involved, and without stellar levels of stress.

Your bids can be low stress too - but only if you follow a process.

This article was previously published on the Law Society Consulting webpage.

Tags: business | strategy | bid process | law management

About the author

David is a strategic support consultant for Law Society Consulting. He is also a chartered accountant and tax adviser and has worked in financial services for over 25 years. David provides specialist advice on winning and retaining new clients. He has previously worked for Arthur Anderson, Citibank, KPMG and SG Warburg.
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