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Why you should say 'yes' to your next proposal request

In my view, most firms make it too easy to say ‘no’ to pitching for work.

That’s because they adopt a ‘go/no go’ approach, when deciding whether to respond to a request for proposal. This involves asking a series of qualifications - or gateways - that help the firm analyse each opportunity before they start wasting precious resources on it. And those gateways usually go something like this:

  1. Were we invited to tender? If not, say no.

  2. Do we know anyone within the target organisation? If we don’t, say no.

  3. If we know people, do we know anyone who has influence with the decision makers at the target organisation? If we don’t, say no.

  4. Do we have a compelling track record of doing this type of work? If we don’t, say no.

While on the face of it this approach may seem logical, I think it puts the emphasis on the wrong things altogether. And instead of sorting the wheat from the chaff when it comes to tendering, it encourages a culture where saying 'no' becomes the standard.

A better approach: starting with 'yes'

I think a better approach is to start with ‘yes’.

When that RFP hits your inbox, smile and recognise that every tender is an opportunity - even if your first instincts are to believe that you have Buckley’s chance of winning the work because you don't know the right people in the client's business or other firms have done more of this kind of work than you have.

My advice is to flip things around, and instead of assessing your prospects of success as the sole criteria for whether or not to pitch, begin by thinking about the benefits of just going through the tender process.

After all, firms can still win from the pitching process, even when they don't win the pitch.

Here's seven reasons why:

  1. It skills people up. Even if this isn’t a pitch that you’re likely to win, it’s one that will give your lawyers real world experience in what it’s like to tender. That means, when that lucrative tender does come up, you’ll have a team of seasoned players working from you - not a team of rookies learning how to play when it’s grand final day.

  2. It forces you to work on your processes. By pitching frequently and then reviewing each tender and considering how you could have done things better, you’ll start to nail down your process and your precedents. My view is that a firm’s processes are usually the number one thing that make pitching hard work. So when better processes combine with the growing experience your team is getting, you’ll start to become an unstoppable force.

  3. It makes you understand who you are and what you do. You could sit around for weeks brainstorming ideas about what you do well and why you’re different... or you could do a pitch. Nothing is as powerful at making everyone on your team understand your brand - from finance through to fee earners - as forcing them to show why people should choose you above all others in a real life environment.

  4. It creates awareness. Even if you don’t win, your name is out in the marketplace and people know what you do. So in three years time, when the next RFP gets sent out you could be a much better chance. And besides, many of the clients’ people will move on at some stage and no doubt they’ll be doing RFPs elsewhere.

  5. It helps you position yourself. Even if you know you won’t get it because you charge too much, you still get to say to the client, “here’s what a premium brand looks like”. That way they get used to paying the rates you should be commanding on other matters.

  6. It can help you fill capacity. Lawyers want to be doing interesting work, even when things get slow. And you need them to be doing that work too if you want them to hang around. So, not only are tenders often interesting work for associates and other fee earners (when done well, anyway), they’ll also help you fill to capacity if you do win.

  7. You get to test ideas. You probably have a few ideas on pricing. Tenders give you the perfect opportunity to test them and see how they fly. If they work, you may have just changed your business model and increased your profitability.

And besides…

Clients choose firms for different reasons and most panels are made up of various law firms, all of whom have different positives and bring different things to the table. So, if your pitch is honest and original, your firm could be the perfect complement to the client’s roster.

And, even if you’re competing like-for-like against better firms that offer a similar service and a similar price, you may find that the front runners all miss the mark, leaving you the Steven Bradbury of law firms.  

Oh, and if your firm needs help putting together a proposal contact me

Sue-Ella is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, a business dedicated to helping law and accounting practices sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients and become more profitable.