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Lawyers win tenders - not the tender writer

By Clementine Scahill

If you want to throw the cat among the pigeons in your law firm, submit a competitive tender for a major new client or project.

Not only does that ensure people will be distracted from their main role for a few weeks, it’s also a guaranteed cause of stress and the derailing of other important projects.

And the best part? After all the late nights, early morning coffees, neglecting of existing clients, and harassing your colleagues (or being harassed by them) for essential information, you’re still more likely than not to miss out.

How I know that is through my work with law firms, where the average success rate is below 45%. That’s better than in many industries and professions, but it’s still hardly the stuff of legend. And it means around half of all firms are actually performing below that mark – sometimes well below.

My own success rate in this arena is about 85% While I’m proud of that, I’m also certain it’s not a function of my having been born with a special bid writing gene. Consequently, I’ve become deeply interested in whether there’s a formula for consistently producing winning tenders – something I’ve been doing without fully appreciating how distinct it is from the typical approach.

The short answer: there is a formula, and I’d like to share it with you.

Let’s talk first, though, about the minimum needed to have your tender considered seriously

If you’re not already meeting these benchmarks, this is where you should devote your attention first:
•    You demonstrate you have the legal expertise and can prove it
•    You actually answer all the questions.  Sounds simple but often a piece is written and it sounds good but it doesn't answer the question
•    You demonstrate that you have the technology, insurances, policies, systems and processes, as well as security needed for this client
•    You are in the right ballpark with price

As I said, meet those criteria, and you can expect to be taken seriously. But that’s not the same as winning.

So now let me tell you the four things I believe you need to do to have a real shot at winning

•    Demonstrate and provide proof that you know the client – and their industry
•    Show that you ‘get’ what bothers them in their daily routine
•    Show that you also get what makes them say ‘thank you’ meaningfully and with relief
•    Finally, show what you do – outside of legal expertise – to make your clients look good.

How do you do all that? The only way to get it right is by working closely with the experts at the tendering firm.  It is they who win the tenders – not the tender writer.

This is one thing I am very clear about – a good tender will have spot-on information from the best lawyers in the firm. The lawyers who know their client - know their industry.

A good tender writer is extremely curious and draws out both information and the tone of the tender then manages that information for use in the bid document. 

That’s a little like being a referee in a sporting contest; I know I’m needed and I know I need to be masterful in my role, but everything I do is designed to allow the real experts knowledge and understanding to shine. Our shared  moment arrives when the contract is won. 

Getting the right information starts with finding the people in the firm who know a lot about the client and their industry, and then listening hard to what they have to say

I keep questioning until the “ah that’s what I wanted to know and hear – let me get that down word for word”. The deeper my understanding of the client, the better I am able to address the needs, fears and the big expectations of clients.

I trust the experts in my client’s firm. It’s easy for a tender to get derailed by enthusiasts for a seductive, marketing/comms-driven approach. The best marketing people, in my experience, have a level of humility that allows them to enhance rather than dictate. They’re not seductive; they’re clear thinking and outcome driven, and they make sure the experts’ voices are heard.

Finally, I keep asking how what the company does – or will do – will make a difference to the client

Usually, it comes down to some combination of saving time, saving money, creating efficiencies and showing Firms understand exactly what is the right result for their client (and its not always a win in court) but it may not be limited to those things.

Rather than simply write that those differences will get made, I keep digging until I’m clear how the company will do that. If we can’t demonstrate and provide proof that what we promise will actually happen, it’s questionable whether we should be saying it at all.

And the bottom line, always, is that the most valuable expertise lies with others, not me. When I allow that expertise its fullest expression, magic happens and positive results show up time after time.

Along the way, the valuable insights and documentation that get produced are categorised orderly for future use – for marketing, tender proposals, internal discussions, and more.

One final point. In an effort to win new business, many firms tender for opportunities that they really shouldn’t. The reasons not to are many – and a subject for another blog – but for now I suggest that before undertaking a new bid, you always ask yourself what opportunities you have among existing panel appointments and other clients. This is your true low-hanging fruit, and in the excitement of pursuing entirely new opportunities, it’s easy to miss it.

Clementine Scahill works with Prodonovich Advisory helping firms pursue new business including managing projects to ensure Firms are ready for winning.  If you'd like help with your pitches, give us a call.