Monthly Archives: July 2011

Positioning your firm to win tenders before they come out

This is the second in a three part series about helping your firm increase its tender success rate. Last time we looked at how to evaluate tender opportunities. This time we cover what you can do to identify opportunities and position your firm before an RFP is released.

How do you know if a client will be putting work out to tender?

  • If you are on an existing panel, make sure you have diarised when the panel arrangements will come up for review. Ensure everyone who works with the client knows. Using your intranet and/or client management space are great ways to do this.
  • Talk to major corporate targets / government departments that either have panel arrangements, which you are not part of, or that have no formal arrangements, about how they procure legal services. Find out their future plans and what you would need to do to position yourselves to win their work in a particular area.
  • Understand any thresholds or practices around tendering regimes that your targets/clients have (e.g. has to go to tender over a certain dollar threshold). Talk to them about what projects they have coming up, and what their objectives are.

What questions should you ask?

Irrespective of whether you are, or aren’t,  a current provider, you should ask the same basic questions:

  • What is the person, his/her team and the wider organisation looking for in a service provider?
  • What is important to them? (from both a personal and company perspective)
  • What are the decision making criteria likely to be?
  • Who will be making the decision? And who will be influencing it?

And, if you are known to them:

  • What you do well and what you could improve?

Or, if you aren’t a current provider:

  • What are their perceptions of your firm, experience and people?
  • What do their existing providers do well and what could they improve?

You should never assume you know why an organisation is going to tender. You should also keep in mind that what they tell you may only be a part of the story. Depending on how strong your relationship is, how well you know the organisation and how probing your questions, you may come away with more or less of the full picture.

How do you position your individuals/firm prior to RFPs being released?

  • Having asked the questions, you need to respond. Work out what is important to the target/client and think about how you can demonstrate your expertise.
  • Develop a plan! What work do you want, who will you target, what are the issues in their industry, how will you position yourselves and how will you get to know the key people within the target organisation?
  • Make sure you demonstrate your expertise online and offline, thinking about the media the client uses/interacts with – for example placing relevant articles/thought leadership pieces in trade journals and newspapers, asking and answering questions and commenting on appropriate discussions on relevant LinkedIn groups (i.e. those to which the client belongs), Tweeting useful articles/other content both that others and you have generated, commenting on the client’s blog posts (if and when opportunities arise) and posting relevant content on your blog and website.

What else would you recommend firms do to increase their likelihood of winning RFPs?

How do you position your firm to win tenders before they have come in the door?

When connecting with people you don’t know on LinkedIn – use your common sense

I have no problem with people I don’t know connecting with me on LinkedIn provided they are clear about why they want to do so.

What I absolutely don’t understand is why someone would send the standard LinkedIn message and expect a stranger to accept their invite. It’s actually quite a risky thing to do given that if five users state that they don’t know a person, the person’s account gets suspended. And while I don’t advocate doing that there are people out there advising their networks to do so.

So, what should you do if you want to connect to people you don’t know? 

  • Do your research. Take a look at their profile and think about why you want to connect with the person. And, more importantly, let them know why they should connect with you.
  • Send a personalised invitation to connect letting the person know how you came across them (in a group, in a search, through a contact etc) and why you would like to connect. It may be they share great content and you’d like to learn from them or you want to share ideas. Let the other person know what’s in it for them.
  • If the person you want to connect with is not in one of your groups, it can be tempting to say they are a friend rather than selecting ‘Other’. My advice is don’t! It’s really annoying getting invites from people who say they are your friend when you have never come across them. When you select ‘other’ you will need to input the person’s email address but if it’s someone you really want to connect with, I’d advise taking the time to do a google search to find out their email address – you can probably find a link to their website from their LinkedIn homepage. It shows you are honest and that you’re not just trying to randomly grow your number of connections.
A friend of mine, Natalie Sisson, also blogged on social media mistakes people make last week. This was one of the things on her list – I recommend you read her full list. 
What other advice would you give to people wanting to connect with those they don’t know on LinkedIn? 

Eight questions every professional should ask when taking new work instructions

When talking to clients of professional services firms, one of the most common issues they raise is that their providers don’t always deliver what it is they are expecting. It’s very easy to listen to a client’s brief, assume you understand their requirements, and to go off and do the work but I strongly believe that, in order to avoid misunderstandings (and often huge frustrations on both sides) professionals need to ask questions to clarify their client’s needs at the outset.
While you should never ask anything that you could find out from the client’s website or other publicly available information, the questions below will go a long way to avoiding mismatched expectations:
  1. What outcome are you looking to achieve?
  2. How important is this work to you/your organisation?
  3. What’s your deadline for this work?
  4. What are you looking for from us? All the options or our recommendation?
  5. What’s your budget for this work?
  6. Do you need to present the advice to anyone internally?
  7. Will you be our key contact on this matter?
  8. How frequently would you like progress updates and what format would you like us to communicate these in (e.g. face-to-face, phone, email)?
What other questions do you think professionals should ask their clients when taking new instructions? 
Do you have any examples of how doing this has helped your business? 

Does your firm properly evaluate tender opportunities?

It seems as though tenders arrive at firms’ doors in waves. It is not unusual for there to be 10 or more tenders, pitches or proposals being developed at any one time in some firms. This stretches resources and can result in less rigorous processes when it comes to assessing whether the firm is well placed to pitch, and in delivering the tender.

There are three stages which, if followed, will  increase the percentage of tenders you win:

  1. before the tender is released
  2. when the tender arrives at the firm and
  3. writing the tender.

We are going to start with the middle part – what to do when a tender arrives at the firm. In future blogs we’ll look at what you can do prior to a tender being released, and tips for developing the most compelling tender response.

The purpose of this discussion is to help you apply some rigour to the process, rather than simply reacting to every opportunity that arises. Before you even start writing the first word of an RFP response, be honest and rate your chances.

Should we submit a tender response?

This can be a highly pressured time and decisions need to be rational and have some level of objectivity to them.

We recommend having a preselected team who makes the decision, for example a CEO or Managing Partner, plus a practice area or industry sector leader. The team who make recommendations should be wider than this and include the partner who is responsible for the client / sector / main area of work, and a senior marketing or BD member.

Often, the best way to assess whether or not your firm should tender for a particular piece of work is setting up a system that enables you to rank each opportunity on a scale of 1 to 5. You can then decide what total makes a ‘definite yes’, ‘definite no’ or requires more consideration or conditions for tender. Some areas that you should always consider in deciding whether to submit a tender are:

  • how well do we know the key players – those who will be making (or influencing) the decision?
  • how do they perceive us as a firm?
  • how well do they know our expertise in the relevant area?
  • how well-resourced are we to do the work?
  • how well do we compare to our competitors (according to the target or others in the same industry)?

In addition, other things to consider include:

  • did we know the tender was coming? This can help answer some of the questions about how well you have positioned yourselves to be in the running for serious consideration.
  • is the tender a serious process? Some organisations have a built-in process whereby they must tender for service providers on a predetermined basis. This may mean there is little internal desire to change, but they must ‘go through the motions’ and are almost certainly going to reappoint the incumbent. If you are the incumbent you must take the process seriously.
  • have we worked with them before? If not, how do they know you? Have they seen your work? If you have worked with them before, how do they perceive you? Have you conducted any client or project reviews?
  • are we conflicted? You also need to understand what the organisation”s sensitivities to conflicts are.

There are always those tenders where it is important simply to be seen to tender. There may be influential people at the target who are important to your firm, or it is a small market and you need to tender for this particular role.

Whatever the reason you tender, make sure you have a process which ensures you are using your valuable internal resources wisely.

What other criteria do you use in deciding whether to tender?

How well do you think most firms approach this?

How often is it a case of he/she who shouts loudest gets the support?