Tag Archives: pitching for new business

How can professional services firms use social media to increase their tender success rate?

by Kirsten Hodgson

More often than not, professional services firms know when an organisation will be going out to tender, well before the tendering organisation issues the RFP or EOI.

They may have told you.

They re-tender every two to three years.

Or, there’ve been reports they’re looking to rationalise their spend, initiate a project etc.

Professional services firms spend a lot of time and money evaluating whether or not to pitch for work and, if so, compiling their proposal.

The enlightened ones even look for ways to tip the level playing field in their favour before the tender’s been put out.

This is where social media can really help.

How can leveraging social media help professional services firms to increase their tender success rate?

Looking at who’s on social media platforms within the target organisation will help you to identify the likely decision makers, influencers, veto-holders and gatekeepers.

You can use this information to compile your Who knows Who matrix.

You can then ensure members of your team connect with as many of these people as possible – be it by inviting them to connect on LinkedIn, by joining the same groups or communities on LinkedIn or Google+, by following them on Twitter, or friending them on Facebook (if appropriate).

You’ll likely be thinking about the key issues and considerations for the target organisation – be it in relation to a particular project they’re putting out to tender, or more broadly in the case of a panel tender.

Once you have a list, you can develop content that will be both of interest, and relevant, to the target organisation. This will help to position you as ‘experts’ in your area and/or their industry sector.

As well as sharing this content strategically via traditional means such as a news alert, and on your website you can also share it via social networks.

Those connected to the decision makers, influencers, gatekeepers and veto-holders can share this content via their personal feeds such as their LinkedIn updates, their Twitter account, their Facebook page or their Google+ account.

In addition, you could post it in relevant group or community discussions on LinkedIn and Google+, and put it on your company page, firm Twitter feed, Facebook page etc. In this way, you’re softly positioning your firm well before the RFP’s been issued and are ensuring that, should someone from the target organisation check you out, they’re likely to see this content.

When compiling your RFP response, you can point to the central repository for this content, be it your website, your blog or You Tube.

In some cases, firms may want to take it one step further and tailor specific professionals’ online profiles for a particular opportunity. This would involve a bit of work but, where an opportunity is of strategic importance to a firm, it may pay to ensure that profiles highlight those areas of key interest to the target client shortly before and during the pitch process. Profiles can easily be changed back afterwards.

Do any firms do this already?

I’ve anecdotally heard of a firm in the US that strategically places content on LinkedIn prior to RFPs being issued. They’re looking to position themselves in the tendering organisation’s eyes early. I think that’s a really smart approach.

I’m not aware of other firms doing this at this stage, but would love to hear of more examples if you’re aware of any.

Your 6-step approach to leveraging social media for RFP success

1. Use features such as LinkedIn’s Advanced Search to identify who, within the tendering organisation, is likely to be involved or have some input into the evaluation process.

2. Identify the key issues and considerations for the tendering organisation using your usual processes such as coffees/meetings with the client, strategy sessions with the client, client interviews, secondee interviews etc. and develop a content plan for the months leading up to the pitch. This can be as simple as a calendar setting out what you will be compiling when. Actively hunt out relevant third party content too, and build this into your plan. 

3. Develop/source the appropriate content.

4. Share this via social networks  - e.g.

  • directly with specific contacts (if and when appropriate), via a professional’s personal LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook accounts if he/she is directly connected with, or followed by, one or more of those who will be involved in the decision making process.
  • within LinkedIn groups and Google+ communities. 
  • on your website, your firm’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, and LinkedIn company page
When doing so, don’t forget to ask a question to encourage discussion and debate. 
5. Stay actively involved in any discussion threads around the content you’ve shared. 
6. Refer to your repository of content, where appropriate, in your RFP response.
Do you know of any firms already doing this?
How else could professional services firms leverage social media to increase their RFP success rate?

 

LinkedIn: A powerful market research tool

by Kirsten Hodgson

Much has been written about LinkedIn as a lead identification and lead generation tool, and rightly so.

But it’s so much more than that.

It’s also a powerful research tool for those looking to develop new products or services or who wish to enter new markets.

One of my contacts, Zivana Anderson, found LinkedIn to be hugely beneficial when researching the market need for a new product for one of her clients.

After finding out the target market for the product, she used LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature to identify those she wanted to talk to. She then sent an ‘expertise request’ to the people she wished to meet. They were all senior Heads of Department at major national and global corporations. 70% of those asked accepted her request.

They were all very generous and helpful with their time and spent much longer with her than she’d envisaged. As a result of her work, her client was able to establish the market need and had a clear line of communication with would be buyers.

Zivana’s advice to others seeking meetings with busy, senior professionals via LinkedIn:

1. Ensure your profile is complete and positions you well. It needs to lend credibility to your request and show that you are a professional.

2. When contacting the other person be really clear about what you’re doing and why, how long you want to meet for and the things you wish to find out. Be polite.

3. Don’t suggest a specific time. Say ‘at a time convenient to you’ so that you can get the person’s approval in principle.

4. Join a group that the other person belongs to so that you have the ability to email them using the free LinkedIn account.

This could be a great way to use LinkedIn if you’re looking to build profile in a particular industry sector or want to penetrate a new market. By emulating Zivana’s approach, you too could get in front of senior, hard to reach, decision makers.

Have you used LinkedIn as a research tool? How’s it helped you?

 

Social Media: Turning the traditional business development process on its head

by Kirsten Hodgson

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

"By the time prospects call me, it's like half the work's already been done."

My virtual assistant, Justine Parsons, was talking about how LinkedIn is one of her primary sources of referrals and how it's shortened her lead times. She's an active LinkedIn user. She regularly posts interesting status updates, initiates group discussions and has conversations. She's helpful and friendly.

I met her on LinkedIn, liked what she had to say and engaged her. The lead time was short from her perspective – I emailed her via LinkedIn introducing myself and asking if we could talk. But I'd already been able to make a judgement call before she even knew who I was – by reading her blog posts and discussions/comments. Traditionally, I'd have asked around for a recommendation and then called two or three people to see who I thought was the best fit. In this case, I didn't have to – I already felt comfortable with her.

How is this relevant to you as a lawyer, accountant, engineer or other professional? 

Having conversations with others, sharing useful content and helping people out via social networks (and in person!) means you too can position yourself to win new work.

Imagine going into more new business meetings that are yours to lose rather than being on a level footing with two or three of your competitors.

You may still need to put together a proposal but much of the hard work has been done.

You've already demonstrated your capabilities/knowledge, and positioned yourself.

The prospect has articles, comments or blog posts they can point to that will help them convince others in their organisation that you're on top of your game.

Much of the purchasing decision happens BEFORE the prospect makes contact with you, meaning once they've spoken to you, they're often ready to hire you pretty quickly.

That's what smart use of social networks can do for you.

12 ways you can engage using LinkedIn

Once you've got the basics right (profile set up with good content), and you've found and started to connect with others (clients, referrers, prospects, colleagues and peers) you're ready to engage.

Using LinkedIn as an example, here's what you might do:

  • use your status updates to ask questions, share articles and other content that those you are connected to will find interesting, run polls etc.
  • comment on, like or share a status update one of your connections has shared.
  • send a direct message (via LinkedIn email) to one or multiple connections with some information they will find valuable.
  • put two of your connections who might benefit from meeting one-another in contact.
  • start a discussion in an appropriate group – you may want to ask a question, share some content and ask for views/comments, offer a free guide or White Paper etc.
  • comment on a group discussion someone else has started – answer their question, give your opinion, respond to someone else's opinion in the discussion thread, point them to some helpful information.
  • like a group discussion that you've found valuable.
  • invite someone with whom you've engaged in a group discussion to connect (let them know why they should do so).
  • answer a question in the answers section.
  • if you've signed up for an event on LinkedIn, invite someone who is attending the same event as you to meet up at the event.
  • start, vote or comment on a poll.
  • give recommendations to others who have done a good job.

Provided you are clear about why you're using social media, who you want to engage and the topics you want to discuss, you can position yourself in your area of expertise, remain front of mind with existing clients and attract new prospects.

If you want to make it easier for people to choose you, leveraging social networks can help.

What's your view? 

If you want to know how you can use LinkedIn to achieve YOUR business development and marketing goals, then my book 'The complete guide to LinkedIn for lawyers: connect, engage and grow your business' will be available from June 2012. I'll post further details shortly.

Follow-up: the missing link in professional services business development?

by Kirsten Hodgson

Image courtesy Simon Howden @freedigitalphotos.net

How many times have you had a great meeting with a prospect, sent them a follow-up proposal and wondered what became of it? 

I'm as guilty as the next person. Often I'll follow up once or twice and leave a message if I can't get hold of the person and then simply…

…give up. Just like that. I write it off and tell myself they would have called if they were interested. 

And that might be the case. But do I know that for sure? 

No. And that's the problem.

It might be uncomfortable to be a squeaky wheel but you've put in the effort to get this far so it's vital to follow up until you get a definitive yes/no answer. 

There are a whole host of reasons why people don't get back to you: 

  • They get busy. 
  • They need to talk to someone else internally. 
  • Something more urgent crops up and your project becomes lower priority. 
  • Their decision-making process is notoriously s l o w. 
  • They need to do some work at their end and haven't got around to it. 

Perhaps you can help your contact along by offering to present to their key stakeholders to overcome any objections and to get them on board. 

Or you may just need patience and persistence. 

And a diary note about when to follow up. 

Following-up until you know what decision the prospect has made could make a huge difference to the number of opportunities you turn into work. Even if they have decided not to go with you, you then have the opportunity to understand why and to modify future approaches accordingly. 

Have you ever thought an opportunity had died only for it to spring back to life? 

What other tips would you share? 

 

The professional services selling myth

by Kirsten Hodgson

I've worked with a number of lawyers and other professionals who are petrified that, in order to build their businesses, they are going to have to convince people to hire them by pitching to them. They're understandably nervous and the idea of 'selling' doesn't sit well with them – they're in their roles because they enjoy their profession and helping people. They've been sucked into the professional services selling myth.

While there are aggressive rainmakers out there who do focus on themselves and their needs, this approach doesn't fit everyone's personality. The good news is that there is another way: focus on the other person and their needs.

Larry Bodine alluded to this in a recent blog post: 5 marketing tips to make it rain in 2012. In it he said to stop pitching to people because nobody likes it and to start asking questions. He's totally right. Asking intelligent questions is one of the best things you can do in a new business meeting. That's because:

  • how can you let people know how you can help them unless you know what their specific needs are?
  • And, how can you know what their specific needs are unless you ask questions to uncover these?

How should you approach each new business meeting? 

Before each new business meeting:

  1. Research the person/people you are meeting and the company – look at their website, do a google search, check their social media profiles, look at their annual report
  2. Find out the other person's objective for the meeting by asking 'What would you like to get out of this meeting?' or 'What would make this a good meeting for you?' or 'If there was only one thing you could get from this meeting, what would you want it to be?' If you have called the meeting, you may be better asking this at the start of the meeting itself.
  3. Write down the other person's objective for the meeting – once you've done so, jot down how you can meet their objective
  4. Write down your objective/desired outcome for the meeting - ensure it's SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). For example, it may be to get a meeting with the CEO in the next 2 weeks, to gain agreement to run a workshop within the next month or to be able to put together a written/verbal proposal based on that client's needs by X date.
  5. Write down at least 3 questions you would like to ask the other person/people – what do you need to know in order to move to the next step? When in the meeting, the key is that you listen to the other person's responses and don't leap in as soon as you hear an issue they have that you can help with. You want to find out about the various issues they have and then uncover which are most important to the client. The danger with jumping in is that you focus on an issue that actually isn't that far up the client's priority list. A really great model to follow in new business meetings is the SPIN selling model, the brainchild of Neil Rackham – I like the way the questions move from general to more specific and that they seek to create a need. It's a logical process that's easy to follow.

At the end of the meeting, discuss the next step with the prospective client. Get their agreement both on what action will be taken, who will take it and when it will be complete. For example, you may say 'It was great to find out about the issues you're facing over the next year. You mentioned that X and Y are really critical and these are things with which we can assist. Would it be of value if we were to put together a short proposal setting out our understanding of your needs, how we could help and the associated costs?' If the client agrees let them know when they can expect to receive your proposal and stick to the deadline you agree – better still, deliver it early.

If they don't agree, find out what they suggest happens next and, again, agree a timeframe.

What other tips would you share to help other professionals get more from new business meetings? 

Do you agree with my tips above? Why/why not? 

6 ways to use Infographics in Professional Services Marketing

If you're anything like me then you're a sucker for a good Infographic. There's nothing like being able to absorb information visually, in a way that's easy (and quick) to understand. 

Gareth Case, a marketing professional in the UK, shared his CV with a LinkedIn group, which he's produced as an Infographic and it got me thinking, how can law firms, accounting firms, and engineering firms use Infographics in their businesses? 

I can see Infographics being useful to share the following information:  

  1. Business plans (including industry, client and practice group plans) – wouldn't it be great to be able to put your plans up on the wall for all to see (and understand)? Imagine how much more traction you would get and how many more people in your firm would think about you if an opportunity arose when they were talking to their clients. Infographics would be a great way to share this information across the firm in an appealing way. 
  2. How to guides or updates about the impact of legislative or other changes – again, a departure from the norm and an easy way for your audience to understand the key messages. 
  3. Vision and values - rather than just having a list of values and your vision written on a piece of paper somewhere, put these into an Infographic. This would be great to display prominently, give to new staff and would support other methods you're using (such as names of your meeting rooms, words on your walls etc). 
  4. Credential statements – I would love to put together a credential statement as an Infometric as it would force brevity and ensure the key messages come through clearly. 
  5. Professional bios - much as Gareth Case has done. These would be great on a website and, providing the info can be easily tailored, would be good to include in CVs to go into tenders and proposals. 
  6. Policies and procedures – imagine starting a new job and not having to wade through a mass of policy/procedures info. If you want people to understand and follow these, they need to be simple anyway, so why not make your policies/procedures visually appealing too? 
  7. Graduate/other recruitment info – Infographics could tie in nicely with other components of a campaign and could be used to communicate key messages. 

The possibilities are endless. I look forward to the day when I walk into a professional services firm's reception area and see some relevant Infographics on the wall. 

How else do you think firms could use Infographics? 

Have you seen any good examples of Infographics being used by law firms, accounting firms and engineering firms? 

Confident speakers win more business – wake up your ‘wow’

Are you apprehensive about public speaking? If so, this guest post by Cath Vincent, an amazing and inspiring motivational speaker and executive coach, is a must-read.

Jerry Seinfeld once joked that at a funeral most people would rather be “the one in the coffin” than “the one giving the eulogy”. It seems that public speaking is the number one phobia – but if you’re in business it could be costing you dearly.

It’s been said that there are two types of presentation: the one we gave and the one we wish we’d given. Or put another way, every person has two personas – the one who speaks confidently to a standing ovation, and the one who secretly doubts our own credibility as a presenter and wonders whether anyone is really listening.

Now be honest for a moment, when you stand to speak, which voice comes out?

The bad news is that if you are not supremely confident every time you speak, you’re probably not winning all the business you deserve. The good news is that it is simple to make massive improvements and there are lots of good reasons to do so. Here are just three…

3 business reasons to be a better speaker

  1. Because it’s considered natural to be nervous, most people never take the simple steps needed to fulfill their potential when speaking. If you invest just a little effort in this essential business skill, you will stand head and shoulders above your competition.
  2. When you find speaking in public effortless, there are heaps of FREE marketing opportunities such as network meetings where you can make your mark and become known as an authority in your field
  3. People listen to confident speakers. There is no better or more cost-effective way for your business to get noticed.

5 easy tips to being a more confident speaker

  1. If you slave over your preparation and getting the words just right – don’t! Think of it more as a conversation you might have with a friend than a formal life-or-death situation. In fact, verbal communication accounts for only 7% of the impact you can make. Allow yourself the freedom to ‘talk around’ your subject knowing that the impact of the actual words is very small. That way your personality will shine through too.
  2. If you do worry about forgetting your words, your message may be too complicated to remember. Boil your message down to just 3 key points. The audience can’t process and remember more than that anyway.
  3. People often tell me “I’m OK when I get onto the middle part” – you have to be compelling from the moment you start speaking. Whilst the body of your presentation can be free-flowing, you should learn your introduction and ending so you feel unwaveringly confident in delivering those two pieces. More time spent on these will pay dividends.
  4. Don’t be afraid of silence. Allowing a pause shows confidence and gives the audience time to process what you’re saying. You can afford to speak a lot more s-l-o-w-l-y than you think!
  5. Your job is to make it fun. Humour goes a long way in capturing audience attention. Clients often tell me “I can’t make legislation / technical specifications / annual accounts/ health and safety information fun”. You have to get excited about presenting your material. Energy is infectious. The audience will feel what you feel. If you’re uncomfortable, bored or uninspired, that’s how they feel too. If you’re excited, they’re excited!

A final word to encompass these tips: Don’t Learn It, Love It!

What do you think of Cath’s tips? 

Have you found that you perform much better in speaking/presenting situations when you have a positive mindset? 

For those of you in Auckland Cath, along with motivational speaker John Shackleton, is running a 1-day workshop to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking on Monday 5 September.

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?

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?