Tag Archives: tendering 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?

 

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? 

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?