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RFP pitching tips — part 2

Last month’s column started our conversation on request for proposals tips. This month, I am going to dig a little deeper to help you, as a practising lawyer, put your best foot forward.

I just went to see Burton Cummings at the Calgary Stampede and was inspired by his Facebook writing and so this month’s ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style is a tribute to one of Canada’s best singer-songwriters and rockers.

Understand your potential client

You need to really understand your client and so how do you approach that? Today, this is a lot easier than it used to be. Go online and look at their web site. Read their About Us, or Our History or anything similar. Get a feel for their priorities, their mission, vision, values, and culture. Try to understand what they are about, who their clients are, and what kind of organization they run. Read their last annual report. It will give you an executive summary of their business, aspirations, and financial position.

You want them to see that you have done your homework and that you are really interested in the sustainability of their business and not just your own.

The trick to RFPs is that even though they are asking about you and your firm, your answers are really about how you and your firm will benefit them. This is the critical and key difference between running down a list of your features, and articulating how your features turn into client benefits.

Choose your team wisely

It is critical to understand the collaboration and communication philosophies of your prospect. It is a key differentiator and could be a show stopper for you if you present too many or too few team members.

Some organizations hate seeing a lot of high-priced lawyers as team members. Some organizations love that. Some organizations want to see the whole team including associates, students, paralegals, and your assistant. Some don’t. Some want a sole relationship partner for the account and some don’t care. You need to know the desired business working relationship that your prospect envisions and deliver on that. If you can ask that question, by all means ask it.

Choose people who have the direct expertise the prospects are looking for. Today, general counsel are looking for firms that give them the best people for the job at hand. . . not just big names. (Although I will clarify that if the business at hand is a bet-the-company litigation matter by all means  the more intimidating the name, usually the better.) Both big names and no-names have to deliver the goods.

Be relevant and be differentiated

Marketers seem to get blamed for poor biographies and practice area profiles. Perhaps they deserve some of the blame but I can tell you I hate cutting and pasting bios into RFPs. It drives me crazy. Firstly bios and practice area profiles are not usually kept up to date, but even if they were, all the information in them is not all relevant to your prospect’s business. EDIT THEM PEOPLE!

Make them relevant to the pitch and make them mean something. So what if you have been practising for 20 years! That’s just a feature, a description. How do those 20 years of practice translate into a valuable benefit for your prospective client?

For example, if you say you have practised for 20 years in the area of mergers and acquisitions, how does that make you better or more valuable than someone who’s been practising for 10 years? If I were the client and I prioritized experienced lawyers who are also technologically inclined, I might make the judgement call that the 10-year-call lawyer has enough experience for my business and is probably more technologically proficient.

In the absence of any further information, I would chose less experienced techie-lawyer because that’s what I value. That is also why you need to understand your clients, their priorities, and their desires so that you can present the right person, and position that person to look like the most differentiated and valuable option. By thinking this way and presenting people and practice areas as valuable, differentiated benefits to your potential client, you are more likely to be chosen.

In next month’s column, I will go deeper into alternative fee arrangements, approach to the matter, following instructions and debriefs. Live from Calgary Stampede – YAHOO!