Pitching for new work does not always come naturally to lawyers, writes Sue-Ella McDowall, but a number of key rules can help.
Does the thought of pitching for legal work leave you cold? You're not alone.
But in the hyper-competitive post-GFC legal world, pitching for new business is becoming a way of life for most firms.
In fact, if your firm is not actively pitching, I can pretty much guarantee that your competitors are.
Branding agencies work on hundreds of pitches each year, so I thought I'd share some of the secrets of pitching we've learned after two decades.
We've had a lot of pitching success, and of course we've made our share of mistakes, but we've also learned a lot along the way.
Below are some of our top tips and observations to help you win your next pitching contest.
1. Be selective about what you chase
Pitching is expensive and time consuming, so save up your energy for the accounts you really want to win - your performance will be better, and your potential client will notice the increased commitment and passion.
Part of being selective is also the art of assessing your realistic chances. Most brand agencies would be very wary of participating in a pitch with more than two participants (three at the most).
Then there is the worst pitch situation of all - the prospect who has already decided the outcome before the pitch begins. When the pitch process is undertaken to keep someone happy, and you know there is a participant who has already been favoured, your best bet is to stay right out of it.
Sometimes, you'll find the act of refusing to participate in a pitch can even help you win the business. If you outline why you are not participating, and demonstrate your capability clearly, you may well be handed the job on a platter.
2. Build rapport before the pitch
If you can, try to meet your decision-makers well before the big day. Often you'll pick up a lot of extra insight into their business issues which will give you a distinct edge.
A good idea is to make sure you have some follow-up questions for your prospect while you prepare your pitch. Frequency of communication is important for building rapport and trust in new acquaintances.
There's another advantage of meeting in advance: while your pitching competitors are struggling to 'break the ice', you'll be relaxed and moving through your materials with ease.
3. Leverage your firm's brand
This seems obvious, but if you work for a firm with a reputation, then shout about it.
Try to find a case study from your firm that proves what you have to say is relevant to, and important, for the client. And if your firm has a brand proposition or strap-line that supports your pitch, make sure you incorporate it. It shows your suitability for the task.
4. Always state and solve a problem for your prospect
Great pitching involves clearly solving a problem. The more you can help your client feel the weight of the problem, the more the value of your solution will shine. But don't assume your client understands their predicament; it is always worth outlining the problem and issues your client is facing, before you pitch your solution.
5. Value the work in the client's terms
Buying legal services is a grudge purchase for most clients, and the cost is often a shock.
But as you know, legal services in Australia provide, generally speaking, exceptional value for money. We think the problem is that the costs of legal projects are rarely presented in the context of the cost of the problem or an expected business return. If you can frame your proposed fees in the context of the financial pain you will prevent, you'll find your pitch is much more persuasive.
6. Ask for the business!
Over the years, we've seen many firms finish an otherwise great pitch but then fail to show the client the clear next steps. If you can, make a recommendation and an offer. Ask for the business. It can feel unusual, but asking for the business increases your chances of success. If you find this uncomfortable, we have found the following approach works wonders: Put yourself in the mindset of a trusted advisor. If you want to care for, protect and guide your prospect, then it really becomes your 'duty' to ask for their business, in much the same way that it is the maritime captain's duty to throw a lifeline to someone who has fallen overboard.
7. Make it relevant
If what you have to say is not relevant to the client and their problem, you ought to leave it out of the pitch. Most pitches include lots of extra ideas and information that are not relevant to the client's problem and how you plan to solve it. It's a natural tendency for firms to want to include lots of supporting information, so always ask yourself: "How is this information relevant to the client's problem?"
8. Making it all about "us"
Is this the greatest pitching trap of all? We think it might be. Your prospects are much more interested in what you can do for THEM, than about you and your firm. One trick to try is to count the number of times words like "our", "my" and "I" appear in your pitch, and compare it to the number of times the client will hear "you" and "yours".
As a rule of thumb, you'll want to use the words like "you" and "yours" at least three times more often than words such as "we", "us" or "ours".
Sue-Ella McDowall is principal of Sydney-based branding specialists, McDowall.