Bidding 101: know the target

As 2019 drew to a close, I ran a training session with a law firm on bidding best practice. A little bit of down time over the Christmas break gave me time to reflect on a frankly critical aspect of the bidding process. Lawyers often bid for work without really knowing their target client or in other words, throw time and cost into bids when they don’t have a cat’s chance. 

Our CEO Melissa Davis was a panel member year for an IBA webinar on how GCs use the legal directories when selecting their lawyers, joined by some illustrious GCs from companies ranging from Uber to BUPA.  Following this, we both had the fortune to attend the IBA conference in Seoul where we heard more from leading GCs on their changing world and what they look for in their external legal advisers. 

So, what do my new year’s epiphany and the IBA legal directories webinar have in common? The message, whether a current client or scoping a tender for new work, truly understanding your client, demonstrating empathy, building relationships and aligned values are critical.  

Here are my January top tips for your 2020 bids strategy.

1. You have to know your target

Bidding as a craft and profession within the legal sector has taken leaps and bounds in recent years.  While we are still behind many other industries, the growing number of in-house bid specialists evidences the increase in work being tendered, the procurement rigour and increasingly innovative solutions being demanded by corporates, financial institutions and the public sector. 

It sounds obvious but whether a sole appointment or panel, your bid must do a number of things to win:

  • Demonstrate outstanding benefit and value, eclipsing solutions presented by all other tenderers;
  • Nail a service delivery and approach that fits hand and glove with the procuring body, future-proofs the client business, injects innovation and new ways of working as a legal provider and solves their business problems and challenges, ideally before they arise.
  • Convince the evaluation team that you are the right fit for their organisation in all aspects of their business and their own customer values;
  • Prove that there is no risk in appointing you, particularly if you are intent on knocking an incumbent provider off their spot;
  • Do this at the most advantageous pricing point.

Often firms just don’t know the target client well enough to deliver on these points. 

In addition to working with law firms, I have written bids for clients in the defence, health, security, and construction sectors. For those clients, I regularly worked with businesses that dedicated the kind of resource to a bid that would make a group of law firm partners wince.

The fee earner model can be a challenge when it comes to dedicating the resource required to get to know a target client well enough to win their tender. But by being smart about how you use this resource, and having focused business plans to start with, firms can achieve this level of rigour.

2. You have extensive experience. So what?

Another key insights from my years of bidding – technical excellence, expertise and promising a partner-led service is a given, not a differentiator.

  • ‘Our top ranking team has a breadth of expertise in X, Y, Z’. Evaluation response: ‘Yeah?  You and all the tenders we’ve read’.
  • ‘We provide a truly partner-led and partner-driven service.’ Evaluation response: ‘Yeah? You and all the other tenders we’ve read.’
  • ‘Our client-centric approach will ensure a tailored service that meets your needs now and as they change.’ Evaluation response: ‘Yeah? You and all the other tenders we’ve read.’

Before putting pen to paper, you have to research your target client.  Know what keeps them up at night, what are their preferences for working with their legal team, what are the key threats to their business and so on. 

You get the idea. You have to go deeper, learn more then demonstrate what you can do.

3. We’ve read your annual report, your corporate values are quite like ours.

The GCs on the IBA webinar panel were clear – you need to understand who we are, and that we are all in the people business.  Understanding that it is all about relationships is an area where we often fall short in the legal service industry. 

Clients expect technical excellence and solutions. However, as important, just as their customers and communities expect of them, they need their legal advisers to reflect their culture, values, ethos and diversity. This can only be demonstrated throughout a tender response where the bidder truly knows the client organisation, can demonstrate alignment and the value they will bring to the client organisation. 

So these are some of the areas to watch, but what makes for bidding utopia in a law firm?  Bidding is a critical part of the business development lifecycle, rather than a standalone function. Bid specialists should be included in sector groups and client teams, work with innovation, technology, finance and knowledge management specialists and professional support lawyers throughout the year – not just sending begging requests for information in the run up to a bid deadline.

These are the strands that have to come together to truly understand the target client and to formulate and offer the winning solution. Investing in strategies and training to embed this level of alignment will be resource well spent.

If you have any bidding problem areas or burning questions, please request info on our bids and tenders services.

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