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?

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When connecting with people you don’t know on LinkedIn – use your common sense

I have no problem with people I don’t know connecting with me on LinkedIn provided they are clear about why they want to do so.

What I absolutely don’t understand is why someone would send the standard LinkedIn message and expect a stranger to accept their invite. It’s actually quite a risky thing to do given that if five users state that they don’t know a person, the person’s account gets suspended. And while I don’t advocate doing that there are people out there advising their networks to do so.

So, what should you do if you want to connect to people you don’t know? 

  • Do your research. Take a look at their profile and think about why you want to connect with the person. And, more importantly, let them know why they should connect with you.
  • Send a personalised invitation to connect letting the person know how you came across them (in a group, in a search, through a contact etc) and why you would like to connect. It may be they share great content and you’d like to learn from them or you want to share ideas. Let the other person know what’s in it for them.
  • If the person you want to connect with is not in one of your groups, it can be tempting to say they are a friend rather than selecting ‘Other’. My advice is don’t! It’s really annoying getting invites from people who say they are your friend when you have never come across them. When you select ‘other’ you will need to input the person’s email address but if it’s someone you really want to connect with, I’d advise taking the time to do a google search to find out their email address – you can probably find a link to their website from their LinkedIn homepage. It shows you are honest and that you’re not just trying to randomly grow your number of connections.
A friend of mine, Natalie Sisson, also blogged on social media mistakes people make last week. This was one of the things on her list – I recommend you read her full list. 
What other advice would you give to people wanting to connect with those they don’t know on LinkedIn? 

Eight questions every professional should ask when taking new work instructions

When talking to clients of professional services firms, one of the most common issues they raise is that their providers don’t always deliver what it is they are expecting. It’s very easy to listen to a client’s brief, assume you understand their requirements, and to go off and do the work but I strongly believe that, in order to avoid misunderstandings (and often huge frustrations on both sides) professionals need to ask questions to clarify their client’s needs at the outset.
While you should never ask anything that you could find out from the client’s website or other publicly available information, the questions below will go a long way to avoiding mismatched expectations:
  1. What outcome are you looking to achieve?
  2. How important is this work to you/your organisation?
  3. What’s your deadline for this work?
  4. What are you looking for from us? All the options or our recommendation?
  5. What’s your budget for this work?
  6. Do you need to present the advice to anyone internally?
  7. Will you be our key contact on this matter?
  8. How frequently would you like progress updates and what format would you like us to communicate these in (e.g. face-to-face, phone, email)?
What other questions do you think professionals should ask their clients when taking new instructions? 
Do you have any examples of how doing this has helped your business? 

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? 

What is the best time of day to post content or questions on LinkedIn?

I’ve seen lots of information about the fact that most people access LinkedIn during working hours, while the majority access Facebook during the evenings and weekends. However, I wanted to test this.

About six weeks ago I posted an offer of a ‘free guide to getting the right client feedback in your firm’ on three LinkedIn groups. Over 200 people have requested a copy to-date so I’ve had a look at when their requests came in to see what (if any) patterns emerge.

The vast majority of people (72%) asked for a copy of our guide before 2pm weekdays, and 58% before midday (in their local timezone).

Most people responded on either a Monday or a Thursday (20.7% and 23.2% respectively), followed by a Wednesday (17.2%), a Friday (15.3%) and a Tuesday (12.3%).

While I did receive requests at the weekends: 6.4% on Saturday and 4.9% on Sunday, these were overwhelmingly from those who are self-employed. While it’s rough logic, this seems to suggest that self-employed people use the weekends to catch up on what’s been happening in the groups they belong to.

What does this mean? 

Not a lot in itself. But it does start to give a feel for when the best times to post content are. If you want to increase your chances of your content being found, and people engaging with you, I recommend posting content on a Monday or Thursday before 8.30am. Unless of course, you are targeting self-employed people when you may want to wait until Friday night/Saturday morning to post.

If you’re targeting those in the same timezone then it’s easy. But if you want to engage with those in other countries you will need to think about when they will be online (for example, if you’re in New Zealand and want to engage with those in the USA there is little point posting content or questions on a Monday as they will not have begun their week). Luckily you can use tools, such as Hootsuite, to pre-schedule your posts.

The other thing to remember is that the majority of LinkedIn users don’t access their accounts every day. Questions you ask, comments you post and content you share will only be found by a large number of people if others respond. If a discussion stays towards the top of a group for an extended period of time, more people will join in. There is no silver bullet but you can listen to your target audience and engage with them on topics that matter to them.

What times of the day/week have you found work best to post content? Does this differ geographically? 

What other tips would you give to professionals to maximise their chances of engaging with their target audience(s)? 

What assumptions can make out of a firm

Making assumptions is part of doing business. We don’t always have access to the full facts and have to draw conclusions. However, too often the assumptions that are made are incorrect, or only part of the picture, and are never tested. This can be detrimental to relationships between firms and their clients, with firms making decisions, or giving advice, based on those assumptions. This really can be a case of when making assumptions makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

The assumptions we make can affect the way we do business, the way we deal with our clients and the results we get for them.

In my experience, the most common assumptions firms make, are:

1. Assuming they know what their client wants to achieve when the client is engaging their services. By this I mean the ultimate goal – what business goal is your involvement going to help them achieve? If you understand what, ultimately, they want from the piece of the puzzle you are providing, the work you do will be focussed on this. Too often we hear that providers aren’t really listening to what clients want:

  • they haven’t asked the right questions
  • they haven’t challenged the client’s assumptions and
  • they end up making it more difficult for the client to achieve his/her/their objective.

2. Assuming the client knows the extra effort they put into a piece of work. All too often firms write off fees without telling the client. They feel noble that they have given the client a ‘good deal’ because they haven’t charged for the additional work… but the client never knows and so never gets the chance to thank the firm, or comment on it. More importantly firms may be setting unrealistic fee expectations for future work.

3. Assuming they know what the client thinks of the relationship with the firm. Often, when we are conducting client reviews, the things firms think are issues, aren’t; and the client’s actual issues are things that the firm hadn’t even considered. There are two main reasons for this:
  • the firm has never asked the client, or
  • an individual within the client organisation has made a single               comment, and it has become ‘fact’ within the firm. I have seen firms  change their strategies around significant clients based on one          partner’s say-so, and end up losing the client because they had all     the assumptions wrong.

4. Assuming clients don’t see what happens inside firms. Your clients are working with your teams and will see what is happening, particularly with regard to team changes, and with advisers who are nearing retirement. Firms have said to us “we knew that, but we didn’t realise the clients did.” Don’t forget you operate in the same market as your clients.

So, how do you know if your assumptions are right?

The only way to know for certain is to test them. Do this by:

  • asking your clients about their business and their goals
  • talking to your clients about team changes and succession planning early
  • letting clients know when you are not charging them and, where possible, the value of the work you are not charging for
  • seeking a range of views from within the client organisation about the relationship.

What other unnecessary assumptions do you think firms make?

What can be the impact of these assumptions?

4 ways to use LinkedIn you may not know about

LinkedIn has some great functionality but some of the things you can do aren’t that obvious. We’ve summarised four things, that you may not know about, that we think will really help professionals and their firms to extract greater value from LinkedIn.

1. Advanced search function – the advanced search screen enables you to search for people via a range of criteria including:

  • Keywords
  • First name
  • Surname
  • Location
  • Country
  • Postcode – there is then the option to specify the distance from the postcode you would like to search. The ability to search by postcode only works in some countries (although sadly not in New Zealand).
  • Title
  • Company
  • School (read Uni)
  • Industry
  • Groups you belong to
  • Relationship to you – i.e. all LinkedIn users or 1st and 2nd connections
  • Language

There are further search options for those who have a paid LinkedIn account. To access the Advanced Search screen, you need to ensure the search box is set to ‘People’ (alternatively, if you’re looking for work, you can access an advanced search screen for that purpose ifyou select ‘Jobs’ in the search box). Then click on the word ‘Advanced’.

2. Saving searches – it’s possible to save up to 3 advanced searches. You can then select whether (and, if so, how often) to receive email updates. To do so, run the search and then click ‘save’ (in the grey tool bar next to the number of results your search has returned).

3. LinkedIn Today – it’s hard to miss the LinkedIn Today headlines that now appear on your homepage. If you’re like me, the interesting ones always seem to appear when you have no time to read them. The good thing is you can save those that interest you to read later. To do so, you need to click ‘See more headlines’. This will take you to the LinkedIn Today page, where you can select the save button next to an article. When you’re ready to read it click on the ‘saved’ button on the right hand side of the black toolbar on the LinkedIn Today homepage.

4. Signal, or search updates, has been around for a while now. It’s a great way to follow what’s been shared/said on LinkedIn on topics of interest to you. Again, you have the ability to save searches so that you don’t need to repeat them going forwards. To access Signal, either click the ‘search updates’ button (located just below the LinkedIn Today section on your homepage) or select it in the News option on your toolbar. Once you’ve run your search select ‘save this search’ (located at the top of the results).

What other LinkedIn functionality have you discovered that professionals may not be aware of?