Law firms work 4 times harder than 5 years ago to get a new dollar of business. This trend makes the following statements we’ve heard about chasing proposals and pitches all the more frightening:
“This company is so big you don’t really need to have an existing relationship with them to get the work.”
“He just accepted my LinkedIn invitation—I think that’s a really good sign.”
“I practice law. Writing proposals and bids aren’t part of my job.”
“We don’t bother responding to RFPs; it’s a waste of time. The only way to develop business is to network.”
“Our marketing and business development department has a standard response for RFPs—I’m not sure why we don’t send it out to all potential clients.”
Proposals, pitches, and pursuing new opportunities get no respect.
For the most part, law firms drag partners kicking and screaming into the bid process or take a cookie cutter approach to their RFP responses. Very little strategic thinking or effort is put into the process. This attitude results in a paltry 31% win rate for law firms.
RFPs, pitches, and bidding for work are a necessary evil when it comes to business development.
The first step in developing a more strategic and effective proposal strategy is to ditch the cookie cutter and give the RFP the respect it deserves. Not every RFP is created equal.
Understand the nature and type of proposal or pitch opportunity your firm is facing:
- Strategic Must-win
This is the whale you’ve been hunting. You receive the request and the following words run through your mind: marquee client, new market penetration, high-profile, mega-bucks, long-term possibilities. Winning this work would fundamentally change the nature of a career, practice or even a firm’s business.
- Firm Builder
The client or case opportunities providing a great addition to the firm’s portfolio. These opportunities keep good clients in the fold and add new good clients.
- Short-term Payoff
These opportunities offer a nice piece of immediate business. However, the payoff and longer term potential of the client is mostly unknown.
Your basic, run-of-the-mill opportunity for new work. The work is mostly routine and there are no additional benefits for the firm other than billable hours.
This is the opportunity you didn’t even know existed until the RFP arrived or the client procurement team called your office. Typically these include situations where a company is auditing their current panel of providers or are sending out a blanket RFP to the 50 law firms they thought of first. Craft a polite, professional decline letter unless this organization is already a client of yours.
Once the nature of the potential opportunity has been decided, it’s time to show the love.
Rainmakers and leadership partners love to get their hands on the Strategic Must-win and Firm Builder opportunities (The prestige! The potential! The bragging rights!). These are the opportunities everyone gets excited about and puts their best efforts into.
But what about the Short-term Payoff and Routine RFPs? Usually there’s a lot less enthusiasm around these categories. It’s time to enlist the firm’s less senior partners and even associates. Give these attorneys the opportunity to cut their teeth on less strategic business development opportunities. They’ll bring new energy, build their skills, and save your firm the billable hours of more senior folks.
Proposals have become the under-loved, underappreciated lost souls of business development. However, RFPs and pitches are a bastion of opportunity to win work. All it takes is some love and respect—and a touch of strategy.
In our next post, we will discuss how to craft an effective go/no-go set of criteria to understand which proposals are truly worth your firm’s time and money to chase.