Book review – “Strategic tendering for professional services” by Matthew Fuller and Tim Nightingale

Posted on: May 11, 2017
Strategic tendering

It’s about time that there was a new book on strategic tendering for professional services. It’s too long – 1993 – since John de Forte and Guy Jones wrote their ground breaking “Proposals, pitches and beauty parades”. Whilst I valued Basil Sawczuk’s “Creating winning bids” in 2013 it is focused on the property and construction sectors https://www.kimtasso.com/book-review-creating-winning-bids-architecture-and-construction-by-basil-sawczuk/ So I was delighted to see this book on strategic tendering published by two highly respected and ultra-experienced practitioners (veterans?) from the professional services sector.

Comprehensive coverage of the pitch and tender process

In just under 200 pages, the authors have crammed a huge amount of valuable experience and practical advice on tendering. It’s comprehensive in its coverage starting from the moment an invitation to tender is received and going right through the process to gaining feedback from the client.

Anyone responsible for establishing pitch and tender processes in their firm will find it invaluable. My only niggle is that it doesn’t put pitching into the broader marketing, selling and client relationship management context – and both authors have expertise in this and acknowledge it’s importance – but I guess they had to draw the boundaries somewhere.

Research based guidance

Tim is the founder of Nisus Consulting – well-known in the legal sector for its in-depth and innovative research into client needs – both for sector insight and as a service to a large number of law firms. So it’s no surprise that the book contains much new information from senior players in law and accountancy, management consultancy, engineering, architecture and advertising and a cross-section of procurement experts. The authors have also consulted a plethora of other experts in professional services marketing. And there’s a glowing foreword provided by the senior partner of Allen & Overy.

Focused on mid-sized private sector pitches and tenders

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of the material is relevant to private sector pitches which are mid-sized. But the challenges of consolidation (clients using fewer advisers) and differentiation remain the same in all strategic tendering. But if you are focused on large scale/global or public sector pitches and tenders you may feel that your needs aren’t entirely met.

Solid and extensive advice on the entire pitch process

The book contains a treasure chest of down-to-earth and valuable information about all aspects of the pitch and tendering process. The section on whether or not to bid considers how different firms address the decision to bid and there are long lists of the sort of criteria you might use to make a go/no go decision.

I liked the RATER service delivery model (Responsiveness, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy and Reliabiltiy) which is based on over 2,000 responses from the legal sector (see https://www.kimtasso.com/client-experience-management-cem-two-research-reports/) And the authors provide a framework for analysing and researching your position – including calls to the client. There’s also an excellent list of questions to ask the clients in your search for insights. So there’s lots of help on developing a compelling value proposition.

While the authors stress the need for planning and brainstorming amongst the different team members, there’s little emphasis on the team dynamics both for those tendering and those client-side. A key criterium for many clients is how well the presenting team gels together and the preparation stage allows ample time for that.

Towards the end of the book there’s guidance on how to win approval for and establish a follow up and post-pitch feedback process. The sample questions are helpful. The metrics and analysis section is also solid.

There are also short case studies from Allen & Overy and also DAC Beachcroft.

Procurement predicament

Dr Silvia Hodges Silverstein – who has been researching client purchasing decisions in the legal sector since 2005 – makes a significant contribution to this chapter. There’s some good information about discounts and an analysis of what really adds value to clients.

Disappointing pricing section

I was disappointed with the section on pricing. Interestingly, it was not written by the main authors and maybe that’s why. You can feel the style shift. And whilst there is some good basic material on pricing (especially the information from Kevin Doolan formerly of Eversheds and now at Moller PSF Group), it’s not detailed enough and nor is it exactly cutting edge.

Whilst it discusses value pricing and lists different pricing models, I couldn’t see detailed information on performance based payments, subscription retainers, shared risk or success fees and other innovative pricing approaches. And the lack of analysis of the profitability of work was a shock.

Writing and presenting guidance

There are just 18 pages on writing. It covers the basics and offers examples to illustrate right and wrong approaches. The list of added value services is helpful but not innovative – but that’s a moving target. Then there are 17 pages on presentations.

Properly guarded about automation

The authors acknowledge the various technology solutions for the mass production of pitches and rightly point to the fact that the time saved should be devoted to research, relationship management, developing compelling value propositions and tailoring that material to meet the specific needs of the client.

On-line auctions are mentioned briefly, but those who face these digital pressure tests may feel a bit short-changed. E-auctions are growing in popularity amongst the largest, global organisations and almost commonplace in the property and construction sectors.

Useful quotes and sound bites

  • As McKinsey points out in their research, creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience and difficult to automate
  • The total value of the professional services sector globally in 2014 was $2,160 billion…about 2% of the global economy
  • The global accountancy profession is estimated to be worth $464 billion globally
  • The legal sector in the UK alone is reported to provide gross value added of £25.7 billion – 1.6% of the total value added in the British economy
  • The Big Four accountants are ahead of the game
  • The whole tender exercise should be two-thirds about the client and what they need and one-third about how your firm will deliver it
  • Research we carried out in 2002 in the legal market established that in only one in five instances was a FTSE-100 company selecting a firm using a formal ender process

Overall

It’s a valuable contribution to the limited literature on the topic of strategic tendering. Anyone new into a pitch, bid or tendering role in professional services whether in law, accountancy or property will find that it accelerates them through the learning curve at high speed. It would be a sound investment for them.

It would also serve well as an educational tool for fee-earners who either play a role in managing pitches and tender processes and policies or who have to undertake more than the lion’s share of pitching and tendering work.

However, whilst it is helpful to have all the various strands of information together in one convenient book, those who are highly experienced in pitching, tendering and selling will probably not glean any significant new nuggets of information.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. To pitch or not to pitch?
  3. Getting behind the brief and in front of the client
  4. Planning to win
  5. The procurement predicament
  6. Smart pricing
  7. Writing to win
  8. Presenting to win
  9. Following up and post-pitch feedback
  10. Tools and technology
  11. There has to be a better way

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