The seminal work on pitching and tendering, Strategic tendering for professional services, is now in its second edition. Its author Tim Nightingale tells The Professionals what readers can expect.
It seems to me that when you boil marketing and BD down to its most elemental constituents, it is about meeting needs and doing better than the competition. At the next level and in the context of professional services, it is about protecting, growing and sustaining client relationships. And once that is covered, it is about winning new clients.
From these fundamental points, marketing spreads into a very wide church indeed, from strategy creation to PR and comms, innovation, maybe disruption, research, hospitality, events, digital media and much more besides.
It is against this backdrop that Matthew Fuller, Head of Business Development at White & Case, approached me in 2016 to help in writing a book on tendering and how to do it better. This proved to be an interesting and challenging quest whilst maintaining the day job, but once Kogan Page agreed to support the project and some nine months later we had a draft.
Excluding the introduction, it comprised ten chapters from ‘To pitch or not to pitch’ to ‘There has to be a better way’. In between there are chapters on planning, writing, pricing and how to deal with those pesky procurement people on the other side of the fence.
The book went down well, surpassing its target for the first year in little over six months and, in 2018, winning the marketing category of the Business Book Awards. OK, so it’s not the Booker Awards, but it’s a small step in the right direction.
By 2020, the publisher was keen for us to do a second edition and after some soul searching, we signed up. The world had, after all, moved on. Diversity & Inclusion barely mentioned in the first edition was now front and centre as an issue for clients; technology too had jumped forward allowing firms to be far more productive in putting together proposals if they put enough work and investment at the front end. In the first edition we hadn’t touched on public sector pitching, so introduced a chapter on that.
About the same time, the small matter of the pandemic arrived on the scene and the project was pushed back a year. Thereafter, we hit our stride.
One of the things we did in this edition was to interview senior clients from all over the world as to what they thought about professional firms’ tenders, how they viewed the process and what could be improved. These conversations were hugely insightful and we peppered their thoughts and observations throughout the new book.
So, what’s the take away?
From the client perspective, the whole tendering thing is a necessary evil. They don’t like it, it is time consuming, dull and, most of the time, it’s difficult to differentiate one firm’s proposal from another.
Big Four accountants are still seen to be ahead of Big Law.
There is still too much of a focus on the firm’s expertise and their desire to big this up, rather than the client’s need. One interviewee claimed to be amazed when a lawyer actually asked him about his needs and suggested that as a result “…he must have been EY trained”. Is EY the only firm to enquire about needs? We very much doubt it, but the perception is a shocking indictment.
Finally, the relationship is at the centre of this. The closer the relationship to start with, the greater the trust and the more difficult it is to switch firms. But that trust needs to be earned.
If you bought the first book, thank you. The second is an updated version, but those changes are substantive and not cosmetic. We think the lessons and pointers in this book are practical, sensible and far from being rocket science, but if applied with any degree of consistency, they can’t fail to help you to win more and lose less.
Tim Nightingale is the founding director of Nisus Consulting, a research consultancy supporting professional services firms wanting to grow their business. He can be reached by email: email@example.com. Visit www.nisus.net.
Strategic tendering for professional services firms by Matthew Fuller and Tim Nightingale is available from bookshops and Amazon, priced at £29.99.
To order your copy with a 20% discount, please go to the publisher’s webpage – www.koganpage.com/tendering – use the personalised discount code FBM20.