What makes the perfect pitch?

If you think business pitches are the preserve of marketing and sales you’d be wrong.  Pitches are now a central part of a fee-earner’s role.

As you read this hundreds of lawyers across the UK are currently working on presentations for new business pitches.  They, along with their colleagues in marketing and business development, are investing thousands of pounds of time convincing new or existing clients to choose them for a piece of business.  Will all this investment in time and money come to fruition?  Sadly not.

Success rates for new business pitches vary enormously in the legal profession and we have heard firms quoting anything from 20% to 80%.  So how do those in the 80% bracket achieve their success?

Be selective

It is tempting to go for every invitation to tender or request for proposal that comes your way.  Many law firms believe that going for a large quantity will bring in some work eventually.  In reality this isn’t the case and makes the profitability of any work won very low.

Those firms that have a greater success rate at pitches and presentations tend to be more selective and only go for those opportunities where they have a strong footing.  They describe a strong position as one where they have:

  • Spent considerable time understanding the client – the key people, the client business and the industry or ‘world’ in which it operates.
  • Understood the brief, not just what appears on paper but also all the motives and hidden agendas behind it.
  • Gained access to the key decision-makers and ‘influencers’.
  • Identified the incumbent adviser and recognise their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Tested their ideas and solutions with their client contacts so they see them as much their ideas as the firm’s.

Some law firms have even broken down these strengths into a series of benchmarks, against which they measure the invitations to tender (ITT) that come their way.  If an ITT delivers a low score against these performance criteria, then it is gracefully declined.  Firms adopting this approach have found that their pitch success-rate increases dramatically and the cost of winning new business becomes more profitable (as less time is wasted on unsuccessful bids).

Put yourself in pole position

Law firms who are more successful at pitches tend to have built a relationship with that client or prospective client, way before the ITT landed on their desk.  In fact when it comes to winning clients, we would suggest only 20% of the effort should be devoted to the pitch itself.  In our experience, the remaining 80% should focus on getting to know the client itself and this should have been set in motion months before. This means deciding about those clients your firm would really, really like to work with.  It also means creating plans for those key prospects on how you will build relationships prior to an opportunity arising.  This might actually bypass the need for a competitive pitch in selecting your firm.  If it doesn’t, your firm will be in pole position when the tender takes place.  Few of your competitors will be able to equal your breadth and depth of client knowledge in the time available.

Motivating the client to say yes!

With a strong relationship established prior to the pitch, the proposal and presentation should be a final ‘tick box’ exercise to convince and reassure the client that your firm is the right one.  That’s not to play down the importance of this stage of the decision-making process.  It is important.  Some law firms, however, see it as the only way to win the client and fail to recognise how crucial a relationship-building phase is.  The relationship-building phase guides the more successful firms on what solution to offer and how it should be presented to motivate the decision-makers to say yes!  It helps them to be very clear about the key messages they need to demonstrate in order to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Assembling your A Team

It also causes them to assemble the best people for the team.  By ‘best’ we mean the people who are most likely to engage with the personalities in the decision-making team.  It doesn’t mean picking people because they are available or because they have a little knowledge of this type of business or work.  Instead, it means really considering:

  • Who, on the client side will be making the decision?
  • What is their agenda, their interests, their motivations and behaviour style?
  • Who we have in the firm who will best satisfy those agendas, interests and motivations?
  • Who in the firm has the right personality to ensure our team comes across as the most compatible to work with and wows the audience?

Sometimes the team working on winning the work is wider than those representatives presenting on the day.  The best firms pull on different strengths at different stages of the pitch preparation.  This ensures that time, energy and skills are used to greatest effect.


Planning time is often seen as a luxury, but in fact time spent here can prevent valuable hours being wasted later.  The best firms combine their knowledge of the client, the audience they are presenting to and the competition, to focus on the key messages they need to convey.  A good way to do this is to consider how you would like the client to describe your firm in an exit interview after experiencing your presentation.  What impression would you like them to gain? What benefits would you like them to recite?

It is unlikely in the time available that your firm is going to be able to convey many messages, so concentrate on the three key points you need to get across.  These will give you your presentation a clear structure.

Avoiding concentration dips

Planning for the day should involve putting some thought into how the pitch itself will run.  When we consider human behaviour in presentations an interesting anomaly occurs.  An audience’s concentration tends to peak at the beginning and the end of the presentation. Conversely the bulk of most firm’s content tends to be in the middle of a presentation, when concentration is at its lowest.  The best firms recognise this and spend time preparing impactful beginnings and endings to convey their main messages.  To pull up concentration in the middle section they try a number of different tactics, for example:

  • Repeating points
  • Signposting particular benefits
  • Building in audience involvement
  • Giving anecdotes or stories that bring a point to life
  • Changing presenters for different points.

To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint?

Fewer law firms are using PowerPoint for their pitch presentations.  Instead the more successful firms are finding alternative and creative ways to demonstrate their messages and understanding of the client.  The more striking are those that show a passion to win this client.  For example, in presenting its ideas to a major restaurant chain one firm summed up its key messages in the style of a menu card.  Another firm summarised its key points in the style of travel documents when pitching to a major holiday company.  Not only were these more interactive devices for the audience, they demonstrated these firms’ genuine interest and freed the presenters to talk passionately about their solution without having to ‘click through’ list after list of bullet points.

And rehearse, rehearse and rehearse

Clients say that they love to see a firm passionate and enthusiastic to win their business.  They want to feel that the firm really understands them and is eager to help them realise their goals or overcome their problems.  It is difficult to convey such an impression without having confidence.

Confidence comes from understanding the client and their situation. It comes from your experience in this area of expertise and, on the day, it will come from the fact that the team has rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed its presentation.  This doesn’t just address what they are going to say, it also involves rehearsing how they are going to:

  • Handover to each other
  • Engage particular members of the audience
  • Project their messages (in terms of voice, body language and visual aids)
  • Respond to particular questions
  • Leave and follow up the session.

In the best firms we’ve seen, very little is left to chance.  They try to plan and practice for every eventuality.  So if you are currently staring at an ITT, consider how strong your chances are?  If they aren’t good, perhaps your energy would be better spent cultivating a relationship with another prospective client so that when they have a need, your firm is in pole position.


The firms that tend to win pitches are those that make it easy for the client to buy.  They present the best solution and in a way that demonstrates enthusiasm for the client’s business.  This is difficult to accomplish in a typical pitch process timeframe.  The best firms therefore turn time to their advantage by building relationships with the clients they want to win, long before a need is recognised and an ITT formulated.  When it does arrive these firms are ready and use their knowledge and experience of the client to put the best solution forward.  In doing so they make sure that they:

  • Assembled the best team to win this opportunity
  • Decided what their key messages are and the impression they need to make
  • Planned the presentation around the different agendas, motivations and interests in the client
  • Structured the presentation to be impactful throughout its duration
  • Rehearsed and practiced every element
  • Identified the follow up they need to conduct following the presentation.

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