Global Business Culture works with many of the great global law firms – helping them to operate more effectively in complex cross-border environments – and much of this work focuses on helping firms improve the quality of their law firm pitch presentation to clients.
We work with lawyers at various stages in their careers, from seasoned partners to up-and-coming senior associates and, at whatever level we are working with, we notice several areas of pitch delivery that need considerable amounts of development and improvement. This is not to say that partners always make terrible pitches – obviously not because they are consistently winning work. It is more that, with some guidance, lawyers can up their game and win even more work.
I have a simple view with regards to lawyers, which is that they basically have two key responsibilities. The first is to deliver exceptional legal advice to clients and the second is to win work. The two responsibilities are inextricably linked. You can’t have a client to service if you don’t win work and you can’t win work if your client service capabilities aren’t exceptional.
So, where do lawyers often let themselves down in a typical client pitch scenario?
I think lawyers often become brainwashed by their firm’s own PR. If you set a group of lawyers a pitch scenario where they are asked to pitch to a client who has needs in five jurisdictions, the lawyers will invariably hit you with the fact that they have 63 offices in 27 countries. This proud boast will be accompanied by maps of the globe with little dots where each office is located and possibly even a photo of a random lawyer in each office. All very impressive – except to this particular client who has specific needs in only five countries and who is probably massively disinterested in the fact that the firm has another 58 offices.
Pitches must be highly relevant to expressed client needs. If you have been asked to demonstrate how you can help a client on specific issues, do just that. It’s the old exam adage of ‘answer the question you have been asked’ don’t tell people everything else you know as well.
I think making things relevant to the client requires putting yourself in their shoes. One pitch scenario we put to lawyers is of a potential client who is looking to reduce the number of law firms they instruct which we say the client feels will ‘improve efficiencies and reduce costs at the same time.’ This is basically a project management dilemma from the client perspective, but the lawyers always come in with a message that the firm has a top-ranked employment practice, has won awards for its IP practice’s work, etc. Lawyers tend to try to make a client’s challenge fit the shape of a law firm rather than adapting the shape of the law firm to match client requirements.
You might be asking yourself how global cultural differences might impact on client pitches and the answer is they probably don’t if you are pitching to domestic clients with a predominantly domestic-focused business. My guess, however, is that these clients are not the target clients of the global law firms we mostly work with.
Global cultural differences will impact on client pitches in two key areas.
You have to look as if you like your colleagues – even if you don’t! The process of developing and delivering a winning pitch can be time-consuming and frustrating – especially if you have current clients who are screaming at you to get work out of the door. Whatever the frustrations and challenges encountered during the pitch development stage, leave them at the door. When you walk into the client’s office you need to give the impression that you are a balanced, fully functioning team who will be able to deliver the seamless service across the jurisdictions you will undoubtedly promise. (Try to avoid the phrase ‘seamless service’ – it’s so hackneyed).
We very often see teams presenting a pitch who obviously find it difficult to work together – the body language always gives it away. We usually video record team pitches and ask lawyers to look back at their own performance. One of the instructions we always give is to look at what you are doing when you are not speaking. At that stage team members very often switch off and give the impression they are not even listening to what their colleagues are saying. If you are not interested in what your team member has to say, why would your clients be?
Always focus on what you do when you are not speaking – it is as important as what you do when you are speaking.
I know it might seem as if I’m lecturing with this blog post and so the advice might seem hypocritical – but I’m not pitching to a client at this stage (I’m at the ‘establishing credentials’ stage of the client-winning process).
I think any pitch is an opportunity to start to develop a meaningful relationship with a client and therefore chemistry is incredibly important. Lawyers rail against this but your competitors are probably also extremely good lawyers. Your differentiator is unlikely to be legal expertise (it can be sometimes but usually it isn’t). The differentiator will be you and your colleagues and the chemistry you are able to develop with the potential client. You need to convince the client that you are the type of people they might like to do business with over a protracted period – often in tense and difficult situations. Simply put, are you the type of people they might like to have a beer with?
You cannot develop a relationship by talking at people – you can only start a relationship by talking with people. Questions are critical. You need to get the client engaged in a conversation and you can only do that by asking questions. A colleague of mine who plays the role of the client on law firm pitch training programmes always jokes that he has only ever been asked one question in all the pitches he has participated in – and that the question he was asked was rhetorical!
Ask the client questions and be grateful for any questions the client asks you. Client questions are a gift from the client because they are telling you what interests them and that is exactly what you need to know and exactly what you should focus on.
Our experience of running law firm pitch training programmes is that teams invariably get the timing horribly wrong when delivering their pitches. We stress repeatedly the need to get the timing right and that, if the pitch is slated to last 30 minutes, they don’t need to have 30 minutes’ worth of content. We emphasise and re-emphasise that the clients will ask lots of questions and that questions should be welcomed and answered rather than viewed as a challenge – but invariably the timing goes awry.
I think the timing problems result from a lack of confidence and that is probably related to lack of experience. The more you pitch, the more confident you become in your own ability to manage the situation; the less you pitch the more you rely on structure and a process.
The biggest casualty in getting the timing wrong is that it doesn’t give you the opportunity to conclude positively. Things just seem to fizzle out. If a client is seeing five different firms on one day you need to have a finish that stays in the mind – you need to be memorable.
There are lots of other areas where lawyers struggle to deliver a winning law firm pitch presentation but the five I have chosen seem to occur with metronomic regularity. I honestly believe that good quality, targeted training which puts lawyers in a safe but semi-stressful environment can really accelerate the ability to pitch effectively. I also can’t really think of a better use of law firm time and budget than on improving the firm’s capability to win new business.