The Proposal — A Look @ The Overlooked
You have evaluated the RFP and decided to submit a proposal. The starting point and the end goal is the same—to deliver a winning proposal that leads the client to say, “We choose you.”
Delivering a winning proposal requires a focus on several factors whose importance is sometimes surprisingly overlooked.
The only way to deliver a winning proposal is to understand the client’s or potential client’s (“client’) reasons for undertaking the RFP process. There is the story stated in the RFP and then there’s the back-story. You need to know both to be on the same page with the client. The only way to get to the back-story is to go beyond reading the RFP. It requires research and conversation.
The research is the first step and some of it should have been done when you were evaluating whether to submit the proposal. Some of the important research back-story questions include:
- What’s the client’s business story (relevant publicly available information)?
- What are the client’s key business pain points?
- What is the annual legal spend?
- Who are their current “go-to” law firms?
- What are its rules of engagement when hiring outside counsel?
- What’s the organizational structure of the legal department?
- Have there been any significant changes in the leadership of the legal department?
- What non-attorney professionals hold key roles in the legal department (e.g. operations, procurement, IT)?
- Who are the members of the RFP selection team (online profiles, articles, social media presence)?
The second step is to have a conversation with the client where you ask open-ended questions to clarify, confirm, and expand on the business intelligence you’ve gathered. A face-to-face meeting is always best because the interaction is more personal, open and robust. You also can pick-up nonverbal cues that may help you fill in what is not being said. The second best option is by telephone. Either way, it’s critical that the right mix of people join the conversation.
Who’s going to evaluate your proposal? The answer to the question has a profound impact on how you write the proposal. Don’t assume the audience is only in-house counsel. Increasingly, procurement and operations professionals have a seat on the selection committee. Each of these professionals brings a different lens to the evaluation process and you need to understand what each lens sees. It’s only with this level of understanding that you can prepare a proposal that matters to them.
The Narrative on Legal Acumen
RFPs are generally designed as a list of questions because the Q&A format permits an apples-to-apples comparison amongst proposals. Clearly, the format needs to be followed and the questions answered. But within these confines is plenty of room for a persuasive narrative that drives home that you are the best choice.
The narrative must always be about the client. It must consistently drive the message that you understand the client’s needs and demonstrate how you will meet those needs. Use language that is specific, direct and conversational.
Demonstrate your legal acumen by focusing on the results you've obtained in similar matters.
The Narrative on Operational Excellence
Many RFPs include questions about the law firm's approach and capabilities in the areas of flexible staffing models, knowledge management, project management, process improvement and technology. These questions, in the aggregate, are aimed to uncover a law firm's "operational" capabilities in the delivery of legal services.
An effective way to demonstrate the firm's "operational excellence" in these areas is to include visuals that illustrate how these approaches and capabilities work together to deliver client value.
The Narrative on AFA's
Most RFPs asks one or two question about the use of alternative fee arrangements. A vague statement that the firm is open to using AFAs is not a good answer. Worst yet is an equally vague statement that the firm is open to using AFAs and includes a lists of all the possible AFA options. Admittedly, answering the question with specificity may be impossible unless the RFP and/or the conversations with the client have provided information not usual at this stage of the process. But a better response to the AFA question(s) is to pick several AFA's successfully employed by the firm with other clients. This can be done using a "case study" format.
The Executive Summary
Assume that your proposal will not be read from beginning to end. Some sections may only be scanned. But the section that will set the tone, highlight your key value propositions and present a snapshot of your proposal is the executive summary. Here is where you connect the dots in a compelling, cohesive and persuasive narrative. Here is where you include insights and recommendations that may not have been specifically addressed in the RFP but are salient to the client’s issues. This is where you speak to the audience in a way that makes them want to learn more. It’s where you make the first impression.
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