According to buyers of legal services, there are two fatal intelligence-gathering mistakes law firms make when pitching new business or responding to requests for proposals: the diversity of their proposal team and not doing enough homework to understand how the client’s business makes money. (See “Silicon Valley In-House Counsel Are Deadly Serious About Diversity.” )
These are unforced errors that firms can avoid with proper planning.
In my previous article for Attorney at Work, we covered five questions to ask before you respond to an RFP. Once you decide to move forward with a response, here are the intelligence-gathering steps you should take.
Having decided to respond to an RFP, you must use all available information to shape your response and customize your value proposition. Focus intelligence gathering in the following areas to ensure you are getting a cohesive view:
- Information from the client
- Information from your firm
- Information from market research vendors, websites and social media (desktop tools)
1. Information From the Client: The RFP Q&A
Most formal RFPs have a Q&A process outlined in the document. This typically entails a specific time period after the RFP has been issued where firms can submit questions to an individual in the legal department. All questions are collected, and a document is released to all participating firms, which includes answers to all questions submitted. This affords each firm an equal playing field.
Legal procurement professionals consistently note that law firms often fail to take advantage of this opportunity to clarify questions or press for more information to enable them to provide a stronger response.
Responding law firms often fail to identify questions they may have until the deadline has passed. A best practice is to prioritize a review by the lead lawyer responding as soon as it is issued to ensure you identify any issues as soon as possible.
Typical questions law firms should ask themselves to determine what additional information would be valuable include:
- What issues is the RFP trying to solve? What are the company’s business goals?
- What is the current legal operations process (size, scope, workflow) for the company?
- Which other law firms or legal service providers have been invited to respond?
- What details can we learn about past legal spend strategy (work allocation, number of firms being used, type of work that has been done, billing models)?
- Do we have all the data we need to provide an alternative fee arrangement if requested?
- Can we agree to the proposed outside counsel guidelines as written?
- Do we track law firm data in the format it is being requested in the RFP? If not, is the issuer willing to be flexible on response format?
- Do we need approval or more clarification if we were to partner with a third party in the response?
As RFPs have grown in prominence, we are seeing more smaller legal departments use them, but in a less formal manner. In these cases, they don’t always have a legal procurement or operations professional managing the RFP; the general counsel may be managing the process directly. If the RFP doesn’t provide a process for questions, the lawyer with the best relationship with the company should request a phone call or meeting to learn as much information as possible.
Often a general counsel will provide you with insight and direction that isn’t shared with all firms. This is a huge competitive advantage over firms that don’t bother to schedule these calls or meetings. It also shows you care deeply about the client.
2. Firm Information: Databases and Lawyers
The next area you should look to for intelligence is inside your firm software and the minds of your lawyers. If the RFP is from a current client, your firm should already have some valuable data compiled. Legal marketers leading RFP responses should have a system in place with their finance team to quickly pull this data in an easy-to-digest format. You should be able to pull data showing prior matters, types of work performed, lawyers who have billed time, pricing structures and business results achieved for the client. Your response will be stronger when you can incorporate past performance and reference data that supports your proposal.
If the RFP is from a prospect rather than an existing client, you may still have valuable information inside your lawyers’ minds or contact lists. Many firms have a contact database that enables a quick search to see who may know people at the company. However, because those databases are often missing key data, firms should also circulate an email to all lawyers noting the RFP opportunity and asking for any relevant contacts or information about the company. It’s important here that you manage this process so you do not get responses from every lawyer who may want to be included in the proposal. Rather, you want to frame the email so that it is crystal-clear you are only looking for specific information that may be relevant to helping the firm respond to the opportunity.
Social media searches are also valuable for learning about key decision-makers’ backgrounds. Quick searches on LinkedIn or similar sites will give you photos and professional backgrounds on the key decision-makers. This information should help shape how you staff your proposed client team for a response or in-person meetings. You can also glean valuable information for conversation starters based on prior work experience, education and background.
3. Desktop Tools: The Research and Technology
The last piece of the fact-gathering process involves learning about the company based on publicly available information or purchased desktop tools. Law firm library staff or designated information professionals are often in charge of managing these relationships and tools. If it’s a public company, a lot can be learned via publicly posted documents such as 10-Ks, press releases and the company’s website.
Examples of desktop tools include:
- SP Global
- Dun & Bradstreet
- Lexis Legal Advantage
- Westlaw Edge
- Bloomberg Law’s Law Firm Analytics
- Monitor Suite
- Lex Machina
These tools can give you further insight into things like a company’s prior legal history, media mentions, law firm representation, litigation trends and registered intellectual property.
For marketing professionals working on an RFP response, it’s imperative to review this material before it goes to the lead lawyer. Extract highlights or reference certain pages for the lawyer to review. Lawyers typically will not have the time or bandwidth to review large research documents.
Gathering intelligence from these three areas will improve your chances of winning more business. Not only will it allow you to customize your written responses, but it will also help you prepare for your in-person presentations.