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August 29, 2014 Articles

Practical Tips for Crafting Effective Pitches

By Jennifer Roscetti

Congratulations. You’ve been asked to pitch for work from a potential client. But how do you create a pitch that wins the business? Building a successful pitch starts well before the actual sales meeting. This article explores the planning and execution of an effective pitch that is tailored to the potential client’s needs.

Before the Pitch: Fact Discovery
As strange as it may seem, the pitch process closely resembles litigation. Just as fact discovery is vital to developing winning arguments at trial, fact discovery of the potential client’s needs becomes crucial in developing and presenting an effective pitch. The first question attorneys often ask a potential client is why he or she is seeking counsel. But the answer to this question does not provide a full understanding of the client’s needs. For example, in the patent world, we often are asked to pitch for defense of a patent litigation where a potential client’s product is accused of infringing a patent. But the pitch should not be limited to defending the litigation. Instead, it is important to understand what role the product at issue plays in the potential client’s overall business plan.

Inquiries that elicit nonconfidential plans for key products and business priorities in the coming year provide the attorney with insight into the potential client’s needs and goals. Some questions to consider include:

How valuable is the product at issue to the company?

What were the sales of the product last year?

What is the sales forecast for the product?

What effect, if any, would the potential case have on the sales of the product?

Is the product part of a larger portfolio or business unit?

What effect will the outcome of this case have on the business unit?

How does the product fit with the company’s strategic plan?

This information helps form a tailored agenda for the actual pitch. And, depending on the overall business goal, there may be other avenues the potential client has not yet considered.

Next, explore who from the potential client will attend the pitch meeting. And more importantly, who has the power to choose an outside counsel? Other questions to consider during this phase include:

We’ve discussed how the product fits into your strategic company plan. Will other members of your company attend the meeting?

If so, who are they?

What issues will they have responsibility for during the litigation/project?

This information will guide the formation of your pitch team. For example, in the patent world, if members from the licensing and research and development departments of the potential client plan to attend your pitch, you should consider expanding your team. Firm colleagues with a robust licensing practice and specialties in the technology at issue will serve as valuable additions to your pitch team. Once you form the pitch team, provide the potential client with a list of the team members and a brief explanation of the role each will play at the meeting. Again, this type of continuous exchange of information provides the potential client with a preview of your communication style and you with insight into the client’s needs.

Responding to an RFP
If the potential client submits a request for proposal (RFP), scan it to produce a word processing file. Then copy and paste it into a file for your response. Follow the outline of the RFP exactly. Do not use a previous response to some other potential client for a similar representation. The RFP seeks answers to questions. Answer each and every one, in the same order in which it appears in the RFP.

Pitch Performance
Attorneys often misunderstand the type of communication that should occur during the pitch meeting. The term “pitch” implies that the attorney making the presentation should lead the discussion by selling services. But that attorney should not dominate the discussion. Indeed, the pitch provides the executives at the potential client a preview of your communication style should they choose you. And a key component to any relationship is listening. An attorney-potential client relationship is no different. During the pitch, show the executives that you listened during the “fact discovery” phase by using that information in a client-tailored presentation. Avoid generic presentations divorced from the issues they face.

Consider an example of a generic fact: “My firm provides services across a broad spectrum of intellectual property issues including patent office practice, litigation, patent transaction and strategic counseling, design patents, trademarks, copyrights, and/or trade secrets.” Are you still reading? This laundry list of various practices fails to impress. Instead, explain why hiring a firm that can deliver services across a broad spectrum benefits the potential client. Highlight pertinent practice areas in the framework of the potential client’s problem. For example, patent office practice can provide an alternative procedural avenue to resolve or stay the litigation. Only a firm that practices both district court litigation and patent office procedure can fully serve the potential client. Showing a potential client that you can do more than what it has asked may give you a leg up on the competition. Who wouldn’t want to have a one-stop shop?

In addition to procedural avenues, demonstrate to the potential client how various problems are intertwined but can be solved by your firm given its broad practice spectrum. For example, in the patent context, understanding how to prosecute and obtain a patent is crucial for spotting issues in patent litigation. Likewise, understanding issues that often arise in litigation can influence prosecution so as to avoid potential problems; and understanding prosecution, particularly how claims are drafted, enables one efficiently to assess an intellectual property portfolio for licensing or other transactions that will generate revenue streams as opposed to less valuable ventures. By understanding the potential client’s strategic plan, goals, and priorities, you can demonstrate how your firm will advance the potential client’s business goals.

Tell a story or two. Describe at least one representative engagement that closely tracks the possible scenario the potential client is facing. And identify various fact scenarios showing how the facts of the potential client’s case could implicate a major change in outcome. Alternatively, describe more than one representative engagement with altered facts that change the outcome. This will show the client your ability to spot issues, properly analyze the facts, and balance risks and benefits to achieve the best outcome.

Establish a Post-Pitch Schedule
Fact discovery continues during the pitch. After your presentation, ask more questions. And the most important question is the next step in the pitch process.

What is the potential client’s timing for choosing counsel?

What is the timing for the work and/or litigation?

If there are outstanding questions from the potential client, does your proposed response time work for the potential client?

What concerns, if any, does the potential client have with choosing your firm?

The answers to these questions will establish your follow-up procedure and timing.

In summary, focus your pitch on the potential client, as opposed to yourself or your firm. Listen before, during, and after the pitch to tailor your presentation and team to the potential client. Continuous communication is a key component for building and executing an effective pitch. These practical tips will aid you in creating a successful pitch that wins the business.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, career, business development, professional development, client development, marketing, client pitch

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