Ep 009 – Playing the long game to win a bid or tender

Amy Burton-Bradley
Consulting Director
Julian Midwinter
Amy Burton-Bradley

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Show Notes

In this episode, Rob Patterson of Parkins Lane and Paul Evans of Toro Digital are joined by Amy Burton-Bradley, Consulting Director at Julian Midwinter.

We discuss:

  • Should you always say ‘yes’ to a RFP/RFT? Amy outlines the key factors that need to be considered before engaging resources to develop a reply:
    1. Is there an existing relationship? 
    2. Does it aligns to firm’s strategy and core business?
  • How to use the first 48 hours of receiving an RFP/RFT to determine whether the firm prepares a response:
    • Set up a 30min meeting with key internal stakeholders.
    • Circulate the request and ensure parties read it prior to the meeting.
    • Complete a Bid/No Bid checklist.
    • In the meeting, share information/intel about the client: relationships, incumbents and assign responsibilities for preparing the response.
    • Capture replies and reasoning as to why/why not to proceed.
  • How to decline a RFP/RFT.
  • Elements of a reply:
    • How to standout in the Executive Summary
    • What ‘value adds’ are actually valuable to a client and how to up the ante, and 
    • Can alternative/creative pricing really set you apart from the next firm? 
  • How much impact does the procurement team play in assessing and assigning panel firms? And why you should always – win or lose – ask for a debrief and conduct an internal meeting.
  • You’ve won – wohoo! Understanding appropriate ways to get to know the client better and get a fair (greater) share of the work.


Connect with Amy: 
 

On LinkedIn

Julian Midwinter website

Email Amy


Resources mentioned:

20 question bid or no bid assessment checklist

https://www.julianmidwinter.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/jma-bid-no-bid-checklist.pdf

Tender and bid debriefing guide for internal teams

https://www.julianmidwinter.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/jma-tender-and-bid-debriefing-guide-internal-teams.pdf

 

Blogs mentioned:

Why firms keep bidding on losers and what you can do about it

https://www.julianmidwinter.com.au/2019/03/why-firms-keep-bidding-on-losers-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

How to run a kick-off meeting for your tender, bid or proposal

https://www.julianmidwinter.com.au/2019/05/how-to-run-a-kick-off-meeting-for-your-tender-bid-or-proposal/

Same-same, but different – Best practice for recycling boilerplate tender, bid & proposal content

https://www.julianmidwinter.com.au/2017/12/same-same-but-different-best-practice-for-recycling-boilerplate-tender-bid-proposal-content/

Leveraging a tender or bid win to get more than your fair share

https://www.julianmidwinter.com.au/2018/05/leveraging-a-tender-bid-or-proposal-win-get-more-than-your-fair-share/

Tender debriefing with the client

https://www.julianmidwinter.com.au/2013/01/tender-debriefing/

Transcription

Paul Evans: Hi there. Today’s guest is Amy Burton-Bradley, the Consulting Director at Julian Midwinter. Amy has over 15 years of experience in writing bids and tenders for professional services firms. Her previous experience was working as an in house marketing and BD professional at Middletons, which is now K&L Gates. Cowley Hearne Lawyers and engineering firms Sinclair Knight Merz which is now Jacobs.

Paul Evans: She’s prepared over 350 successful bids and tenders in the public sector at Commonwealth state and local levels including the government and statutory authorities, and also to insurance companies, banks, financial service businesses, the health sector, mining, property and non-for-profits. Welcome to the show, Amy.

Amy B. Bradley: Thank you very much, Paul. It’s great to be here.

Paul Evans: Great. So today we are obviously going to be talking a lot about bids and tenders, but specifically we thought we’d focus on the process of submitting a bid. And the first step I guess in submitting a bid is obviously assessing whether you should actually commit the time and resources to submit it in the first place. Your success rate of leading bids is a whopping 73% over the past 10 years, which is enormous.

Paul Evans: And not to take anything away from that result, but you must have an eye for spotting a genuine opportunity for a firm to be successful in that process. So perhaps could you tell the listeners what you’re looking for when consulting to a client and providing them with your insights on whether they should pitch or not?

Amy B. Bradley: Thanks Paul. Look, I spend about half my time actually talking firms out of pursuing bids that are not a good fit for them, which is probably why our win rate and my win rate is on the higher end, because you do get, I guess an instinct. It’s partly scientific, partly ours, but you do get an instinct for ones that are not going to be in the firm’s interest to pursue. And for a variety of reasons, sometimes they may still want to proceed, and of course we can help them.

Amy B. Bradley: But yes, I think understanding whether or not you should be bidding is the critical first step to success because, apart from all the direct and indirect costs, it’s really disheartening for BD teams and is to keep working on bids that you, in hindsight it becomes obvious, you had no chance of winning. So we actually have a very handy 20 question checklist, available on the resources section of our website that gives you, I guess 20 factors to consider. Not all of them are always relevant.

Amy B. Bradley: But I think my number one criterion for whether or not a firm should bid is, do you have any existing relationships with your prospective client that you’re responding to the tender for? Because at the end of the day, law really is a relationships business. And if they don’t know you from a bar of soap, it’s going to be very hard to get up.

Paul Evans: You’re talking Rob’s language there.

Amy B. Bradley: That’s number one.

Rob Patterson: What I was going to say, I’m really pleased you realise that it’s number one because it’s in my mind it’s absolutely number 1 also. I often give an example to people. I’ve attended that I was helping a firm prepare for a bank panel, and as part of that, we actually spent the only months leading up to the actual tender, getting to know them and developing relationships so that when we did tender, we’ll put in the request for proposal. We actually had a bit of a chance as opposed to sending in as you say, cold with no relationships, it was just never going to get up.

Amy B. Bradley: And that’s the perfect strategy, Rob. And it’s kind of a long game that you need to play, because most big institutional type clients will have an existing panel of providers that they’ve worked with for many years. So it’s very hard to unseat incumbents if they’re providing a fairly decent satisfactory level of service to the client you want to go after. So it’s the day the bid comes out, isn’t the day to start work on it, if I could put it that way.

Amy B. Bradley: But you do get a lot of reactivity in law firms where something comes in the door or they get tapped on the shoulder and it’s drop everything, let’s rally round. And a lot of good teamwork can happen under pressure. But again, it’s one of those ones in hindsight it’s sometimes it becomes very obvious that you would never in with a real chance because you didn’t really understand all the environmental factors going on or the existing providers that, that client was working with.

Amy B. Bradley: So a couple of the other critical ones I like two factors I like to think about whether or not a firm should bid, include whether or not it aligns to your firm’s strategy and your core business. I find a lot of lawyers say, “I could do a will for you.” No one’s saying that they couldn’t put their mind to it and do that. But again, is it work you are actually good at doing on a repeat basis and are impressive to prospective client? Because if it’s a little bit outside your area I really wouldn’t bother.

Rob Patterson: Amy, you do a lot of government tenders. Do you often or have you known that you’ve encountered firms, say look at federal government or a state government tender and go, there’s so much work we’ve just gotta to do it?

Amy B. Bradley: Yeah. There is an element there of maybe chess bidding or there’s a certain prestige I think to having government clients although, I know some firms struggle with the fees you can command with government in that it’s not as good a yield or as profitable perhaps as some other types of work that’s available to the firm. But I think government are a good client because, there’s almost never any write-offs, and there is a certain prestige or cachet associated with it.

Amy B. Bradley: And one small example of a government tender from a few years back, and this would be 2012, I think from memory, publicly open tender advertised all over the tender alert services. Every man and his dog in Sydney went after it and I think wider in New South Wales, and it was a very complex bid to put together. They wanted a lot of case studies and scenarios that you had to respond to and different pricing.

Amy B. Bradley: And then it turned out, I think their external legal spend was about $500,000 a year, which is not nothing, but they had something like over 100 bids to wade through. And it was one of those ones where I think they became overwhelmed once everything had been submitted and had so many to review. The decision and announcement about who’d been appointed was delayed for months and months. And then when it was announced they’d reverted back to their existing provider firms because it became to hard.

Amy B. Bradley: So again, that was one where they had a lot of conveyancing work and things like that, very routine legal work that just about every firm in Sydney could say, we do a bit of property, we do a bit of litigation. But in hindsight, again, they probably didn’t have very good chances. And then the client being overwhelmed, decided to do something different internally. So which was to stick with what they already had.

Rob Patterson: In terms of strategic alignment, do you look at things like values?

Amy B. Bradley: As in sort of corporate social responsibility and stuff like that?

Rob Patterson: Yeah. Whether the firms values are aligned to those company or government body that they’re tendering to.

Amy B. Bradley: Yeah. And I think, traditionally for example, typically in Sydney, Melbourne, there’s been certain firms that will work with certain churches, Christian churches, and we know and as for example, the Catholic church law firm they do a lot of work for the Salvation Army. So definitely at that level you get, firms looking to align with clients where they share values. But I think more broadly as well, in about the last five years, I’ve really noticed it ramping up.

Amy B. Bradley: You’re being asked to provide evidence, much more of things around social and sustainable procurement, which is a way for some of the bigger consumers of legal services like you E-government Qantas is another one I can think of that has, a lot of requirements around this stuff. And it’s all about making their supply chain live up and embody the values and do all the proper processes that their own clients or customers are expecting.

Amy B. Bradley: Qantas bid I did a couple of years back, and I think it was standard procurement verbiage, but, we had to provide details about animal welfare policy, which if you’re a caterer or an animal transport provider or something, I could see that would be highly relevant to your ability to provide Qantas with appropriate services, less appropriate for a law firm, because we had to fudge that one a little bit. You don’t want to be disrespectful to the client either that it’s clearly important to them. And I think the client always defines what’s important and valuable.

Paul Evans: So how can BD professionals communicate those kind of criteria to partners and firms at large, especially if the partners don’t necessarily agree?

Amy B. Bradley: And it can be tough. And I think, I’d say at the outset, you’ve got to know if you’re a BD person, which battles to pick. So there are some that you’re going to have to participate in and help prepare that you may personally think is, not a great idea for the firm for whatever reason. But I am big on consistent process. So having a process and applying that consistently. And I would say one, go through some type of qualification, whether it’s a bid or no bid checklist like the one I was talking about earlier.

Amy B. Bradley: And then if you are going to bid, get everyone, whether video conference or around the table within the first 48 hours of the documents coming out. Let everyone read it prior to meeting up and have a 30 minute minimum kickoff session where you can collectively capture any intel about the client, about who they’re using now. And also cover off, responsibilities and accountabilities for developing sections of the bid. And then also covering off practical things. For example, if the main partner is going to be away overseas for the part of it, things like that and…

Paul Evans: Just logistics.

Amy B. Bradley: Logistics and then that way from the outset you’ve eyeballed everyone in the room and hopefully got agreement. And I think the good thing about doing that, if it’s captured somewhere, the reasoning behind proceeding with the bid, if there’s an area where you’re bidding all the time and not being successful, you start to get together a bank of kind of evidence about these are the things we’ve been thinking and testing by putting in bids and we keep failing, and because the backend of that would be to, and I think we’ll talk about this later a bit more, but to obtain a debrief about why you’re unsuccessful with the, entity calling for tenders to go back into your kind of intelligence gathering around these exercises because they always take longer than people think.

Amy B. Bradley: There’s a lot of costs involved and it would be maybe better if we decided to spend our time and money and effort on something else. So I think by having a consistent process, big or small bid, everyone gets used to the idea that we run through these staff as a matter of course. And maybe sometimes the decision is we don’t proceed with a bid. Because we always say, the first rule of good business development is learning when to say no. There’s so many things competing for people’s time and attention.

Amy B. Bradley: Come to this conference, sponsor this thing, put in a pitch for this and it’s not qualified properly. Or there’s maybe a lack of understanding around what the value of the work on offer actually is. Like I said, it turned out with that Sydney example, their legal spend was a relatively poultry, half a million between 15 existing firms. So it wasn’t nothing, but it’s not the rivers of gold revenue stream that perhaps people may think it might be.

Paul Evans: That make sense. If you were to say no, how would you suggest the firm respond to that business?

Amy B. Bradley: Yes. So if they’ve been, specially invited, and I’ve got to say it does really happen if it’s a case where it’s not just one they found, in the gazetted section of the paper. If they have been specially invited, it’s very flattering. And I find some times where their reticence is, is because that prospective client has pigeonholed their law firm as being an expert in X and Y and it turns out that it’s not really a good fit for them.

Amy B. Bradley: So sometimes they will still want to do a bid, but they’ll do it in a pretty minimal kind of way because politically they feel that the client’s expecting them to have a go, and then they’ll start saying things like, “We should put our hat in the ring. And you never know dah dah dah dah.” But again, getting back to saying no is smart. I think the brave and more clever thing to do there would be to respectfully and politely declined to bid, maybe in writing or better through a phone conversation and walk the client through why, it’s about educating the client.

Amy B. Bradley: You may perceive that we actually do this. We don’t. It would be a stretch for our team and we do really good work in this area, but we don’t do it in area X, et cetera, et cetera. But I think often by the time I’m involved, the firms have already qualified in a bid rather than out. But a lot of them are frightened of actually having that conversation with their clients and never want to say what they don’t know. So they’ll put in something even if it’s not quite right.

Amy B. Bradley: Look, I mean, I think people with built practice areas off the back of those sorts of situations. So there’s always those exceptions to the rule as well where they might do a very speculative bid and against all odds pull it off, and it becomes a core service offering of the firm. But that’s very rare I think.

Paul Evans: Well, I think we’ve covered off on determining whether you should do the bid and some of the planning process. We might have a look now at the actual bid. And I think there’s three areas here that I want to cover that I think will be interesting to our listeners. And that was the executive summary, the value add section and obviously the pricing. So you might start with the executive summary. What do you think makes an effective executive summary?

Amy B. Bradley: There’s lots of good info on executive summaries out there in lots of books about proposals and on the web. A lot of executive summaries are really boring. I think a better understanding of what an executive summary should be doing for you in a tender, a proposal or a bid, would greatly assist firms when they’re presenting this stuff, because a lot of them will open with, “Thank you for this opportunity to be…”

Amy B. Bradley: And I’ve heard various things. I went to a procurement workshop earlier this year and he, the procurement guy running it said he likes those letters. He thinks it adds a personal touch. So I think it’s very much a client by client, kind of case by case basis as to whether you would go to the trouble of covering letter. But I think understanding that your proposal or tender, it’s not meant to be a detailed report.

Amy B. Bradley: It’s not exactly a capability document, although you are demonstrating capability. It’s really about selling and the executive summary it doesn’t need to recite every element of your bid. What you’re trying to do there is in a really snappy, lively one to two pages maximum, way is sell your firm and position you as the best choice. So I think you want to try and operate and engage your reader on more of an imaginative like higher level.

Amy B. Bradley: So we like to say that every prospective client you’re going to be communicating to will have probably four questions and the questions are something like, one, is this the right solution? Two, can they really do it? Three, is it a fair price? And four, if we proceed, will it deliver a good return on our investment? So in your executive summary, you kind of want to address those four questions and provide back to the client, almost paraphrase in a nice clear way, restate their needs, spoken and unspoken needs.

Amy B. Bradley: So it often depends how well, you know the client. Again, do you have a relationship there? And you’ve got some insight into what’s driving the refresh of the panel or the requests for tenders. But I think the more specific and more relevant you make your restatement of their needs, the more useful it will be because the decision maker is going to have reduced anxiety about wasting time, money or risking their reputation by choice of your firm.

Amy B. Bradley: And then you can also in your executive summary again at a higher level talk about what it’s going to be like to be a client of yours. And when I do that, I like to flip around the sentences. So instead of saying something like, law firm X will do dah dah dah for you. You might say, client A will benefit in these important ways from our law firm statistic and little tweaks that can make your language more client centric. How many times do you say the client’s name, not your firm’s name?

Paul Evans: We, we, we

Amy B. Bradley: We, we, we. And then, at the very end of your one or two page exec summary, you want a snappy couple of strong sentences that really are about why choose us. Give them a reason to proceed with your firm or your particular solution. And that can help make your summary more compelling.

Rob Patterson: I really liked that. It’s having been at the other end where as a COO you’re being pitched to. One of the things that used to drive me crazy was when some would pitch to you and not restate or provide example of how they understand what you’re trying to achieve and just think a straight into the never ending list of services and benefits. As someone who has purchased legal services and purchased other things, I think that’s critical.

Amy B. Bradley: That’s it. And the more context and specific you can be, the more it’s going to resonate and your firm will look like you were born to do their work because they’ll be nodding their head every sentence thinking, these people really get us, well priced, we’d be crazy not to use them.

Paul Evans: Awesome. All right. Value adds. So how important are value adds to decision makers?

Amy B. Bradley: Look, I think they are very important, and they clearly expected now. They’re not such a novelty as they were maybe 20 years ago. And I think as we might have touched on earlier, we should always remember that each client will define what they think is valuable. So that’s something to bear in mind. If you’ve got a standard list that you will out for every bid, you may want to tweak that or come up with a couple of new ones.

Amy B. Bradley: So the other thing we’ve noticed probably in the last five years is the client in the RFP doc will say, “These are the standard value adds.” So CPD seminars, [inaudible 00:21:37] dah, dah, dah, dah. What is it your firm will do above and beyond that. What can you offer us?

Paul Evans: They’re sick of being offered the same stuff.

Amy B. Bradley: Yes. So I think it’s kind of like that’s a given. We expect we’re going to get like four seminars a year that are tailored. We get a certain amount of precedent development, things like that. But what is it you could offer us? And often those questions might also ask specifically about any particular technologies we have or any innovation proposals we can offer so that, those sort of aspects of adding value appear or my standard now in many, RFT documents.

Amy B. Bradley: And I think with value ads, it’s a really easy way to stand out if you’re an incumbent provider. I’ve worked with different firms who shall remain nameless over the years, but they’ll shrug and say, “Well, since we last the bid four years ago, they never availed any of the value add we offered. So now we haven’t really done any in the last couple of years,” which I think you just need to be five or 10% better than the next firm and just get in their face and start insisting on, we’re going to do a quarterly meeting, we’re going to do a quarterly seminar, we’re going to develop a custom checklist for you. Whatever it is.

Amy B. Bradley: Because those things are always good to bring up in bits when you’re trying to get reappointed as well. Here’s all these lovely, hundreds of hours value add we’ve done in. And a really easy way to do it is when the client rings up for some ad hoc phone advice, have a time recording code set up so you can across your team trap, how many minutes, how many hours of no-charge advice you’ve been providing each month or each year, because that can be quite powerful to say back to them, we’ve provided over 100 hours of no-charge advice, which is, up-skilled and abled your team to do more internally and so on.

Rob Patterson: I like that. In terms of value ads, one that always seems to be thrown out there, but it can be hellishly expensive is things like client portals and those sort of integrations. Is it a lot of that still going on?

Amy B. Bradley: I think I would say from what I see, through the RFT exercises because, say if your firm does a lot of work with financial services and insurance companies, they all have vastly different internal setups. So your own kind of reporting tool or technology data capture portal thing, it just needs to be flexible enough so it can talk to that particular client system, because I think we’re used to seeing bids maybe 10 years ago or more, they’d ask, “What technology do you specifically use?” Thinking, maybe we can just, get whatever that law firm is using and make all of our panel firms use it.

Amy B. Bradley: So I think it’s more about having something that’s flexible across a lot of clients, and that’s easy to adapt and can generate custom reports and that sort of a thing rather than any specific client portal. I know some firms have gotten rid of them off their websites now. It really depends on what it is. If it’s just sort of SharePoint type thing, we start a security, I don’t know if you’d want to have sort of sensitive documents there.

Amy B. Bradley: So I think all of that stuff, automation, all of those things it’s gradual and it’s improving all the time. But I think my number one tip is just have some kind of practice management or whatever your data capture is something that is flexible to talk to different clients because they all have slightly different reporting formats and other requirements.

Paul Evans: Pricing is the last one and that’s obviously very important to prospective buyers. But, I feel like this topic alone could probably be a podcast episode in itself. But and there’s so much literature and thinking about the death of hourly billing. I’m Rob and I just came back from a conference in Singapore. This is brought up a number of times. But besides fixed fees for very discrete and specific services. So for example, like a debt recovery letter or conveyancing on a lot in a development project, something that is like quite repeatable and pretty easy to predict how much it’s going to cost each time. I imagine it’s pretty hard for decision makers to actually compare kind of apples with apples if the firm doesn’t offer hourly billing as an option. Do you think that’s a fair comment?

Amy B. Bradley: Look, I do. And I think it’s sort of sad, but a lot of the times, particularly if the RFT has really been prepared by procurement rather than say, in house counsel or the legal department internally, they’re not really good at understanding or scoping, legal work. So often firms there’ll be requests for things like alternative fee and billing arrangements, but the scope will be crazy. An old law firm will balk at it.

Amy B. Bradley: And there’s nowhere to qualify the parameters around what’s in and out of scope and things like that. So the other thing I’ve noticed as well is we will prepare, 12 pages of beautiful alternative fee options. And my feedback from some of the clients I’ve worked with is nine times out of 10, the end client is so overwhelmed they end up reverting back to hourly rates even though they’ve been offered all these alternatives because it is just too damn hard and early rates are easy to set and administer.

Amy B. Bradley: It is crude, but they can look at the partner rate and say, our benchmark is, this much now for a partner. And they’ll use that to negotiate as well when they’re doing best and final offers for some of this panel selection processes and they’ll say, our benchmark is X an hour. Can you match it? It’s up to the firm if they want to continue to play ball.

Paul Evans: It’s a really hard one. Rob, did you have any comment on that?

Rob Patterson: Yes. I think as Amy said, if for procurement people comparing rates is a really easy methodology. I suppose Amy, did Julian Midwinter actually help some firms create, RFP documents as well?

Amy B. Bradley: We haven’t done it for a while, but we’ve definitely done a couple of insurance companies and also a couple of local government entities.

Rob Patterson: I think often if the tender, the company that’s genuine, if they have someone that’s really quite competent often then they’re comfortable and after fixed fees or alternative fee arrangements. But in the absence of that, I think they struggled to, as Amy said, to scope thing.

Paul Evans: Do you think that sort of comes in sort of further down in the relationship as well rather than, if that RFP process like that point in time?

Amy B. Bradley: If it’s a young relationship, I think, those sorts of, fixed fee arrangements can be, difficult because you haven’t really established a working dynamic. And then if there’s too many exceptions, because I haven’t categorised matters properly and it’s like, oh God, they’re all turning out to be complex that we said we don’t do them all for a flat fee of five grand and we’re losing money hand over fist and none of the lawyers want to do the work because it’s not remunerative. All of that stuff comes into play.

Amy B. Bradley: So I think the quirkier more complex fixed fees definitely work best in the context of an established client relationship. And then, as Rob was kind of getting at the sophistication of the end users there. So I helped a firm do a bid to a waste management company and it was like a really well set out tender request because the general counsel had written it and there’s no mucking around. It’s very clear about things like these are the types of value adds that would be valuable to our team. We also need you to help us with our HR people who are not sophisticated, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, what can you do for them? And that was really easy to respond to.

Amy B. Bradley: And then with things, not all local government, but a lot of local government are not very sophisticated when it comes to putting together requests for legal services, some of the smaller regional councils, they won’t even have an in house lawyer. So you’ll get some sort of crazy requests documents there and not understanding what they’re asking for with prices as well. So I think overall though, if people don’t want to just be rated on early rates, it’s about demonstrating head and shoulders above the competition about the value you can add that’s in excess of your phase.

Rob Patterson: One exception is the urban myth about firms that have just said, we want to do all your work and we’ll do it for X.

Amy B. Bradley: I think most clients are probably fairly realistic about, they can’t get everything in a one stop shop. So that’s sort of X horses for courses. I always think, do you want to take your car to the panel beater that specialises in all makes and models, or if you’ve got a Mercedes, you take it to the guy that just does Mercs? So it just depends as well.

Paul Evans: I remember working on a few tenders, just after the GFC, so that was roughly about 10 years ago. And this idea of procurement being far more involved in a general counsel or an in house teams decision making process was really gaining momentum. That doesn’t seem to have stopped from my perspective, but, what are your thoughts on that, Amy?

Amy B. Bradley: Look, I think, and again, I went to that procurement workshop earlier this year, with a chap called Jonathan Dutton. He’s a procurement consultant. But I think, what’s changed in the last decade is procurement has become much more professional, and better at procuring things that are complex intangibles like legal services. The other thing they’ve got more access to with the improvements in technology. They’ve got much better data collection these days and tools to help them assess. So yes, they do things like headline partner rates.

Amy B. Bradley: I think the other thing that firms should be aware of is that the procurement process in bigger organisations that will often start 18 months before the RFP even comes out, and procurement will go around and interview all of their business unit leaders or all the different teams and ask them, which firms do you rate, who’s performing well, who’s performing badly?

Amy B. Bradley: So very often if they’ve got a lot of providers and they’re looking to maybe reduce the panel and gain some efficiencies and then hopefully fanangle a volume discount out of their remaining firms in return for more work, they may even have in mind that they’re going to get rid of certain firms before the documents are even released. And really putting in a bid as a formality it’s a way to break up with a longtime provider. So that can happen with procurement getting involved, early and kind of driving it. So, yes.

Paul Evans: Got you. So we’ve kind of covered the planning or the criteria of the planning, what to include and how, I guess corporates make decisions. Let’s, talk about what happens if you win. So in your latest report on bid trends, you note that winning the bid is often just the start of the process in that it gets you on the panel. You then often need to win the work for each file. Obviously, to ensure building relationships with the decision makers is important, but in highly governed organisations such as government and publicly listed companies, how can lawyers build that relationship, especially if things like outside of work such as hospitality or gifts or even just a simple coffee can be out of the question?

Amy B. Bradley: Look, it is a tough one. And I think if you’ve been lucky enough to get, say an appointment to a large government panel, like a whole of government legal panel and you’re the new kid on the block, it can be really tricky. So for example, a lot of firms have been appointed or reappointed to the Australian government, whole of government panel. And if you don’t have an office in Canberra and you don’t really have a lot of this in relationships, it’s really difficult to know where to start.

Amy B. Bradley: So I think I would, and again, this goes back to clients. Lawyers can sometimes be frightened of asking their clients questions. But, I would say at the outset, if you get a debrief after your successful bid or they run a kickoff session, which they’ll often do when that’s a new panel, I would ask, what are some appropriate ways we can get to know you better? And I think those sort of boozy lunches, fishing trips, all that ’80s style stuff.

Amy B. Bradley: Look, I don’t know if some people still do golf days, but honestly I think a lot of younger people don’t play golf anymore and no one’s got a full day, to hang out on a golf course. If you do, good luck to you. But that was sort of the old style. So some things probably have changed for the better. But, again, getting back to value added stuff, I would start the value add flow straight away. And in that kickoff meeting, let’s schedule in a seminar, so that way you’re delivering them a value add, you’re educating the client, you can bring a few people, you get to know each other’s teams that way.

Amy B. Bradley: So I think things like that that are through the value add program, are highly appropriate, and won’t transgress any of those kind of requirements. And I think even government, they’re okay with things like end of year Christmas parties as long as it’s reasonable, and it’s not suspect in any way. And I think, if you’re giving them a value add, it’s giving them a business reason to meet and interact with you, not just the lame, I want to get to know your business or your government department.

Amy B. Bradley: Come with something of interest and value, to that meeting. And then look, the other thing you can do if it’s something like government, a bit of LinkedIn stalking to see maybe if any of your existing clients can introduce you to someone you might’ve identified in a department, because referrals, if you’re a mutual or shared contacts, sort of come with those nice good hallmarks around them.

Amy B. Bradley: And then the other thing that’s also quite good, if you’re really stuck and you want to find out who the contacts are, law society websites. So often you can filter for organisation. So that might be government department and that should give you a list of all the lawyers with practicing certificates in government.

Amy B. Bradley: You can do it. So, it doesn’t always work and not everyone who’s going to be instructing your firm in legal work will actually be a lawyer of course. But often you will be dealing lawyer to lawyer. So those can be some avenues, LinkedIn or the law society websites can be good tools to maybe get a hit list together. And then again, ask your client what are some appropriate ways we can get to know you better? What would you value? Because it might not be what you think.

Paul Evans: Cool.

Rob Patterson: You dais if you do win a tender, do you still do like a debrief or an after action review internally?

Amy B. Bradley: I think you should. And we actually have a internal team debrief resource on our website, because that’s the back part of the process. Even before perhaps win or lose, we know the outcome from that client. It can be good once the bid is submitted to do an internal debrief, what needs attention, what worked well, what didn’t work so well for us this time, what could we have done better? It’s sort of those questions are good for any type of project.

Rob Patterson: Because the other thing that I’ve seen done well and done badly is leaving things like saving templates. If you create something that’s really valuable or can be used again, just making sure that you’ve got it somewhere handy. So the next tender you can, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel all the time.

Amy B. Bradley: I see. And I think some of that, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a fancy piece of software. I’ve seen firms create, I think what you’re talking about Rob, is some kind of content repository, a big library, a proposal library, something like that.

Rob Patterson: Spot on.

Amy B. Bradley: And that’s the thing. I’ve seen people use Outlook. They set up a public folder and they file it by, the name of the bid. I’ve seen people have standard kind of responses around things like pro bono. They’re in a spreadsheet so you can look it up and filter for keywords, as long as you’ve got a system and it’s religiously updated so you don’t end up annoying the partners you’re working with by saying, here’s your CV. And they say, no, no, no, this is an old one.

Amy B. Bradley: Because that’s part of the trouble is capturing it and then remembering what you’ve got and then being able to put your hands on it quickly. But over time, firms can build up good repositories which is in fact best practice. I did have a client once who wanted every bid written from scratch, which put an incredible amount of pressure on his team and us, and didn’t make the bids any better.

Amy B. Bradley: So we actually have a blog on our website called ‘Same, same but different’ and that’s all about best practice ways to reuse boilerplate existing content and how to tailor it this time for these clients. So it’s okay to use the same thing, just make it different for this client.

Paul Evans: Makes a lot of sense. On that, one of the trends that you identified in that report if you lost was that, businesses and government are often now refusing to provide tender debriefs-

Amy B. Bradley: Yes.

Paul Evans: … to those who put in a RFP or RFT. What do you suggest firms do if they face that sort of situation?

Amy B. Bradley: Look, it’s tough. And I think government are usually a bit more cooperative, but it may even be that they just send you a short email so they won’t even get on the phone with you, which can be disappointing, particularly if it’s been a very complex bid to put together and a lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into it. So my tip there is to keep politely requesting. But there’ll be a point where it starts to become harassment and they’re just not going to do it.

Amy B. Bradley: So I think that is terribly unfair and it also tends to suggest there’s like a real lack of process at their end. And I think that example I keep referring to, they didn’t put any parameters in, they just did it as one full tender process. They might have done a two stage process where they did an expression of interest or something first, and then they could shortlist 15 firms and say, you guys are now invited to a full tender.

Amy B. Bradley: But a lot of organisations are not that sophisticated. They don’t think to do something like that. And then they get an outcome where they have over 100 bids to assess, which you can see why they just don’t have the internal resource to provide debriefs. So the other thing you can do there, and again if you have a relationship somewhere in the client organisation is try to find out off the record, what went wrong, what the perception of the firm was.

Amy B. Bradley: And it can also be helpful to chat to some of your colleagues in other firms if you’re friendly with some other lawyers whose fair may have been successful, and maybe take some of that, scuttlebutt with a grain of salt. But that can help you understand what happened. I think the other thing that’s tricky with debriefs is you get a sanitised, type of feedback. If you can get one sometimes and they’ll just say something like, it was your pricing, and it’s not really your pricing, that’s to get you off the phone and say, you missed out. We don’t want to go into the reasons other than saying, we really don’t like the guy that’s your lead partner.

Paul Evans: It’s so much a nice way of saying no thanks-

Amy B. Bradley: I want to break up with your firm and make it through. So definitely the one you can control is having your own internal debrief. So again, once you start doing a few of those exercises as well, and if you keep your big qualification from your kickoff, you can start to see patterns and say, look, John’s always saying we should bid for this. And we’ve done three in the last 12 months at a cost of whatever. If you keep a time sheet internally so you can track the marketing and BD hours that go into these.

Amy B. Bradley: Maybe we should really think hard before we put our hat in the ring for another one of these types of bids. So it’s all about having data and evidence, lawyers if you’re going to evidence. So that is a good tip. Keep some records around the costs, and the decision making process. So, for next time.

Paul Evans: A final question. And that is more of a philosophical question. The formal tendering processes sort of always been the domain of government and publicly listed companies that have to obviously, I guess, employee strict governance protocols. Do you see this process of, providing an RFP or requesting a tender. Do you see this process being adopted more so by the private sector in the future?

Amy B. Bradley: Yeah. Look, I think so, and I think as I alluded to before, I think in the last decade particularly, procurement has become more professionalized when it comes to, professional services, particularly legal. There’s some interesting research being done around all this stuff as well. And I think as we touched on before, it’s not only a way they perceive that they can save money and push for better value from their providers, but they want to use their buying power for good.

Amy B. Bradley: So again, it’s that rise of the social or sustainable procurement. They want to drive positive behaviour change within their supply chain. And it’s things that their own end clients or customers are expecting that government department or business to do. And government usually has an agenda they want to progress. So by mandating it as part of the procurement process in a competitive selection, it’s really clear easy way for them to drive that behaviour.

Amy B. Bradley: So yes, I think private sector, government, all of it procurement’s definitely here to stay. And if your firm depends on work from those types of clients, you need to get good at tendering, because your revenue is going to be up for grabs every two to three years. So you need to, get good at it.

Paul Evans: It makes sense. Roberto, do you want to run the lightning round?

Rob Patterson: Certainly do. Okay Amy, as just part of the lighting round. We just ask you a few questions so listeners get to know you a little bit better. So first question is, what’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

Amy B. Bradley: Now this is a lady I used to work with, Libby Maynard. Shout out to her. And it’s so obvious, but she once said to me that, “If you want to effect positive change, in a firm or any organisation, you’ve got to resource it in some way. And if you don’t resource it ain’t going to happen.” Which again, it’s totally obvious. But people will make plans for things and whether that might be hiring someone, freeing up someone’s time, spending money, getting a bit of software, whatever it is, if you don’t resource what you want to have happen, it won’t happen. So, I think that has always stuck with me.

Paul Evans: That’s really good business advice. I think my team would love to share that one with me.

Amy B. Bradley: We need more results. I mean, everyone, we’re all expected to do more with less, but it’s totally obvious. But because hope is not really a proper plan.

Paul Evans: A strategy.

Rob Patterson: …particularly in the area that we just spoke about with tendering. I think often there’s an under appreciation of just a level of resources you don’t need to bring to bear to be successful.

Amy B. Bradley: Look. And it’s a bit like, with your work Paul, it’s website redevelopment or new websites, they always take longer than you think no matter what, even with the best plans.

Rob Patterson: Unless you use Toro Digital, of course.

Paul Evans: Of course.

Amy B. Bradley: Yes. That’s it.

Rob Patterson: Number two, what was your first ever job?

Amy B. Bradley: My first ever job was as a checkout chick at Kmart.So that was my after school job, for a few years.

Paul Evans: Fond memories?

Amy B. Bradley: It was good staff discount. So you know back when CDs-

Paul Evans: Oh Coles Myer

Amy B. Bradley: … were $30 a pop when you had to buy music that way. I usually relied on the staff discounts. So it was a good experience.

Rob Patterson: All right. If someone knew you really well, what is the one thing they would know about you that others may not?

Amy B. Bradley: It’s no surprise to my friends, but I’m actually really into military history. So it’s a bit of a World War II tragic. But I find that area really, really interesting. So, I read on that constantly and I’ve actually got a history degree. That was my undergrad degree. So yes. That’s been an abiding passion.

Rob Patterson: I was in the SOM recently and really struck me. I hadn’t known a lot about that part of the first world war and it was quite amazing.

Amy B. Bradley: Well, that’s the infamous one.

Rob Patterson: Yes.

Amy B. Bradley: Yes.

Rob Patterson: Can you nominate another industry later that you hold great respect for that you think we should interview as part of our podcast?

Amy B. Bradley: I would say, and Paul knows who I’m talking about. I don’t know if you’ve met him, Rob. But Alistair Marshall who used to work with us at JMA, but he’s now back out consulting on his own. He has a really interesting sales background and being from the UK, did a lot of work with law firms and barristers over there. So I think he’d be worth getting on.

Paul Evans: Thank you.

Rob Patterson: If you could lead any company in the world other than Julian Midwinter and Associates, which would it be?

Amy B. Bradley: I really like Atlassian who were the sort of, famous Aussie duo are all about better ways of working, working smarter, more collaboratively, possibly really rich. It’s always hitting, helming that one. But I think they’re really interesting business-

Paul Evans: They are.

Amy B. Bradley: … and I love all that, those project tools that you can get now. So its very good.

Rob Patterson: And one of the thing I like about Atlassian is their values and it’s interesting, I’ve seen many people say, “We want the same values.” And I said, “But you’ve got to leave them.”

Amy B. Bradley: That’s it. You need to model the behaviour you want to see in others.

Rob Patterson: Exactly right. And finally, and most importantly, if our listeners would like to contact you, what’s the best way to get in touch?

Amy B. Bradley: Probably on LinkedIn. So it’s Amy Burton-Bradley, hyphenated. Or you can drop me an email, on my work email address, which is abb@julianmidwinter.com.au and always happy to have a chat. I love hearing from people. So sometimes five minutes on the phone with me can really help if they’re considering doing a speculative bid.

Paul Evans: Awesome.

Rob Patterson: Amy, thank you so much for agreeing to the interview today with Paul and I. I think hopefully, a lot of people who haven’t done a lot of bidding before, picked up a heap of things today. So that was brilliant.

Paul Evans: It’s fantastic. Thanks so much.

Amy B. Bradley: My pleasure. And I know you guys will put all the links in, but we’ve got a ton of resources on lots of different aspects of putting together tenders, bits and proposals on our website. So really if you have a good book there, you can almost DIY a winning bid.

Rob Patterson: Love it. Thanks so much.

Paul Evans: Thanks Amy.

Rob Patterson: Thanks Amy.

Amy B. Bradley: Thanks for having me guys.

Rob Patterson: Bye-bye.