During round table discussions in 2009 entitled, "Best Practices in Business Development and Proposals," we asked invitees (law firm marketing and BD professionals mostly) about the uptick in the receipt of RFPs and RFIs from clients and prospects. The overwhelming response was that the number had tripled or quadrupled.
On February 18, 2010, I spoke to the LMA Atlanta City Group on "The Changing Face of Legal Marketing: Best Practices in Business Development/Proposals." To prepare for this topic, I surveyed the Atlanta members and received 18 responses. 62% said pitch/proposal activity had increased since 2008, and of those, the range was a 5% increase on the low end and a 1000% increase on the high end. Eleven of the respondents represented law firms over 500 lawyers, eight were in firms 100-500 lawyers. The balance were under 100 lawyers.
Respondents said that before 2009, very few of their new clients and new work came from a formal RFP. Over the last year, the percentage of new clients/new work obtained by RFP rose to 62% - so, nearly two-thirds of new work/new clients came in as a result of an RFP.
What does this steep increase mean? We are seeing typically loyal firm clients going through formal RFPs - to reduce the number of firms they use, lower their outside legal spend and get their firms to think more creatively. The March 2010 Harvard Business Review cover says, "Power out of the Recession." That's what law firm clients are trying to do - and they want their law firms to aggressively help them do that.
Cheryl Disch is the proposal manager at Duane Morris. She is a leading-edge thinker when it comes to proposal management, knowledge management technologies and tools, and business development. While discussing the agenda of an August 2010 annual International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) Conference panel, we came around to RFPs and that she had seen a huge increase in number, too.
We agreed that AmLaw 100 and 200 firms receive many RFPs "blind" - meaning that there is no existing relationship between the prospects and the law firm. Yet, lawyers (who may still have some capacity) believe that they were somehow "chosen" to receive the RFP, so the firm must respond. It's a challenge for the marketers to counsel these lawyers out of the belief that "more gives you better chances of winning."
We suggest that the recipients of this quadrupled RFP volume create guidelines that dictate when to respond and when not to. This isn't a one-size-fits-all rulebook, because whether to respond is dictated by firm culture issues, types of clients that fit exactly within the strengths of a firm, geography, budget - and practical things like lawyer and marketer resources to handle the logistics, planning and writing of the proposal. Many large firms have such policies (and they rigorously adhere to them), but I was surprised to learn how many otherwise sophisticated firms still don't.
Cheryl suggests, "Have a three-hour meeting with the client instead. Get business in other ways - it's so much better NOT to climb into the often-unknown competition." Whether responding to an RFP or meeting face-to-face, either way you are "spending time" with your clients. But wouldn't you rather invest in relationship building instead of merely outlining your qualifications?