Understand Your Best Clients and Win Their Next RFP

Request for proposal. Those three words are usually the start of a slow churning stomach ache that burns until the moment your response is sent and received. And confirmed three times over. This is especially true, I have found many times over, if the request is lobbed into your office by a current client.

The potential to lose the work, and, I suppose, to lose face among both clients and colleagues, can be stressful.

Proposal responses do not require a law degree or legal drafting. In fact, they usually require plain language, practical responses and succinct promises. I often tell my clients at the outset of what’s often a long and painful exercise in drafting of a typical response that the language, tone and content is different from that of a legal document. As it should be because increasingly so, the evaluators are non-lawyers. They are your procurement department, the CFO, high level managers or board members who have little tolerance for proposal responses that are protracted and mundane. Even worse are those efforts that show little appreciation for client culture or needs.

The correlation between your understanding of the client and chances of retaining or winning work is high. Lawyers who know the client, their issues, preferences and history are equipped to appeal more directly to a client’s needs than anyone else. It’s also an opportunity to showcase your understanding of the individual clients and their organizational behaviour and culture. Why is this important, you ask? Well, because clients evaluate their lawyer relative to how well they understand their business and ability to provide value.

If there was ever a reason to invest in your client – attend AGMs or planning meetings without billing, ask questions that relate to internal culture and structures, get feedback and respond with adjustments as needed, meet other key members of the client’s executive team, introduce your juniors to theirs, set a Google Alert for the client, read their annual report – it is now, and hopefully ahead of the next proposal request.

If only for your most valued and critical clients, do ensure your billing system can easily and accurately present your billing history for these clients. Some clients are billed under multiple entities or variations of their company name, so do give some thought to how you can increase the accuracy of such a system search. Many RFPs ask for this history – even institutional clients, who you might expect would have this information readily available.

Remember, that RFP comes with a countdown clock which starts the minute you receive the request. The average deadline is usually somewhere between two and three weeks, but some require turnaround in mere days and necessitate working over an Easter weekend and Christmas holidays.

Understanding your best clients will not only give you a greater ability to meet their needs, you might just give them reason to shelve the next RFP.


  1. Good points, Susan, and I’ve always told law firms that I’ve worked in or with that RFPs should not be written by lawyers for the reason you site: For the most part, they are being read by non-lawyers.

    While it is important to know everything you can about a “best” client – one that is on the Top 10 or 20 list – it is just important to know what is going on in companies that are on the Next 20. For one thing, the best clients are likely giving a firm all of the work that it can or will. But there is tremendous growth potential in the Next 20, and their work often is handed to other firms because they don’t know your firm can even do a certain type of matter.