Q: I work for a law firm. Over the past six months, three of our biggest clients have asked us to re-pitch. We've done this and easily won the work, but the strain and effort are exhausting the team and taking up valuable client time. As a partner, I think this is unsustainable, yet I'm reluctant to tell clients that we are unwilling to pander to their desire to have us go through our paces. What do you advise I do?
A: This is what happens in recessions. Every one of those clients will be facing a fearsome list of fixed costs and declining revenues. So every negotiable cost will be up for re-negotiation and every long-standing supplier relationship will be microscopically examined for evidence of complacency. Client companies that sense they're being taken for granted will be more than usually open to the seductive advances of your suddenly fee-flexible competitors.
The cost of a re-pitch is almost entirely borne by the supplier. The only real cost to the client is time, and that can be easily justified in the search for new economies. They've nothing to lose. So even to suggest to them that you'd rather not pander (and that's a pretty inflammatory word even to have in your head) to their desire for a competitive review is very unlikely to be warmly received. By declining to re-pitch, as you clearly recognise, you jeopardise the entire business.
The best I can suggest is a programme of pre-emption. You should approach your other clients, one by one, and make it clear that you have a sympathetic understanding of their commercial pressures. Tell them of the three re-pitches in which you've recently taken part and of their outcome. Say that you're extremely happy to face the most rigorous of cross-examinations but that you strongly believe a long-drawn-out competitive review is in the interests of neither them nor you.
Suggest instead a half-day review, in which every element of your relationship, including remuneration, is subjected to open scrutiny. At the end, decisions will be minuted, a list of action points agreed and a date for a follow-up meeting established.
Such a procedure will be nowhere near as time-consuming or morale-draining as a formal competitive re-pitch. And by taking the initiative, you may well convince your clients that such a review is unnecessary. You'll certainly avert any accusations of complacency.