How to steal contracts away from the current incumbent

How to win the recompete even though there is an incumbent

Incumbents like to play it safe, especially when things have gone well. When the recompete comes up, they often focus on not making any mistakes and submitting a proposal that is fully compliant with the instructions. You shouldn't assume the recompete is wired for the incumbent contractor. But if you want to beat the incumbent, you must take risks. But not just any risks. You should target the things the customer cares about the most. Your proposal can be more credible than the incumbent’s proposal, even though the customer knows the incumbent and doesn’t know you. But you won’t achieve that unless you do it deliberately and with the highest levels of competence. You won’t beat the incumbent with unsubstantiated claims of greatness, relying on your experience, or making it up as you go along.

You also need to target what the customer is concerned about, and that depends on the nature of what they are buying.

If the customer is buying…

See also:
Winning
  • A unique solution, then trust and risk are their primary concerns. To win you need to be more trustworthy and offer better risk mitigation than the company currently doing the work. This can be a challenge. But if the incumbent rests on their relationship, it will create an opportunity for you to propose an approach that is more transparent, accountable, foolproof, reliable, etc. You won’t convince the customer that you are trustworthy and low risk simply by claiming it, or stating that you’ve done it before. To convince the customer to leave their current contractor, you need to show a formal, documented process that anticipates all issues and will not fail, no matter what contingencies occur. Doing this can win when the incumbent merely proposes to continue doing what they do.
  • A commodity, then meeting the specifications at the lowest price will be their primary concern. For commodity services, focus on what acceptably meeting the specifications means. To convince the customer to leave their current provider, you’ll need to demonstrate strength in areas where they failed to deliver. For commodity products, demonstrate that your supply chain can more reliably deliver under any circumstances.
  • Products, then supply chain and price are their primary concerns. However, the more the product resembles a unique solution, the more their priority will shift from price to quality. Winning as commodity product seller means being able to deliver at a lower price. If you have a higher quality offering, it will help if you can quantify how the improvements in quality result in lower long-term costs. If the product is not a commodity or is difficult to deliver, then your approach to delivery and reliability become important concerns. If the incumbent has failed in these areas, you have an opportunity to win if you can prove that you are better. 
  • Services, then customer satisfaction is their primary concern. Understanding what drives that is critical. If the services resemble a commodity, then any vendor that can deliver will do. If the services resemble a unique solution, then their concern will shift from price to expertise, staffing, and approach quality.

In between unique solutions and commodities, and products and services, customers are concerned about:

  • Risk. The customer is always concerned about what might go wrong. If the incumbent doesn’t address it, or if they just claim they are “the low risk solution” because they’ve already been doing the work, it creates an opportunity for you to point out that even the incumbent has risks and to list what they are, followed by your detailed approach to mitigate each and every one of them.
  • Performance measures. How do they know if what you’re doing is effective? The customer may be satisfied with the incumbent’s work even though they didn’t measure it. But the fact that they didn’t measure it, or measure it as well as you are proposing, raises questions about their ability to manage it when circumstances change. Performance measures enable you to demonstrate to the customer that your work is well done at every step, and make it clear if anything slips. Performance measurement can be a key part of demonstrating that you will do a better job of managing the project than the incumbent will.
  • Value. Price always matters. But in the middle between commodity and unique or product and service, it is not the only thing that matters. When the customer balances their concern about price with other concerns, they do it by focusing on value. If the incumbent doesn’t address value or merely claims to offer the “best value” it opens the door for you to prove that you offer a better value.  
  • Differentiators. When customers compare proposals, they look for what differentiates them so they can decide whether the difference is an advantage. Being better starts by being different. The incumbent is known. It’s hard for them to be anything other than what they are. But you are not known and therefore can offer something better. But it has to be better enough to overcome their concerns about trust and risk. So don’t just claim to be better. Prove it. 

In nearly every recommendation above, it takes proof to beat the incumbent. Claims will not do. This makes each one of the circumstances described above a bid/no bid consideration. Either you can prove it or you’re just gambling that the incumbent failed in ways you don’t know about, and has lost the customer’s trust.

Proof is in the details. Don’t just meet the RFP requirements, prove in detail why your proposal is not only compliant but thoroughly addresses the customer's concerns. Let the incumbent play it safe.
 

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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