Incumbency is both a blessing and a curse. We have all witnessed incumbent contractors lose to challengers. The protections afforded by incumbency are greatly overrated. This blog is a cautionary tale and guide to identify this frequently fatal disease followed by some actions to overcome this epidemic.
Before doing anything else. Acknowledge a fundamental truth. You are not special. Repeat this. Accept it. You are absolutely beatable. Imagine the dumbfounded faces of every losing incumbent. That could be you, too. Think through some basic items on your path to secure your re-compete.
Make a list of your company’s strengths and discriminators for the opportunity… How many of these strengths stem from your position as the incumbent?
- “Low risk transition”
- “Proven performance with this specific operational environment”
- “Familiarity with the customer”
- “We have great CPARS”
- “The customer is risk averse”
These strengths could be attributed to any incumbent on any program— they are not unique strengths of your company, they are strengths of any incumbent. ALL of the above points have been overcome.
Even if you are an A+ performer with stellar CPARS, your go forward solution still should not be 100% founded upon the fact that you are the incumbent contractor. If your solution is entirely based on incumbency, it just means you’ve been resting on your laurels. Prepare to lose.
Perform an objective and sober examination of your position.
- Is your customer really “risk averse” or is that just what you want to believe?
- All incumbents were challengers before they won their contract. Assuming your customer isn’t smart enough to identify and then mitigate risks of transition is foolish.
- A solid transition plan to capture incumbent staff and knowledge can address risk.
- Almost all large competitors have a mature transition strategy and experienced transition managers who can placate even the most risk averse contracting officer.
- Be careful when you attribute transition risk as a core weakness of your competitors, this may be more wishful thinking than reality.
Ask yourself: Are you low risk or are you just “stale”?
- Especially in technology related services, a contract’s needs and requirements change with every iteration.
- Your recompete IS NOT necessarily the same as your previous contract, and your competitor’s capabilities are constantly evolving…are yours?
- You may have done a fine job before, but how would you answer “what have you done for me lately?”
How confident are you about “The competitors don’t know the program. They don’t have the customer relationships”?
- We have seen plenty of outsiders take a first win in a customer with an excellent technical solution which was welcomed by the customer.
- Challengers can be educated by the right teaming partner, consultant or key hire to become informed.
- Know that your competitors are doing everything they can to pick away at your personnel and work into the customer. A competitor can buy their way into customer relationships through just a handful of good hires.
- Just because you do not see evidence of the competition learning about the customer’s environment and the program, doesn’t mean they are not. Do not assume that you have 100% visibility into your competitor’s activity on your program.
What should you be doing to insulate yourself from incumbency?
Account for your unique capabilities and solutions that your company alone can bring. What does the customer risk losing if you lose?
- Use your position to start evolving now
- Start socializing your new offerings on your current contract so that the customer isn’t wondering why they didn’t see these capabilities all along when you bring them up on the recompete.
- The customer is going to be thinking “What have you done for me lately?”. Review your performance and ensure you are taking steps that align your capabilities and proven work with the contract recompete.
- Keep an eye out for who else is on the ground – primes and subs, potential key hires.
- Bring in perspectives from outside your program team
- Whether this is a third party or capture and business development resources from other business units (or even better, both!) have someone from the outside give you their realistic take on this bid.
- Your program team knows the environment and the people on the ground, but sometimes they are too close to the work to give an objective take on the company’s performance and competitive position.
- Address the changes in Section M
- Unspoken requirements will not lead you to a win… perhaps you think you know some underlying issues and customer hot buttons outside the Section M, but if these cannot be evaluated, they will not help you win.
- Has the customer been hinting at changes? If Section M misaligns with what you believe they want…you may be headed towards an embarrassing loss.
- Listen to the customer – do not offer something that they did not request. Remember that it is your job to give them what they want, not what you are trying to sell.
- Be mindful of a race to the bottom on pricing. A challenger’s will to win may be enough to tempt fate with prices to win and NOT to operate.
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