Unseating an Incumbent Part 2: Gather and Execute on Business Development

Our last two blog posts were significant for a couple different reasons. The most recent post highlighted Theme Strategic Proposal’s FOURTH birthday which we do not take lightly. (We might throw a city-wide party for our fifth). Check out the post today and let us know if you have a favorite Theme/Liz memory from the past four years! But the post before that one was just as important—”Part 1” on unseating an incumbent. When it comes to business development, unseating an incumbent is just part of the game. Therefore, we wanted to take two full posts to outline how you can prepare and execute.

Those two qualities—preparation and execution–are vital to any sales process. But when it comes to taking a business opportunity away from another organization, you have to nail each one. Part 1 of this series focused on the preparation side of things, which, if we’re being honest, is a bulk of the work. Once it comes time to execute (in most areas of life) if you’ve done the prep, execution takes care of itself.

So let’s do a little incumbent refresh before diving into next steps and executing on a new contract—specifically one that someone else used to hold.

A Brief Incumbent Reminder, Please?

Of course! We got your back. An incumbent is a current contract holder for government and business contracts. Every few years, government contracts need to be re-solicited due to federal, state and local guidelines.

Incumbents hold the current contract at hand and often help to develop the new RFP. Ideally, even before a given RFP is released, you should have a beat on who holds the work for any given opportunity. With that said, know that business development is something that takes time—months and years even! We know the power in building relationships, and forming high-quality relationships in business (through networking, communication, and follow-up).

When we say “having a beat” on opportunities in and around your city or industry, that knowledge often comes through those very relationships.

On Seeking Opportunities for Business Development

Alright, so we know relationships are important. But let’s get practical in terms of where to find newly issued RFPs. Here are a few internet resources to get you started:

That last one might seem obvious, but sometimes you do need to “hunt” a little for that right opportunity. Once you find the right opportunity for you, or hear of an opportunity up your alley—the next steps are to do your research and gather all the information necessary. To put your best foot forward, it’s important you are fully compliant from start to finish.

Every element of the proposal process is our livelihood. We know how crucial it is—from go/no-go decisions to writing a quality cover letter—there is a lot that goes into winning a proposal, let alone taking one away from an incumbent. Instead of spending too much time on execution in this post, reference a few of our other blog posts that offer a breakdown of those steps in the process.

What if We are the Incumbent?!

Ah, yes. A little role reversal! If you ever find yourself in the blessed position of defending a proposal contract, there are some practical steps you can take in the year or so leading up to the contract’s renewal. Number one on that list? Crush it. Seriously, if you know your contract is running out in about a year, you need to check yourself and your team—are you all making the most of your current opportunity? If not, there might be a few others out there who have read the preceding paragraphs in this post, and they’re coming for YOU!

Not to scare you of course, but that’s business. One tip we remind many of our clients is to keep that original RFP on hand—the RFP that you won maybe months or years ago. Many organizations (especially public sector clients) issue RFPs that don’t stray much from their previous RFPs, so what won you the contract some time ago may be part of what wins the renewal.

Something else that we remind our clients to do is to remind their customers of the great work the clients are doing. What provides extra ammunition is to show “the benefits of incumbency,” which are things that only the incumbent can provide. Some potential benefits of incumbency:

Potential DifferentiatorWhy it’s ImportantShowing the Benefit
Reduced project development or implementation time You’re already providing a product or service, so there’s less time needed to go to market, and with less project riskGraphic of schedule that shortens or eliminates steps in the process
Consistent account managementStrong partnerships are supported by strong account teamsData on service requests resolved; number of team members continuing to support the team
Informed pricingYou already know what the customer has been paying, and you’ll have some insight to the things the customer wants to pay “extra”Bundled pricing; keeping to original favorable pricing (or only moderately increasing it) 

We know that you didn’t have to do this extended effort on the original RFP, and it might seem a little more work on the recompete. But just know that everything we talked about earlier in this post and the previous post…your competitors will be doing all of these tactics to unseat you. Remember that the items in any RFP were awarded to you for a reason, and if you have shown that you are delivering on those items, there is a better chance your contract will be renewed.

Lastly, whether you are defending your work or pursuing someone else’s, we strongly consider you mirror what’s written in any given RFP. Live out those requirements through your work and relationships—again, this isn’t easy and takes time. But if you’re committed to winning more opportunities for your business (and making more money) then you can’t take any step of unseating an incumbent lightly.In the world of RFPs, it’s hunt or be hunted. We choose the former every time. And we’d love to help you do the same.