Incumbency by itself is not a discriminator

While your incumbency can be the source of a number of discriminators and benefits you can deliver to the customer in your rebid (i.e., contract recompete), incumbency in itself is not a discriminator. As a matter of fact, being the incumbent can be a double-edged sword!

Simply assuming that your incumbency will be recognized by the customer leads some to be lazy in their thinking, writing and pricing of their response to the recompete RFP. We fondly refer to this as “incumbentitis”. Don’t let that happen to you.

Your incumbency will have given you, among other things:

  • Experience of the delivery of the existing services
  • An understanding of the customer and their preferences; outside of the requirements
  • Realistic staffing and supply statistics
  • An opportunity to reduce the customer’s risk in transitioning contractors

It’s how you use this knowledge that counts when creating a solution to better meet the customer’s needs. To be really effective, you should focus on the clear and specific evidence you can use to demonstrate how your solution fits these needs, not just the fact that you are the incumbent; and above all else be compliant and bid only the work in the RFP.

Bland statements, such as the examples below, won’t work. All they are likely to do is make the evaluators ask themselves questions (such as in the bullet points below) about what benefit the statement (therefore you) brings to them. If you don’t also clearly answer these questions you won’t achieve positive scoring in the evaluation and potentially you will give the customer the impression that you have not put the effort into your proposal to make re-award possible for them. If your proposal suffers from incumbentitis and employs hollow promises and unsubstantiated claims like those identified below, it will beg for a number of less than positive questions from the evaluators:

“We have (X) years’ experience delivering this service to the customer”

  • What have they learned during their tenure on this contract?
  • What unique insights have they provided that demonstrate they understand our needs or operating environment?
  • How has their experience informed the solution presented- what relevant and compelling examples have been provided rebid document?
  • What have they committed in the area of continuous improvement that will allow them to continue providing service while improving performance, safety, and quality and delivering more with less? Should any of these initiatives or innovations have been implemented on the current contract?

 “Our staff are highly experienced in delivering to the customer”

  • Why are they proposing new leadership and essential personnel? We like the current management team? Or, why are they proposing the same management team and essential personnel? They know “so and so” is difficult to work with. . .
  • Has this team done anything else that is relevant to our scope that will allow them to bring industry best practices or innovations and improve their overall performance for us? Is the experience significant enough to mitigate risk associated with another team’s lower cost staff?
  • What does this experience mean in terms of benefits for us in improved performance?
  • Do the staff of the incumbent offer sufficient advantage to offset the risks associated with award to another contractor? They (the competitors) have assumed that they will retain XX% of the incumbent staff anyway.

“As the incumbent we understand the customer’s needs”

  • Have these needs been explained in the rebid document more clearly and accurately than in the competitors’ bids?
  • What has the incumbent done to meet these needs to date?
  • Do the incumbent’s other customer references reflect their claims of client understanding?
  • Does this offer fully comply with the RFP requirements and instructions? Does the incumbent’s offer provide the lower risk, higher confidence solution at a reasonable or lower price than the competition?

“Our solution has been successfully delivered for (X) years”

  • Show me how – where are the statistics or proof statements that would convince me that this solution has been successful for us?
  • Surely the solution has developed and improved over the past (X) years – tell me how and to what effect?
  • Does the offered solution incorporate the vision and evolution required to meet our out year requirements and expectations?
  • Can they sustain or improve this level of performance throughout the next contracting period?

“Our solution is based on the experience we have gained during the current contract”

  • What specific experience do you mean? Does it tie to the work scope and instructions regarding relevance?
  • How has your experience influenced the new solution? Did you incorporate lessons learned from this contract and others to improve your technical and/or management solution?
  • What specific benefits are there to me (the customer) if you are selected to implement your new solution?

 Your incumbency can be used as one of your win themes – or as part of others. But you need to be intelligent in how you use it. Always use specific, relevant and evidenced examples of exactly how an element of your incumbency has informed a better solution or illustrates you are a better suited supplier for the customer. Additionally, if the work appears terribly complex and you convincingly convey your solution it may appear that other bidders don’t understand the technical complexity or risks associated with performance.

As stated elsewhere, you must show the customer how your incumbency is of benefit, not just tell them that it is (aka, a “trust me” statement). And just as important, provide the details and data that convince the reviewers that you understand the future as well as the past and present. Never rest on your laurels!

The primary lesson in a re-compete is that you should never rely too much on your incumbency. Don’t simply repeat your bid from the last contract; develop a defensible and compelling argument for improved performance and a revised solution without interruption to the current high quality levels of service they’ve come to depend upon. You, far better than your competitors, should possess the insight into your client’s objectives, goals, and desires for the future contract. Leverage that knowledge to the extent possible while maintaining compliance with the RFP. Incumbents should challenge their workforce and management teams to identify efficiencies, improve quality or safety conditions, and offer up initiatives that would reduce cost or improve delivery. The team needs to understand that business as usual in a re-compete is a losing proposition. Statistics, kudos, and proof statements should then be used to hone and support why your new solution will be better for the customer.

As you plan your rebid strategy, create your storyboards, write your rebid submission, run your reviews, always check any statement you make about your incumbency. Are you using it intelligently to clearly evidence a point or benefit, or are you being lazy and simply stating it is an advantage without any proof?

– Nigel Thacker, Rebid Center (with numerous revisions)


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