The Incumbent will Win, They Always Do! True?


Posted By Kathy Kliskey | Mar 14, 2016


Our excitement about Connect 2016 grows more each day!

Here is another guest post in our series of Connect 2016 Presenter posts giving you a preview of the value you will find at Connect. These posts highlight the impact customers have experienced from attending the conference, share key takeaways they will feature in their upcoming speaking sessions, and showcase valuable content to help attendees prepare for Connect 2016.

The incumbent will win, they always do!

You hear this lament very frequently; but is it true? Is being the incumbent a privilege or burden?

I recommend your Sales/RFP response team have a thorough discussion on this key point. It will open your mind to situational aspects and help formulate a strategy.  Explore the following two opposing assumptions during that discussion.

Assumption One: Privilege

The Incumbent has earned a position of trust through successful past transactions and implementations. They have a proven track record to resolve the customers issue and ‘pain-points’. Therefore, they have an advantage and are likely to win again.

Assumption Two: Burden

The Incumbent’s equipment/service is viewed as part of the customer’s current problem; the customer is looking to make changes, and the incumbent will not be considered favorably.

Strategy Assessment

Ask your team what has changed since the last customer Request (RFP) was issued. Examine all possibilities.

  • Influence: has the buying team, consultant, or, the executive committee had a change of stakeholders?
  • Economy: have economic factors in your industry changed?
  • Project Stake: is the risk to implement the client’s newest purchase/project greater or reduced?
  • Policy: is there a corporate mandate to procure through a bid process in all situations?
  • Status: has the incumbent become complacent, stumbled or failed to provide adequately?
  • Prospecting Position: have you had any opportunity to introduce your company and its offerings to the potential customer prior to this point in time?

As you explore these key areas, they will help you develop your positioning statements.

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Prepare your response to bolster your position, whether you are, or are not, the incumbent; be prepared to prove yourself for this situation, this buying team and this project with associated risks.

Examine the results of your discussion, and where your discovery has pointed.

  • If Change is the prevalent situation, presume that you are working from a clean slate – this considerably ‘levels the playing field’; address the new situation.
  • If Policy is the indicating key factor, the threat or confidence of Incumbency is likely a truism; highlight key reasons how you offer a better (and less disruptive) solution, backed by facts or stats
  • When Status is the critical issue, whether you are the incumbent or the competition determines next steps.

As the competition: opportunity presents itself, so grab the reigns; ‘value sell’ and commit to the client, state the advantages of choosing you.  Any prior prospecting improvement through an introduction to you and your company, will serve well here.

As the incumbent: determine a plan to strengthen (or salvage) the trust, rebuilding the confidence you previously held. Your statements must be straightforward. You may need to address a past problematic situation – do so simply and cleanly; presenting a positive and accountable ‘go forward’ solution.

Multi-faceted Scenarios

Perhaps more than one key change has occurred; prioritize the changes that will have the most impact on how you position yourself in the response. Find the balance to address the various situations in play.


You are much better prepared to develop a customer-focused proposal, addressing salient points that matter to the buyers. The initial assumption and lament of incumbency is diminished; you have re-framed your view of ‘what is true’. Use it to your advantage.

Written by Debra Bowness, Manager of Strategic Sales for Teknion