Why incumbents fail to rebid successfully. In a word: complacency

I came across a company called Rebidding Solutions today. It was a surprising discovery, as it was the first time I’d encountered an organisation which specialises in helping incumbents to retain their contracts at rebid time. It’s a clever idea. Those of us who help organisations unseat the incumbents should be healthily concerned.

One of the frequent lines of attack most bid writers employ when helping clients secure a contract from a current provider (which is almost always) is to work extra hard on new ideas and innovations, and to generally hold a different mirror up to what the new contract could be, not what it is now. We like complacent incumbents. They make us look good. They provide us with the baseline from which to build a better bid – and win.

The paper (which you can read here) uses real-life examples of lost bids, sourced from protests lodged by incumbents to the Government Accountability Office in the US. It’s a rare insight into why they weren’t re-selected and the protests they raised subsequently. In every one of the examples given, the appeals were denied and the new provider retained their win.

The five reasons given by Rebidding Solutions for incumbent failure were not altogether surprising – nor should they be (we’re doing fine as we are; we don’t need to focus on price; we can be light on content – they already know what we do; we’re superior so they’ll continue with us even at a higher price; and – most surprisingly – we weren’t aware of the rebid until too late). And yet, each of the reasons frequently evades incumbents, including some sizeable players who frankly should know better.

Each illustrates a worrying/reassuring (delete as appropriate) level of complacency that only a comfortable incumbent can muster, when what they need to be doing is taking on, and seeing off, all comers. Incumbents have a huge advantage over the rest of the bidders. They will have lived with the contract for three or more years, so if anyone is able to take what’s there and make it better, it’s them. They can suggest improvements that will really make a difference, while the rest of us are just hypothesising as to how it could be if we were at the helm. They can provide real proof of evolution using existing contract information to which the rest of us don’t have access. And they have a dialogue channel in place, while the rest of us get to post questions publicly on the bid portal. Everything suggests that they should hang on to their contract, and yet unseating an incumbent is not only achievable, it’s common.

It’s a great piece of research and analysis. I may never know if I’m up against Rebidding Solutions’ support for an incumbent, but I’ll continue to write every bid for my clients as if I am. As should we all.


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