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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Incumbents and the risk of the lost recompete

The life of an incumbent has never been tougher, so you can imagine how attentive the audience was for the program portion of a dinner I attended Wednesday night.

The National Area Chapter of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals pulled together a panel that included Kristin Dufrene, vice president of proposal development for Engility Corp., Bob Lohfeld of Lohfeld Consulting and a Washington Technology columnist, and Nigel Thacker, a U.K.-based consultant who specializes in helping companies win recompetes.

The night’s topic: How to win your next recompete. And moderator Mark Amtower (also a Washington Technology columnist) started with the question that probably causes the most consternation for senior management: Why do incumbents lose?

The frank response from Lohfeld and Dufrene was complacency and the perception that recompetes are easy. “They think it’s a layup,” Lohfeld said.

“You know too much,” Dufrene said, “and you don’t think out of the box.”

Thacker agreed and said another way to look at the question is to not only ask why you lost a recompete, but when.

“You lose in three places – submission, preparation or during the contract itself,” he said.

If you aren’t looking forward toward the recompete during the contract, “you’ll find yourself behind the eight-ball,” he said.

Amtower’s second question was probably his most entertaining: What is the stupidest move they’ve seen an incumbent make?

Thacker told the story of reviewing a proposal where the incumbent didn’t mention they were the incumbent until answering question 13 of the solicitation. Question four had asked for them to describe similar work, but they didn’t talk about the current work they were doing for the customer.

“There’s a lot of dumb to go around,” Lohfeld said. Then he told the story of an incumbent on a $2.5 billion contract that several months before the recompete laid off their five most expensive employees on the project in a move to improve margins and look like heroes to shareholders.

That was on a Friday, and by Tuesday, the five former employees were in Lohfeld’s office.

“We took away that $2.5 billion contract,” he said.

In answer to the question about what it takes to win, all three spoke of the importance of shaping the solicitation. Because of the close relationship the incumbent has, they are in the strongest position to influence the customer and advise them on the requirements that go into an RFP.

“Instead of resting on your relationship, you need to leverage it,” Dufrene said.

You have to have good customer relationships and good performance to be in a position to shape the requirements, Thacker said. “If you don’t have that, you won’t win,” he said.

Some other tips for recompetes included conducting gap analysis on what you bid the first time and what you actually delivered.

It is also important to remember that customer needs change, so it is critical to know what needs are changing and how address them during the life of the contract.

Lohfeld cautioned against the common trap of overestimating your performance on a contract. “We sit in a sea of mediocrity,” he said.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 20, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Reader Comments

Tue, Mar 25, 2014

Being an incumbent is an asset only if the quality of performance meets the satisfaction of the customer. Otherwise incumbency becomes a serious liability.

Sat, Mar 22, 2014 Jake Ostrow

Like most advice I have skimmed here, it appears to be at the elementary level. Is that what is needed by people already in this market?

Fri, Mar 21, 2014

In many cases the customer wants to retain the incumbent team but in the solicitation asks for a work force that is significantly less experienced than that incumbent team. The incumbent must either bid the team and lose on cost or reduce the salaries of the team and create the subsequent morale and retention issues that go with it.

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