4 strategies that can kill your recompete

Proposal guru Bob Lohfeld shares the four most common strategic mistakes incumbments make when pursuing a recompete. Do you know what to avoid?

I regularly get calls to review capture strategies for companies competing on “must win” procurements. I have done an equal number of these reviews for companies during the time when they were in their capture phase (before the final request for proposals is released), during their proposal development phase when everyone was working hard to write the winning proposal, and, regrettably, after the company had submitted its proposal and been told that they had lost their “must win” deal.

Often these procurements are for contract recompetes, where the company is the incumbent contractor performing the work. There is a common thread among all of these reviews—incumbent contractors all too often focus on the wrong strategies. I thought I would share some of these losing strategies with you in the hope that you don’t take your next “must win” recompete down the same losing path.

1. They love us

Every incumbent contractor, with the possible exception of those who have received multiple cure notices, believes the customer loves them. To reinforce their belief, they argue that they have been performing the work satisfactorily day in and day out for years and there have been no loud complaints from the customer about their performance. Silence in this case is mistaken for love.

The more they convince themselves that the customer loves them, the more complacent they become in how they perform the work, and the more resistant they become to changes in how they propose to do the work. All companies who fall victim to this belief will eventually discover that love is not an evaluation criterion in federal procurements. The sooner they set aside the belief that what they are doing today is good enough, the sooner they will get serious about creating better ways to do the work.

2. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD)

Another incumbent shortcoming is to believe they are the only contractor who can perform the work, and should the government change contractors, the successor contractor would be unable to recruit the incumbent staff needed to perform the contract. Incumbents echo this strategy throughout their proposals by repeatedly using the phrase, “As the incumbent contractor, we are the low risk provider of these services.” The incumbent tries to raise the specter of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) in the minds of the evaluators, hoping this will serve as justification for the government to keep them in place for the next five years.

You cannot imagine how annoying this statement can become to government evaluators. The government knows well that you are the incumbent, and they know transition can bring some risk. However, contracts are transitioned every day from one contractor to another, and the world goes on without missing a beat. Evaluators are told that being the incumbent contractor is not a justification for award and will ignore such statements. These statements just take up valuable proposal space that could be used to say something worthwhile. Annoying your evaluator is not a win strategy, and incumbents should delete or minimize these statements from their proposals.

3. Looking in the rear view mirror

I was once told that you should never let your project team write the proposal for its recompete. While I don’t completely agree with that statement, there is some truth in it. For example, I watched one project team respond to every question in the RFP by describing in detail what they had done for their customer over the past five years. It was a wonderful history lesson, but a history lesson is not a proposal. A proposal is about what you are going to do going forward, not what you did in the past. You don’t drive a car forward by looking in the rearview mirror, and you should not write your proposal by filling it with what you did in the past. Look forward, embrace the future, and stop clinging to the past.

4. Ignoring your competition

Every non-incumbent challenger uses the same two-pronged strategy to take work away from an incumbent.
First, they argue that the incumbent uses outdated processes, procedures, and tools to do the work and that their solution is antiquated and not current with today’s technology. The challenger offers to bring better processes, procedures, solutions, etc. when selected to perform the contract. Their proposal will be rich in features showing newer, better approaches than those the incumbent has been using, and they will argue that these bring additional value to the government.

Second, they will argue that the incumbent has let costs get out of control by allowing salaries to creep beyond current market rates and indirect costs to escalate. They will offer to perform the work for less cost and will justify these statements by proposing tighter indirect rates and bringing new, less-expensive people into the workforce to lower overall costs.

As the incumbent, you must counter these threats and create a strategy to prevent the challengers from taking the contract away. The best counter is for you also to bring innovative ideas to the workforce and to reduce your proposed costs. To do otherwise would be to give your competition the upper hand.

Understand the value of incumbency

Incumbency is a wonderful thing. It gives you the high ground from which you can see more clearly what your customer wants over the next term of your contract and, with that insight, you should be able to craft a winning offer that will deliver just what your customer wants.

Incumbency doesn’t make you the next winner—it’s what you do with that incumbency that makes the difference.
If you’ve seen other strategies that should be avoided in recompetes, please share them with us and we will publish them below.