4 min read

As Incumbent Contractor You Must Avoid This Double-Edged Sword

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Many people think the hardest contract to win is a new one, while others think it is harder to win when you are the incumbent contractor. Some companies do not prioritize bids when they are the incumbent and fail to see the threats that would normally be very obvious. Incumbency is like a double-edged sword. The very things that you view as beneficial may actually be detrimental for your company.

Benefits of Incumbency

As the incumbent on a contract, you may have advantages:

  • You have a great understanding of the contract. As a good contractor, you meet regularly with your customer and are proactively involved in customer satisfaction.
  • You have performed the work and you are able to easily write about the PWS.
  • You know the customer better than anyone and should know their needs and hot buttons.
  • The customer knows you and hopefully likes you.
  • You know what innovations or improvements have been tried and if they have been successful. You can bring ideas that have not been tried to the table.
  • You will pass the Past Performance gate. During evaluation, competitors may not receive confidence scores as high as the incumbent team’s score.
  • You may have knowledge of improvements or changes planned by the customer, and can include their consideration in your response.
  • You know the actual payrate of employees. You understand the recruiting landscape, want to maintain corporate knowledge, and do not want to cut salaries.


Cons of Incumbency

But incumbency may not always be the best bid position.

  • You have a great understanding of the contract, and may not present your approach clearly because you feel ‘they already know that’.
  • You have performed the work and it has become so routine that you skip over important details of your approach. You neglect to pull your successes from you monthly, quarterly, or annual reports.
  • You know the customer better than anyone and you may fall into the trap of ‘I know what they want better than the RFP knows’.
  • The customer knows you and may expect more of your proposal to avoid the appearance of favoritism.
  • You know what innovations or improvements have been tried and if they have been successful, but your memory may be longer than that of your customer. Other bidders may suggest improvements that failed years ago, but evaluators may not know that. You may be hesitant to suggest improvements because of the personality of one of your customers, your competitors may not have that same level of knowledge, and may be favorably reviewed for proposing ideas you know have failed.
  • You will pass the Past Performance gate, so you may spend less time on the Past Performance volume and fail to create exceptional performance narratives mapped to the PWS. You may miss the opportunity to use the past performance narrative throughout your technical volume as proof points of your successful performance of the PWS elements.
  • You may have knowledge of improvements or changes planned by the customer, and may focus all your attention on those items, which may not be incorporated into the RFP.
  • You know the actual payrate of employees, but your competitors do not, and they will probably underbid you.


Your proposal should demonstrate that you know what the customer wants and that you can be successful performing the requirements. Be aware that anything you may view as a benefit for your team, may actually be a hinderance to you winning. How do you know if incumbency is negatively affecting your proposal? Be on the lookout for these types of comments and use them as an opportunity to refocus the proposal to your customer’s current needs and RFP requirements.

  • “No one can beat us; we have no real competition.”
  • “No one knows more about their XXX system than we do. We built the system.”
  • “The CO loves us, and doesn’t want any changes right now.”
  • “They have included things in the PWS that do not belong there. We don’t need to address those.”
  • “We have all the rate information, no one else has a clue on how to price this work.”
  • “It is too risky to change contractors now.”
  • “Pull the last proposal and clean it up a bit and submit that.”


As the incumbent, the only thing worse than losing a bid, is losing a bid you should have won.


A re-compete contract deserves just as much capture and pre-proposal planning as a new contract bid – sometimes it deserves more attention, since losing a re-compete and losing personnel is usually not part of a company strategic plan.

Download our Proposal Management Toolkit, which includes templates a team proposal graphic, technical approach format, past performance examples, and other tools for your proposal manager. Mitigate potential negative impacts of incumbency with facts, figure, experience examples, proof points, presented in a clear easy-to evaluate compliant proposal.

As a proposal manager, keeping your team on track during a re-compete is an essential skill you need to help your company to Win More Business.

download proposal management toolkit

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