Selling as Incumbent: Competing Against New

Selling as IncumbentCustomers have bought your offering in the past – they’ve used your offering, consumed it, relied on it and now it’s over.

Now, they’re going to buy again; either because they have to, or they just want to.

This means you’re selling to the same customer, for the repeat sale.

But this game is different. As the incumbent, your customer knows things about you. They know:

  • what you have done for them
  • what you promised to do but didn’t
  • where you fell down

They know, or believe they know all the things you’re capable of doing. You are the known entity, which makes being the incumbent such a burden.

And when customers look around for that next buy, you’re no longer the sparkly, shiny new thing – your competitors are.

B2B customers don’t buy to thank their suppliers. Customers may be thankful for what you’ve done for them in the past – but they buy solutions, for the future, going forward.

And you were paid for what you provided, you’ll not get any handouts or free rides in a repeat sale or competitive rebid.

As incumbent, you’re selling against everything new

Customers don’t know in advance how your competitors may really deliver for them. Customers will listen to extravagant sales pitches, read fantastical proposals and sit through glitzy presentations. And then your competitors look sparkly, shiny and new.

Even their most mundane features, the ones that look exactly like yours, will appear new in your customers’ eyes. Hey, they have to be new because someone other than you is offering them.

This is the curse of incumbency; your customers being wooed by competitors with amazing promises without the reality check of experience.

What’s an incumbent to do?

The Incumbent’s Solution

Re-invent yourself.

Re-invigorate your approach.

Re-fresh your offering.

Your burden, your opportunity is to get creative and propose the new in you.

This means suspending your knowledge of what didn’t worked in the past – and propose new ideas.

This means not restricting yourself to what you provided in the past – but introduce cutting edge technologies, processes and/or products (even if they’ll not be fully vetted at the time you propose them).

You must surprise your customers into seeing you again.

This is the time to amaze them into realizing you have more to offer, a lot more, when they buy you again.

For incumbents selling service contracts, there’s a philosophical debate about when to introduce that new technology, process or product:

  • during the contract term to prove you’re proactive, or
  • saving it as ammunition for the rebid proposal

The answer is…it depends. It depends on how impactful that innovation is, and how long before the rebid occurs.

Whatever is decided, there must always be at least one major innovation introduced within the rebid proposal.

Even smaller, cosmetic changes can help surprise customers out of their familarity with you as incumbent, i.e. a new uniform design or color. So incumbents must propose those new ideas to look sparkly and shiny again.

The Burden is the Opportunity

Being the incumbent can feel like an oppressive weight. In reality, it’s an exciting opportunity to propose a new you, a new offering, a new solution.

You and your team must find ways to invigorate the value you provide customers, and do so in a way that surprises customers into seeing who you really are – their next purchase.

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