Would your clients vote for the new guy/gal or for you, the incumbent?

October 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

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How many of us view the business development process as trying to unseat the incumbent? It’s like trying to break up a great marriage and being viewed as disruptive instead of desirable.

For that matter, how many of your competitors are trying to unseat you / your company?

Retaining existing client relationships involves a slightly different toolkit than does prospecting for entirely new clients. However, there is one common denominator: clients like to avoid what they perceive as disruption. Disruptive solutions and personalities mean risk. And the majority of clients are risk-averse.

Your existing client base may be comfortable with you, and perhaps complacent. So you need to ask yourself whether your company has been pigeon-holed as the provider of only certain types of solutions. If this is the case, as it is with many retained client bases, expanding business to your current clients means letting them know about your full scope of services. It means encouraging them to, yep, take a risk and let their incumbent vendor serve their needs in a different segment or solution. Because those are the projects that your competitors are jockeying for. And it’s not a slam-dunk that you will be top of mind to get the project just because you are a known entity.

You are never more than a partial incumbent for your existing client base. It’s important to stay in touch with them even when there is no project to bid on. Because a smart competitor will be differentiating themselves in this manner. And that’s when current clients start to compare one with the other. It can become a matter of “I only hear from you when I have a project” vs. “these other guys/gals send me interesting information about trends in my marketplace and expand my business intelligence.”

Pigeon-holing of existing or incumbent vendors/suppliers is the equivalent of being take for granted. You’ve become commoditized. Your clients forget the thrill of why they initially selected you. And you assume that at least a certain portion of their business is yours. Look, I know we are all smart enough to never make assumptions. But let’s face it, it gets exhausting to be constantly on one’s toes defending one’s turf as we try to identify new sources of business from new clients.
It’s not so much a matter of “what have you done for me lately” as it is a matter of “what are you doing for me when I don’t need you.” Because that, perhaps, is the time your current clients can really learn from you and realize your value to their company. Which becomes the premise of future need for your products and services.

Unseating the incumbent involves playing off the ball, positioning yourself advantageously to be the logical choice for a future project. And we all know that smart play like this insures that you will be the go-to guy or gal as well. So you protect your current position where you are the incumbent.

Providing timely business intelligence that aligns with the priorities of your existing client base may come from a new playbook than the one you are currently using. But it’s an important way of letting your current client base know of your expertise in areas where they don’t realize you have expertise.

I suggest shifting gears and taking a look at different ways of reinforcing your value as the incumbent vendor of choice. You just may learn a lot more about yourself and your capabilities. And so may your current clients.

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Entry filed under: Career Development, Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Marketing.

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