The Champion’s Playbook: Defending Your Contract Against New Challengers

As the incumbent, you’re in a singular position to demonstrate unmatched value and a deep understanding of your client’s needs. Yet, with every recompete comes the challenge of defending your position against eager competitors ready to undercut your achievements with promises of lower costs and innovative solutions.

Why Do Incumbents Lose?

In our informal LinkedIn poll, we asked industry experts, “In your opinion, what is the biggest reason companies lose incumbent contracts?” Here’s how the 86 respondents answered:

  1. Complacency: 42%
  2. Deteriorating Relationships: 20%
  3. High Costs: 9%
  4. Failure to Plan for New Bid: 29%

However, given that LinkedIn only has limited polling capabilities, many indicated that incumbents lose using a combination of options 1, 2, and 4:

  • Incumbents become complacent and only deliver what’s required in the contract.
  • Once strong relationships with the customer fade over time, the customer isn’t given the priority or attention they received shortly before or after contract award.
  • The incumbent fails to plan for the new bid, and a competitor moves into the customer’s favored position.

Why Do Incumbents Win?

Winning a recompete requires a strategic, proactive approach that addresses the dimensions of client satisfaction, innovation, risk mitigation, and operational excellence. The advantage of incumbency comes with invaluable firsthand experience of the client’s operations, strategic goals, and challenges. This inside perspective equips incumbents with the knowledge to offer tailored solutions that resonate with the customer. Having already navigated the intricacies of the client’s organizational culture and built relationships across its hierarchy, incumbents are positioned to reinforce and expand these connections, making them an integral part of the client’s success story.

However, this privileged position is continually threatened by competitors eager to highlight perceived complacency, propose cost-saving innovations, or promise to address unmet needs with fresh perspectives. In response to these challenges, Table 1 identifies 12 strategies successful incumbents use to defend their turf.

Table 1: 12 Reasons Why Incumbents Win

1Start EarlyYour plan to win the recompete starts after transitioning to the current contract. Ask the customer to define exceptional performance standards and work to exceed those standards.
2Demonstrate Value ContinuouslyShow how your company adds extra value to the client. This could include innovative solutions to unforeseen problems, cost-saving measures, and or pilots to help meet new mission needs.
3Maintain Strong RelationshipsBuild and maintain strong relationships with all stakeholders involved in your contract, from the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR), Contracting Officer (CO), and agency executives and stakeholders. Ensuring regular communication, understanding their changing needs, and responding proactively can make a significant difference.
4Leverage Past PerformanceUse your track record of success as a key selling point. Prepare case studies, testimonials, and detailed reports highlighting your achievements, especially those that align with the client’s strategic goals.
5Stay Ahead of Industry TrendsDemonstrate your commitment to innovation and continuous improvement by staying ahead of industry trends and incorporating cutting-edge practices and technologies into your solutions.
6Invest in Your TeamHelp your team stay ahead of industry trends by investing in their training, certification, or conference attendance.
7Engage in Strategic TeamingConsider partnering with other firms to fill in gaps in your capabilities or strengthen your proposal. Strategic alliances can provide additional expertise, resources, and innovative solutions to make your bid more competitive.
8Understand the CompetitionConduct thorough research on your competitors to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Use this information to differentiate your services, highlight areas where you provide superior value, and mitigate your weaknesses.
9Focus on Cost EfficiencyWhile quality of service is paramount, cost is always a consideration. Demonstrate your company’s commitment to efficiency and cost-effectiveness without compromising on the quality of deliverables.
10Solicit and Act on FeedbackRegularly seek feedback from the client on your performance and use it to make continuous improvements. Showing you are responsive and adaptable can strengthen your relationship.
11Offer Innovative SolutionsOffer innovative solutions addressing the client’s evolving challenges and objectives. Show how you can bring fresh ideas and perspectives without risk to ongoing operations.
12Prepare a Compelling ProposalPresent a proposal filled with strengths across all evaluated criteria. Minimize any weaknesses or risks. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the customer’s requirements. Submit a highly competitive cost proposal with a clear rationale.


To safeguard your contract against the myriad challenges of a recompete, focus on the 12 areas in Table 1. These strategies offer a roadmap not just to retain your incumbency but to solidify and expand your role as a key partner to your client.

Beginning with early planning and continuous value demonstrated through maintaining committed relationships, staying ahead of industry trends, and understanding the competition, each step is pivotal. Focusing on cost efficiency, soliciting actionable feedback, offering innovative solutions, and preparing a compelling proposal are not standalone tasks but parts of a comprehensive approach demonstrating your unwavering commitment and unique value proposition.

By embodying these principles, your company not only stands a better chance at securing contract renewals but also cements its reputation as a forward-thinking, adaptable, and indispensable ally to your clients. In the end, a recompete is much more than a business victory. It reaffirms your company’s ability to deliver exceptional value and foster meaningful relationships.

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By Brenda Crist, Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, MPA, CPP APMP Fellow

Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals. As the premier capture and proposal services consulting firm focused exclusively on government markets, we provide expert assistance to government contractors in Capture Planning and Strategy, Proposal Management and Writing, Capture and Proposal Process and Infrastructure, and Training. In the last 3 years, we’ve supported over 550 proposals winning more than $170B for our clients—including the Top 10 government contractors. Lohfeld Consulting Group is your “go-to” capture and proposal source! Start winning by contacting us at and join us on LinkedInFacebook, and YouTube(TM) .