Beating the Curse of the Incumbent

Being the incumbent comes with many advantages. If your relationships are as strong as they should be, you’ll have the support you need to retain your client. Second, if your execution is all that it should be, you’ll have the proven track record of results that you need to retain your client (provided you are keeping your own score).

But sometimes the curse of the incumbent is that you are already known and your competitor isn’t known. It’s not easy, but you can beat the curse of the incumbent if you are smart and if you work hard.

Enter the Mysterious Stranger

Your competitors are going to tell your client—their dream client—that they can produce greater results than you are producing. They are going to sow the seeds of dissension, and they are going to do all that they can to identify any shred of dissatisfaction, blowing it up into a full-blown case for change.

They are new. They are exciting. They are sexy.

You are not new, not exciting (anymore), and not sexy. You have built your relationship by plain old, ordinary, run of the mill execution and walking your talk. As sexy as you and I know that is, it doesn’t have all of the appeal the new and interesting.

It doesn’t matter if you can do what your competitor can do, the fact that they are proposing it means you are already behind. It doesn’t matter if they can really do what they promise or not; they have you on the defensive.

Defending Yourself from the Dark Arts

Defending yourself from the curse of the incumbent means never resting on your laurels. You have to be always new, always fresh, and always sexy. You do this by implementing and managing improvement effort, after improvement effort, after improvement effort.

Once you are executing your solution, you take a measure at the end of a quarter, and you work with your dream client to identify their next initiative or you propose some of your own. You find any areas where the next improvement might be made, and then you start working your contacts to build the case for change and for greater improvement. Retaining your incumbent advantage means never resting on your laurels and always looking for ways to be more valuable.

Your company’s internal improvement efforts need to be brought to bear on your existing clients challenges and opportunities, too. Your new products, your new services, the changes in your personnel, the changes in your processes, anything that might make a difference for your client needs to be presented and put into service to keep your initiative. Your client needs to know what changes you are making to improve, and they need to know how your improvements are going to help them improve their results.

As a salesperson, you must always be on the lookout for new ideas that may help your client produce better results in the area that you help them to manage or in some other area where your business acumen can help them to make an improvement. You need to extend your ability and desire to help them produce results to all areas of their business.

In short, you have to continually reinvent yourself and the value you create, quarter after quarter, year after year. Not doing so makes you susceptible to the curse of the incumbent: being known, being boring, and being complacent.


What are the advantages of being the incumbent? How do you leverage those advantages to protect your client from competitive threats?

What are the disadvantages of being the incumbent?

Who within your clients do you believe is susceptible to the new, shiny, sexy competitive threat? Who has enough dissatisfaction to be the breeding ground for your competitors change effort and your removal?

What can you do to keep yourself in as secure a position as possible as the incumbent? How do you keep yourself and your work there relevant, once you have implemented your solution and are now simply executing well? Is executing well always enough?

ANNOUNCEMENT: On January 14, 2011, Future Selling Institute is being launched. It’s focused on sales leaders and aspiring leaders—sales managers, executives, general managers responsible for the sales function. It’s packed full of resources to help sales leaders excel! Any sales leader interested in their personal, professional and career development will want to join this community. Join us on January 14, 2011 for the kickoff conference.

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