Incumbent Pitch Focus

Psephology may be a word only used in secret by fans of Newsnight, yet its pursuit may have thrown out an essential tip for those of us whom, as incumbent suppliers, are forced to enter into a beauty pageant to secure the next contract.

Clients will hold these for a multitude of reasons.  The doubt in our minds when hauled over such coals, is that we’re considered to have grown fat, dumb and happy.  Our eyes may have gone slightly off the ball, complacency setting in.  The client thinks that a gentle nudge will renew our vigour, and of course, hope we chuck in a cheeky price incentive knowing that a discount can always smooth over doubts.  You know that you’re susceptible to accusations of over-charging in years gone by and that any decent competitor will qualify extremely hard to protect wasting valuable resources, and uncover all the reasons why we stink, which we’re oblivious to.

Populus, a polling firm for The Times, had a chap on Newsnight assessing the merits of a snap British Spring Election.  Salivating at the thought of another Autumn 07 debacle, the terrier that is political editor Michael Crick set to work.  He was keen to unravel how elections are won and lost.  The Populus chap then came out with this gem:

“At General Election time, voters aren’t interested in what you’ve done for them, it’s what you’re going to do for them next.”

Ouch.  How many of us talk about the many months of cost savings achieved, the extra sales we’ve enabled, the profits directly attributable to us?  It seems human nature is to dismiss what’s gone before.  As electoral cycles in the free world suggest, ‘better the devil you know’ can only take you so far.  Even in Japan, voters kick out an incumbent government when they are perceived as taking power for granted.

Yes, I would still insist on presenting your treasure trove of benefits realised, but don’t rely on these as your differentiators.  As the mighty Jeff Randall reminds us regularly in the Telegraph, the UK centre-left government has practically doubled health and education spending, yet no-one can pinpoint an improvement in performance.  This, he intones, ought to contribute to their being swept aside with the pendulum swing next time ’round.  Who remembers the 90s?  The UK’s right-wing government were turfed out in 97 suffering their biggest ever landslide reversal, despite delivering a platform for economic stability and growth and with the recession they caused an election bygone.  They lost because they were judged as having run out of ideas.  All headlines associated with them involved damaging images such as ‘traffic cone hotlines’ and ‘sleaze’.  Goodnight.

So, as an incumbent battling to keep the prized deal intact, your focus has to be on tomorrow.  What are you going to deliver in the next twelve months?  Over a three-year contract what excitement will you cause?  It’s clearly a battle of ideas.  The message is bring plenty to the table else get turned over.

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