“Luck is the residue of good planning. Hoffman had done plenty of the latter, and he began to get a bit more of the former.”
Nice lines those. I pinched them from “Body of Lies” (2007) by David Ignatius. If you haven’t seen the film of the same name, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo di Caprio, Russell Crowe and Mark Strong, well you know what to do, and vice versa. Ignatius is a correspondent for the Washington Post, who also writes wonderful espionage novels. Check out Siro (1991) if you haven’t already.
History is littered with examples of a challenger coming from behind and either blindsiding the favourite or taking advantage of some bad luck to win the day. They are only in the position to profit though if they have done the work in advance.
When I think of clients who have won contracts against the run of play – i.e. either the incumbent was strong, the competitors were perceived to have a better chance, or they entered very late in the day – they usually had the same things in common.
1. Brand Recognition
They were already well known and highly thought of in the market. They also had a reputation for doing good work.
2. Delivery Team
They had an experienced and established delivery team who were well known in the industry and always performed well in the pitch. This makes a big difference if the client feels that an incumbent is becoming lazy or is difficult to work with. A team’s performance in a pitch is the best guideline as to how easy they will be to work with.
3. Business Development Team
They had good business development teams, supported by a solid process, who were able to rely on “muscle memory” to get a solid proposal over the line. They had very good content to build on. The sales people were able to do a great job of “late in the day” influencing in order to make the buyer open to the proposal.
4. Great Training On How to Write Proposals
These teams were usually well trained. It’s worth recalling former Dublin Gaelic football manager Jim Gavin’s thoughts on this. This is taken from an interview with the Sunday Times in 2021:
“In the last minute, or seven minutes into overtime, you’re a man down, a point down, and the five-in-a-row is on the line, they will default to the level you’ve trained them… If I’m roaring and shouting at a player to get into position on the field, that’s a reflection of how poorly they’ve been trained.”
5. Incumbent Hubris
In the film adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s “Day of the Jackal” the Jackal – played by Edward Fox – knew that he would get a chance at assassinating de Gaulle because of the President’s vanity and arrogance. Expect incumbent hubris to play a big part in giving you a shot at toppling them. I’ve seen many a large blue-chip mess up a procurement competition because they relied on brand recognition and incumbency and neglected to focus on doing the basics across an entire business development cycle. And those are the sweetest victories of them all.
So, What Happens Now?
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