The Power of Incumbency

Quick Summary: Overcoming the resistance to change is difficult.


Unless your new offering is totally new, it will require enough incremental benefits over the existing solution to warrant the customer making a change and adopting it. Your customer will be tasked with selling the benefits associated with adopting your new solution to others in their organization.  This is not an easy task. 

Unless you are selling a product or service that will be totally new to a customer, your offering is intended to replace some product, service, or method that already exists.  Your first task is to “unhook” the customer before you can “hook” them on your offering.  Each of us experiences the difficulty of this task regularly.  When we see the new models for an automobile, a flat screen TV, or a smartphone, we may clearly see the advantages of the new product over the similar product that you purchased last year.  However, how many times do we actually choose to upgrade?

Although the decisions to upgrade for us on a personal level are hard, for corporate sales, the decision is far more complicated.  If the existing solution is not fully depreciated, the cost hurdle becomes even higher.  Implementations of the new product or service typically involve a number of people or departments that may simply have other priorities and not perceive the incremental benefits of the new offering vis-à-vis the existing solution.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the existing solution must have had an internal champion who was THE customer for that product.  Will that person be willing to embrace the new offering or will they be reluctant, thinking that others may view their decision to purchase the existing solution as an error? 

As often quoted in this collection of articles, including the article, “The Biggest Challenge,” Isaac Newton, the brilliant 16th Century physicist, said in one of his laws of motion that, bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, while bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.   Convincing customers to change is often very difficult.  Because of this, the task becomes one of convincing the customer that the incremental benefits of the new offering outweigh the momentum that has been established by the existing solution.  Not only will you have to win over your customer, but you will also have to equip them with information that they can convey to others in their organization (who you may never meet) to embrace the need for supporting your new solution.  Your customer must become the internal change advocate.  Essentially, “better” must be perceived as “much better” by your customer, who must carry the message throughout the organization.  Your customer must think of others in their organization as their customers in order to overcome the natural power of incumbency.  Your success becomes totally dependent upon the ability of your customer to sell!  Help them win “their” sale.

Article Number : 5.030204   

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