Winning a contract is really just a licence to keep doing good work. Even when there is an option for the buyer to renew the contract, it’s dangerous to assume that the renewal will happen automatically. Think of your contract end date as more of a “use-by” date — a hard deadline by which you need to have a compelling strategy win the customer all over again.
As consumers, most of us have contracts that we would rather not put too much effort into. These often roll over automatically, or are renewed with very little effort on our part. I once went three months before I realised that my phone was out of plan, and therefore the handset was fully paid for. I had to call Optus to get my rate reduced and my money back. Likewise, when insurance is up for renewal, we are often happy enough just to pay the invoice, rather than researching other options.
The businesses we buy from set it up that way, and good for them – they are the ones who are really in charge.
But when you are the supplier, selling to procurement, the situation is very different. The buyer sets the contract and the terms. Even when there is an option to renew, it’s their option, not yours.
Because of the way we see contracts operating in our personal lives, we sometimes tend to assume that “renewal” means “rollover”, but this is a mistake.
Consider for a moment how you think about use-by dates on food. Do you throw out food that is past its use-by? Is the use-by date a hard deadline for you, or more of a flexible one? I was once given a gigantic Toblerone, which I was hugely excited about, at least until I bit into it. The chocolate was crumbly and awful, and it turned out that it was 18 months past its use-by.
No one really wants to test their intestinal fortitude with food that old. In effect, though, this might be what we are asking our customers to do when we treat the renewal of a contract as a given, rather than as a genuine opportunity to win their business again.
Rather than a “rollover”, a more useful way of thinking about your contract end date is that it’s an opportunity for renovation, redevelopment, and reinvigoration. Competing successfully as an incumbent means working on projects that will create customer value, and this project work needs to start well before the contract use-by date.