Losing a Sale (but Winning the Next One!)

It’s like the feeling you get when the wind is knocked out of you…you’re kind of stunned.

Every salesperson knows this feeling: you just received the phone call from the buyer telling you that you didn’t make the sale or make the plan. You’ve worked on this for weeks (or even months), you did all the research, talked to all the influencers and decision-makers, and created a truly great proposal for your customer. In your mind, you have even already spent the commission check!

But you didn’t make the sale.

How you respond to this will determine whether or not you are a great salesperson. In fact, how you respond to this demonstrates what kind of person (not just sales) that you are or can become. There are a number of ways that you can respond but here are the 4 ways I believe are the best approach…

  • Ask questions
  • Conduct the post mortem
  • Begin work on the next opportunity
  • Don’t give up

Ask Questions

In my experience, most buyers are willing to explain why you didn’t make the sale if you ask in a genuine and respectful way. DO NOT:

  • Tell them that you believe they are idiots J
  • Threaten to go over their heads
  • Do anything that will poison your long-term relationship with them or their company.

Sometimes, buyers make decisions that are based on incomplete information. Other times, the decision has been made by someone else and the buyer is merely the messenger. And, hard as it is to hear, sometimes what you are selling truly isn’t a solution to the buyer’s problem.

The best salespeople view the rejection of the sale as a unique opportunity to have an open and honest conversation with the buyer. If you have a strong and professional relationship with the buyer, they most likely weren’t very comfortable making the call to tell you lost out. They feel bad about it. This is the perfect time to ask as many questions as you can about what the reasoning was in their decision. You need to objectively look at and learn from what you may have done right and where there were areas where you could have done better.

Conduct the post mortem

After discussing the results (or lack thereof) with the buyer, go back to your internal team and begin the ‘post mortem’. The business definition of post mortem is:

A project postmortem is a process, usually performed at the conclusion of a project, to determine and analyze elements of the project that were successful or unsuccessful.

It can also be known as evaluating “lessons learned”. This process can be immensely valuable if done in the spirit of learning as opposed to assigning blame. I suggest taking 90 minutes or so to meet with your sales manager and other members of your sales team that were involved with the creation of your rejected proposal. This meeting could also include members from other teams that helped you to build the proposal. Go through, step-by-step, things that you did and discuss if, in retrospect, there were things you could have done differently. It’s been my experience that in most cases, but not all, some changes during the process might have changed the outcome of the sale to a win.

Begin work on the next opportunity

As with riding a horse (or so they say), the best time to start prospecting the next opportunity is right after losing a sale. I’ve found that it helps regain your focus and builds the positivity needed to erase the negative thoughts. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Make a cold call
  • Schedule the next three weeks meetings/calls
  • Schedule a meeting with a client that you haven’t seen in a bit
  • Take one of your best internal support team members out to lunch.

Doing all of these things isn’t just busy work. It is proactive and will get your creativity moving in the right direction. Also, review current trends in your industry and look to see which of your product portfolio would be appropriate to use to help your customers address any new trends or challenges. If you find that you really don’t have appropriate products, then set up meetings with your product team to discuss the plans to address these trends.

Don’t Give Up

It’s natural to feel depressed or down after losing a big sale…it happens to EVERY salesperson in some way. I would always give myself permission to be bummed for 24 hours…I felt that after all the hard work I’d put into the proposal that I’d earned that time. But, after that 24 hours is up, it is time to stand up, brush yourself off, and move on. Being positive is in the DNA of most salespeople. The great salespeople are like the best relief pitchers in baseball; if they’ve given up a home run to lose the game in the bottom of the 9th, they shake it off before the next save opportunity. That is exactly the attitude that you need to be successful in sales. Remember, the next big sales opportunity could be the best you’ve ever had…so go out and win it!

Author: Tim Hand

My name is Tim Hand, and I am a digital media, sales & marketing team leader, and I have a real passion for partnering with companies, publishers and agencies to help drive client growth and bottom-line revenues.

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