You’ve put in hours researching this account’s unique challenges, crafted a solution that perfectly addresses those needs, honed your approach and delivered a top-notch sales presentation. Now, finally, the decision is in -- and you lost the sale.
Before you tear out your hair, rend your garments and hurl your laptop out the window, remember that all is not necessarily lost. Professional leadership and sales coach Keith Rosen suggests that when faced with a “no,” salespeople should quell the feelings of disappointment and follow up to ask prospects about their buying process.
“Try to find out what approach they might have been more receptive to,” Rosen says. “Ask them a question like, ‘When choosing a vendor, how do you go about gathering your information? This way, if I ever get a second chance to speak with you, I can honor your decision-making process and hopefully connect in a way that you’re more comfortable with.’”
Do Not Accept Silence from Prospects
Of course, as sales and management consultant Gary Goodman points out, in today’s selling environment salespeople rarely even hear the word “no.” Instead, uninterested customers simply respond with silence.
“The entire concept of rejection should be updated, because nowadays customers just say nothing,” Goodman says. “We chase them and chase them, and finally the trail runs cold and we give up.”
Faced with just such an unspoken “no,” Goodman says he once wrote a letter to his primary contact at the account, headlined with the words in bold, “WHERE DID WE GO WRONG?”
The letter expressed Goodman’s desire for self-improvement and a request that the contact honestly assess where Goodman’s company hadn’t measured up.
“I asked, ‘How did we miss the mark? Did we fail to listen, to understand your needs? If you chose another firm, what was the crucial distinction between them and us?’” he says. “Within two weeks, I received a call from a more senior person than my initial contact, and I was invited to conduct a rewarding and fascinating consulting and training project. The letter revived the deal!”
The Value of Debriefing with Clients
Of course, if writing a single letter could always salvage a lost deal, sales organizations would buy stamps by the crateful. Still, it’s often best to conduct a “loss review,” say Mark Shonka and Dan Kosch, copresidents of IMPAX Corporation, a Westport, Connecticut-based sales improvement company. That’s where you step back and debrief after losing a sale, even if feels like poking at a fresh wound.
Shonka and Kosch acknowledge the value of starting with a thorough self-analysis of what you think you did well and where you may have fallen short. But they say it is more effective to make the extra effort by conducting a research meeting with your closest contacts at the target account, the folks who should be uniquely positioned to offer a more in-depth, insider perspective on where your efforts ran aground.
Shonka and Kosch suggest your goal for the research meeting should be to get answers to the following questions:
- Why do you feel you made this decision?
- What made you feel good about the organization you went with?
- As you assessed our organization, what were the pluses and minuses?
- What did we do well?
- In what areas do we need to improve?
- What one thing could we have done differently to make a difference in this decision?
Shonka and Kosch emphasize that professionalism is critical and that you make it clear that you appreciate the customers’ time and respect their decision to go with an alternate supplier.
Lessen Your Loss Reviews
Finally, the loss review may even help you decide which other prospective accounts are worth chasing after and which ones aren’t.
“What you learn can help you become more effective at selecting opportunities to pursue in the future,” Kosch says. “Sometimes it’s through losses that we get smarter about what not to go after. The learning lesson is often in figuring out the criteria that make for strong opportunities where you have a good chance of winning in the future and not having to do quite so many loss reviews.”