When you lose a sales deal, how does your company react? Do you have a culture of learning from losses or do you have a culture of blaming? A sales loss is a treasure trove of learning—successful companies evaluate and adjust for their next pitch.
What does your print business do when you lose a sale? The most valuable thing about losing is what you can learn, yet most of us fail to take advantage of what losing can teach us about how we pitch our services and what we say to our potential customers.
We lose sales for many reasons that cannot be easily mitigated. For example, your plant is simply located too far from the end delivery point making shipping prohibitively expensive or you simply don’t have the equipment in-house necessary to take on the work. Most of the time those “non-mitigatable” reasons weed you out of the mix before the serious decisions are made. We typically lose deals on aspects of the deal that are under our control. Nobody likes to lose, so nobody likes to talk about it either. Yet, talking about your losses is the only way to extract value out of the experience.
Losing is feedback. Losing is a test of your sales process. Losing is your grade. You can learn a lot from losses—they are super valuable. The hard part is to create a culture where your team feels comfortable discussing the possible reasons why they lost and figuring out how you might make changes to prevent that kind of lose moving forward.
All too often, I see the opposite. I see folks brushing loses off to conditions beyond their control; e.g. the customer was simply too afraid to switch from the long-term incumbent. This might be true but it’s not a helpful response to a loss because virtually every sales event you’re in has an incumbent—don’t you want to continue to adjust your sales approach so it’s better at un-seating a long-term incumbent?
The culture of your organization will dictate how open and honest your team feels towards talking about losses, especially in a team selling situation. If all the discussions about losses are triangulation (e.g. the sales guy tells the CEO how he didn’t like what the technical guy said during the meeting, or the CEO complains about how the software demo was presented), then you’re not learning, you’re blaming. Not only will this not change your approach for future sales processes, it also builds mistrust in the team. When sales pitches are made in person, the client can sense the energy among your team. If this team is turned against each other, the customer can sense that. If this team is working with each other, the customer can sense that. Who wants to work with a dysfunctional team?
The only person who can lead a process for evaluating why you lost a deal is the leadership. Until the leader makes it clear that he/she is willing to speak frankly about the loss and is willing to offer up how he/she might have done better, then the rest of the team has permission to follow suit. Nobody is perfect, and we could all do better—the key is to create an environment where its safe to give each other feedback. This open and honest communication will pay dividends not only in your sales process but in building a culture of constant improvement.
Mistakes happen, sales lose, deadlines get missed—this is a part of running a business with humans. How we react to these mistakes and losses defines the culture we create. Are we a blaming culture or a learning culture? The former is stressful and anxiety producing; the later is uncomfortable at first but rewarding and meaningful work.
Many people say there is no time to dwell on loses, just get out there and keep pitching. The translation of that sentence is: we don’t have time to get better. This makes no sense and it’s a morale killer. A sales pitch is the best feedback a company can get. Your prospect is giving you data. You should use it to keep fine tuning how your company presents its services.