When they lose a deal, most sales people take what the customer gives as a reason at face value. For example – the price was too high. They don’t dig deeper to identify deficits in their own sales approach. That’s a mistake.
Have I understood you correctly? We lost the deal but none of the reasons have anything to do with us?
One of our clients, a large software company who spends up to 150 person days on each proposal, expects a very high win rate. So after every major loss they ask us to interview the customer.
On one occasion I was asking the customer about the sales team. The customer answered a little evasively and said, “We had concerns about their business ethics”. When I delved a little deeper it turned out the pre-sales specialists talked in detail about the business processes of a direct competitor who they also worked with. Their intention was to demonstrate subject matter expertise. Not surprisingly the customer feared their business secrets might also be revealed, and chose not to work with our client.
It was bad to lose the pitch. But it was hugely valuable to learn what was happening with the pre-sales team and avoid further failure. In fact every loss is an opportunity for your organization – but more importantly for the sales person – to improve.
A chance to learn
Nobody likes losing, but I really believe the greatest leaps in progress of a sales professional can be made through interviewing the customer. I learnt a lesson recently. We had pitched for a global sales training assignment at an international provider for call center services. They were an existing satisfied client in one location and we helped to write the tender document. All factors that should have weighed heavily in our favor – but we didn’t win.
Once I had shaken off my disappointment I contacted the client. The key reason why we hadn’t won turned out to be that we were seen to be less of a global player than the winning company. There was some truth in this, but I explored a little further. We’d put profiles of our implementation team from all the relevant markets in the proposal but that was all. I went on to ask the Project Leader if she would have allowed us to send our representative in each market to meet their local team and whether this would have prevented their concern about international footprint. Yes, she said, to both points.
With this lesson fresh in my mind we were invited to pitch for another assignment in the Enterprise Business Unit of a global telecom operator. This time we made sure a team from around the world was closely involved and we won the pitch. We had learned a lesson, refined our Sales Process and improved at team selling.
Don’t take the reasons at face value Our research shows a big gap between the reasons why vendors think they lose and what customers say are the real ones. Reasons like poor understanding of customer needs, proposals with no or little differentiation and a of trust all rate highly as reasons for failure among customers but are rated much lower by vendors. A simple question is not enough, you have to conduct an in depth interview to get feedback about your engagement approach. Only 7% do this according to our research so you have a real chance to get ahead by learning faster than the competition.
How to run the loss interview
Here are a few points on how to manage the process:
- Pick the right person to do the interview
I actually think the sales person is the best person to do the interview. There may be some situations where it is better if someone else from the organization makes the call but you may miss an opportunity to get to the real truth and learn from it.
- Pick the right person to interview
Business people rather than procurement are more willing to give you insights.
- Ask specific questions about your Sales Process
e.g. which words would you use to describe how our sales team engaged with your team?
- Send the questions over first then talk
It’s only by talking face to face or by phone that you can drill down to the detailed answer you need.
- You also need an internal review
You probably run internal reviews anyway – don’t stop. But if you can feed insights from the customer into this process it will be much more valuable.
How to use the knowledge gained
You’re not looking for excuses or someone to blame. You are looking for insights you can use to improve your Sales Process and your own performance. If there are individuals who need to behave differently (like our client’s pre-sales team) they need to understand why they have to make changes.
In the end it’s about mind set
Some people just don’t get it. They see a lost pitch as something that wasn’t their fault and don’t want to waste time raking over the coals looking for ways to improve. They lack self-reflection and think there is nothing they could have done differently. But if you want to improve you need to keep looking at your own performance and how you can improve it.
I hope you don’t have too many losses, but when you do see them as an opportunity.