In selling to and serving major accounts, long term relationships involve streams of transactions over time with many different types of opportunities and pursuits. And regardless of the effectiveness of your sales model, the cruel truth is that losing happens. No matter how powerful your due diligence, client commitment and processes are, you’re certain to come up short on occasion.
In the aftermath of the wound-licking that follows a major loss, someone in the selling organization will invariably say, “We should learn from this to make sure it never happens again”. Of course, such a strategy makes great sense. There’s even a catchy phrase often used – “You win or you learn”. Sounds good, anyway. But it’s fascinating that many truly talented selling organizations fumble through their attempts to perform post-mortems. Sales teams with rock solid pursuit processes fall apart in their attempts to learn from losses. Meetings set to gather the team to review major defeats are often casualties themselves, characterized by puzzled looks, finger-pointing, group hugs and other awkward interactions. Typically, after about twenty minutes or so, someone mercifully shuts things down by saying “Let’s just go win the next one!”. Which leaves us to wonder, how can so many sophisticated selling organizations with such talented people crumble in their attempts to review losses? The answer – human nature.
Ponder for a moment the popular publications in major cities that celebrate the best local physicians – the top obstetricians, cardiologists, rheumatologists, etc. Where are the top coroners? Do they ever get recognized? Never, regardless of their immense value. Why not? Because they engage after the loss. Autopsy time. Of course, the forensic knowledge they provide is extremely constructive. But truthfully, we’d rather not dwell on it. We look away. We focus elsewhere – “Let’s go win the next one!”.
In 2015, Matthew Syed wrote a riveting book called Black Box Thinking, based on the premise that success happens only when we directly and constructively face our mistakes. He provides a deep dive into healthcare and its dysfunctional perspective on failure by sharing that more people die from doctors’ mistakes than from traffic accidents. He compares that travesty to the airline industry’s open attitude about failure and how its amazingly positive safety record is driven by the fact that mistakes are not concealed but openly analyzed and learned from, with the black boxes providing the framework.
Think again about post-mortems after major account losses. Moving on, as mentioned, is human nature. But there’s another practical reason that capable selling organizations are ineffective at conducting loss reviews. They have no frameworks to follow. But truthfully, effective frameworks should be crafted well before a deal is won or lost. In fact, well before the decision is made to even pursue an opportunity. It begins with an established Go/No-Go process to help identify the opportunities with the highest probability of success. Your ability to target and pursue these winnable, “profile” deals is huge. But how do you do it?
It starts with a candid assessment of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, combined with the clarity of what constitutes a profile opportunity in your world. This dynamic combination must be embedded in your organizational DNA. Simply stated, it’s the bedrock of your Go/No-Go decisions. In Sandler Enterprise Selling, we follow the Pursuit Navigator framework, which separates an opportunity’s issues into three categories – Client Issues, Selling Team Issues, and Finance/Contract Issues. Utilizing team selling, individuals from across the organization evaluate the issues to determine the level of stability or risk for each. For example, do you have account relationships at multiple levels? Do you understand your competition, their relationships and their solutions? What about the contract? Are there stated guarantees, warranties or penalties and do you understand their implications? Think about these questions. Why would you not evaluate them? How could you possibly consider proceeding without clearly understanding their consequences?
If you decide that you’re stable regarding an issue, you note it and move on. But where risk is identified, you must determine the actions to take. Developing concrete mitigation plans to address risks quickly is critical. Nothing good can come from delaying. In enterprise pursuits, the clock is ticking.
The results of these efforts provide the intelligence that fuels your Go/No-Go framework. If you decide to proceed having mitigated risks as effectively as possible, your due diligence increases your probability of winning. But nothing is guaranteed. In the enterprise world, losing happens. But the Go/No-Go process delivers great value even after a loss as it becomes your post-mortem template – your black box. In the sting of losing, you revisit the business issues and the risks you mitigated. You must have missed something. Perhaps you underestimated an impact, ignored a dependency or gave yourself more benefit of the doubt than you deserved. In any case, the intelligence that guided your decision to proceed was compelling. At least it seemed so at the time. Reviewing now, in the cruel clarity of a loss, teaches you lessons to help you avoid making the same mistakes again.
With major losses, the temptation is strong to simply move on and turn the page. It’s human nature. But constructively facing your mistakes is the prescription for improvement and success. With your Go/No-Go framework to guide you, build your own black box to continuously learn, grow and win.