Our client, a large software company who spends up to 150 person days on each proposal, expects a very high win rate. So after every loss an independent consultant is sent in to interview the customer.
On one occasion the consultant was asking the client about the sales team. The customer answered a little evasively and said, “We had concerns about their business ethics”. When the consultant 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 would be revealed, and chose not to work with our client.
A big learning opportunity
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 organisation - but more importantly you the sales person – to improve.
A chance for me to learn
I don’t like to lose, but I really believe the greatest leaps in my progress as a salesman have been through interviewing the customer. I learnt another 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 favour - 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 I made sure a team from around the world were closely involved and we won the pitch. I had learned a lesson, refined our Sales Process and improved as a sales person.
A couple of lessons for everyone
1. Don’t take the reasons at face value
Our research shows a big gap between the reasons why vendors think they lose and the reasons customers give. For instance 74% of vendors think price is the biggest issue while only 55% of customers rated it as the main reason for losing. Only 22% of vendors think they lost to a better solution while customers rated this at 55%. And poor proposals, poor presentations and a lack of trust all rate increasingly highly as reasons for failure among customers.
2. Always use it as an opportunity to refine your Sales Process
As the examples above show, you can learn and grow as a salesperson each time you lose and you can refine the Sales Process when it reveals a weakness.
How to run the loss interview
Here are a few points on how to manage the process:
1. Pick the right person to do the interview
I 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 organisation makes the call but you may miss an opportunity to get to the real truth and learn from it.
2. Pick the right person to interview
Business people rather than procurement staff are more willing to give you insights.
3. Ask specific questions about your Sales Process
e.g. which words would you use to describe how our sales team engaged with your team?
4. 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.
5. You also need an internal review
You probably run internal reviews anyway and 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 would 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.
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