How to Lose a Business Deal

While nobody likes to lose a deal, losing business can be a valuable experience.  Over the past nine years managing sales teams, most of the great sales people I have managed enjoyed talking about the big deals that they won.  While I enjoy celebrating a win as much as the next guy, I believe that it is as important to reflect on the deal that got away, as much as it is to celebrate the business we won.  Below 5 steps that will help your sales team learn from a loss and prepare themselves to move towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

1.  Conduct a Debrief with Your Customer

Start of by thanking the customer for giving you the opportunity to compete for their business.  Ask them if they might be willing to answer a few questions about how they made their decision.  Let them know that research indicates that some of the best innovation comes from customers.  Assure them that their input will be used to improve your product and company.  By being professional, you preserve the relationship.  I have had customers come back years later and buy from our team based on how we conducted ourselves after a loss.

Some helpful questions might include:  Did you choose an incumbent or a new vendor?  In terms of your ranking of the vendors did you rank us number two, three or four?   Were we more or less expensive than the vendor you selected?  What feature or features were most important in choosing the vendor you selected?   What is one thing our team could have done different in the sales process?

2. Provide a Loss Report to the Team

The next step is to summarize your customer debrief in a loss report.  The goal of this loss report is to let your team know why you lost and use this feedback to improve your product or service.  If you do enough win and loss reports you will start to see trends.  In the best case scenario, your team will be able to make changes that helps you win more business.  At a minimum, your team can use this information to better qualify future opportunities and maximize your team's time pursuing the opportunities with the highest probability of winning.

3. Thank the people on your team that worked hard.

As part of your loss report I believe it is important to thank the people on your team that worked hard.  It is even more important to thank your team after a loss.   The teams needs to know that you value them,  this is the time where they could really use some encouragement.

4. Encourage your team to limit time sulking

Once you have had time to reflect on the loss, it is time to move on and move on quickly.  Emotion typically follows action.  I believe that the best way to recover from a loss, is to get yourself moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel.  Makes some phone calls.  Go meet a customer.  Run towards the light and prepare yourself for the next win report.

5. Plan to follow up

A lost deal is not always a lost customer.   At one month, your competitor might be off to a false start.   This is your first opportunity to let your customer know you’re ready to serve them should the need arise.   A good sales person will use skills one and two of the challenger sales person which are teach and tailor.   This means you should continue to educate the customer on their industry and how they can succeed.   Six months is another great time to follow up.   This could be in the messy middle or the hard-middle part of the implementation of your competitor’s product.   Follow up again in about a year or when something could be new about the customer such as new employees or a new fiscal year.

I had the opportunity to teach this lesson to a young sales person that lost a business deal with his experience selling to   I told him the story about how it took five years of follow up to turn Sentara Healthcare into a customer.  His follow up resulted in winning the lost customer in the third month following his loss.

How can you find the light at the end of the tunnel of a lost business deal?   Look forward to hearing your ideas on Twitter or LinkedIn.