“I’m sorry but we’ve decided to go with Company X, instead of you. Thanks for all your hard work”. As a sales professional, hearing this statement from a prospective client can be a bitter pill to swallow, particularly after a long and complex sales cycle.
When confronted with a lost opportunity, our natural inclination is to try and work out what went wrong, whilst avoiding any undue scrutiny from the senior management team. As seasoned sales professionals, we each have a few tried and tested theories to help explain why we lost a particular deal:
These were three of my favourite ‘decision making criteria’ during more than a decade in the IT sales industry, but any sales executive worth their salt will have a couple of their own ‘criteria’ ready for these type of situations. We usually say these things in a subtle attempt to shift the blame away from our own performance, but also because often we genuinely struggle to understand where we went wrong.
The reality is that no two sales cycles are the same and the reasons we win or lose a specific opportunity can be extremely hard to quantify. How do you measure the fact that a key decision maker already had a negative perception of your solution or that one of your main competitors outflanked you with their sales strategies. Nine times out of ten we chalk it up to experience and move on to the next opportunity, but I’m here to tell you that’s a mistake.
‘Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ was how Einstein defined insanity. Yet many large, successful and otherwise diligent sales organisations continue to repeat their mistakes in deal after deal, somehow hoping for a different result. Why?
I suspect there is a deceptively simple, if slightly unconventional answer to this question, “As humans, we instinctively want to avoid awkward conversations.”
Whether it’s a relationship break-up or admitting it was you who dropped the urn with your grandma’s ashes, we’ll do anything in our power to avoid an awkward conversation and the risk of offending someone.
So when it comes to understanding why we won or lost a piece of business, we either avoid the conversation completely or get it over as quickly as humanly possible and spend the rest of the day trying to get rid of that icky feeling.
The same holds true on the client side. Usually prospective clients have no desire to hurt our feelings or make us feel any worse than we already do, when telling us we’ve lost a piece of business. So they prevaricate and provide half-hearted excuses, which bear only a passing resemblance to their real decision making criteria. They do this to protect our feelings and avoid an unpleasant scene.
So where does that leave us? How can we really start to learn from these experiences, how can we aggregate the good, the bad and the ugly pieces of competitive intelligence that accrue from each sales cycle and ensure that we never make the same mistake twice?
Could something as simple as Win/Loss Analysis hold the key to unlocking this intractable business conundrum? By developing a process that ensures that we’re constantly learning from each sales cycle, eliminating our errors and discerning what makes us successful, could we gradually improve and refine our end-to-end sales process?
What if every lost sale helped us identify a single gap or failing in our process, which we sought not only to fill, but to communicate to our whole sales force. What if every successful sale helped us uncover one clever differentiation strategy or a nugget of competitive insight, which we captured, made repeatable and disseminated across our sales team?
Unfortunately it’s not always that simple or we’d all be doing it! Win/Loss Analysis is not for the faint hearted, it can expose some ugly truths and lead to some difficult conversations. It requires a level of maturity and self-analysis that many organisations aren’t necessarily ready to handle.
Rick Marcet, program director for the World Class Selling initiative at Microsoft and author of the recently published book ‘Win Loss Review” explains it thus:
“In the end, the value gained will far outweigh the cost to aggregate all these piece of micro- intelligence into an insightful and valuable assessment of your competitive landscape”.
If properly developed and executed, a Win/Loss Review program can become a game changer, a treasure trove of ideas, intelligence and hard won knowledge. For those b2b sales organisations prepared to undertake a little soul searching and ready to acknowledge the flaws in their current sales process, the tangible deliverables from a well-executed Win/Loss Review program can include:
It really starts to get interesting, when you begin to uncover successful sales strategies or key differentiators in your sales approach, which even you may not have been aware of. The opportunity to highlight these learning’s to your entire sales force and ensure they are standardised and reinforced is immensely valuable.
Add to that the specific competitive insights which WLR’s provide around pricing, positioning, sales strategy and deal crafting and suddenly you begin to realise the potential returns which a tailored, repeatable Win/Loss Review program can provide to a b2b sales organisation.
In the end the decision for any organisation to embrace Win/Loss Reviews comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis. Do we believe we’ll receive sufficient tangible benefits, enough competitive insights and an improved likelihood of closing more business, by adopting this program?
In the next article in this series, we’ll begin to explore how a sales organisation might develop a Win/Loss Review (WLR) program of their own and what support they may need. We’ll look at some of the pro’s and con’s for companies considering heading down this path and explore how to communicate this new program to your clients.
With a sales career spanning almost 20 years, including senior management roles in a number of the world’s largest software companies, Cian is the founder and CEO of Trinity Perspectives. A sales training and consultancy firm, Trinity is committed to helping businesses unlock the latent potential of their customer’s insights and evolve to meet the changing needs of their customers.
Cian has trained and advised sales professionals from Brisbane to Bangkok, Christchurch to Cape Town and everywhere in between. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller "Rebirth of the Salesman", a regular sales and marketing commentator in the mainstream media, Cian’s blog was voted as one of the Top 50 Sales Blogs in the world in 2015 and again in 2016.
Cian is passionate about changing the perception of the sales industry, exploding some of the negative stereotypes that exist, and providing his clients with proven tools and strategies to prosecute opportunities effectively and with integrity and authenticity.
Find out more about Cian Mcloughlin on LinkedIn